The Fascinating Journey of a Diamond: From Mine to Jewelry Store
Nothing compares to the brilliant sparkle and shine of diamond jewelry. Maybe that's why the worldwide market for diamonds is on the rise, with self-purchases and online sales in particular spiking in 2021. However, because these sparkling gems are so rare and valuable, it begs the question "How is diamond jewelry made?"
These precious gemstones go through a rigorous diamond jewelry manufacturing process long before they reach your finger. From the arduous mining to careful cutting and polishing, experts and artisans must manage every detail to create a perfect, brilliant stone. Let's take a look at how diamonds get from below the earth's surface to their rightful places on your favorite pieces of jewelry.
How Do Jewelry Diamonds Form?
Before we get into the details of mining, it's important to know how jewelry diamonds form in the first place.
Most diamonds began to form over a billion years ago. Far below ground, high temperatures heated up carbon within the earth. At the depths where diamonds form, the pressure can reach 45,000 times the pressure at sea level!
The combination of scorching heat and high pressure makes carbon crystallize into dense rocks. This raw diamond ore is often covered in a "host matrix," which in this case is an igneous rock called kimberlite. Miners first discovered this rock in the South African mining town of Kimberley in 1871.
Of course, diamonds must move from the depths of the earth to the surface for us to reach them. Volcanic eruptions act as their delivery system.
These aren't the typical eruptions we've learned to live with today! Instead, diamonds reached the surface through special "kimberlite eruptions." Humans have never witnessed these forceful eruptions, as the last one likely happened millions of years ago. However, experts believe they may be the fastest and most destructive type of volcanic eruption on the planet.
Fortunately, diamonds are so dense and durable that they can withstand the heat and pressure of these natural disasters.
A side effect of kimberlite eruptions is kimberlite pipes. These are long stretches of kimberlite deposits. The discovery of kimberlite pipes is always cause for celebration, as this is where miners know they should search for diamonds.
Where Do Jewelry Diamonds Come From?
As you might expect, today's large diamond mines are few and far in between. This is why natural diamonds are so scarce. Their scarcity, in turn, drives up the price of these gems.
There are only around 50 diamond mines in the world large enough to have commercial viability. These mines produce the vast majority of all the world's diamonds by carat.
These commercial mines exist in a handful of countries around the world. Angola, Australia, Botswana, Canada, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, and South Africa hold the largest mines and are the world's biggest diamond producers. Botswana and Russia, in particular, make up around half the world's diamond production.
Who Produces Diamonds?
Though a lot of different hands go into diamond production and refining, a few companies are major players on the scene. In fact, five of the world's largest producers account for over 60% of the world's total diamond production.
Russian producer ALROSA is the world leader, producing 38.5 million carats per year. Close behind is De Beers, which produces 30.78 million carats per year. This company also famously created the "A Diamond Is Forever" ad campaign in the late 1940s, making it one of the best-known producers to this day.
Debswana Diamond, Rio Tinto Diamonds, and Dominion Diamond make up most of the rest of the world's diamond production. These companies may help manage a diamond from the time of its ore's discovery to the moment it reaches the shelf of your local jewelry store.
How Does Diamond Mining Work?
Diamond mining is a long, costly, and sometimes invasive process. No matter how you look at it, diamond producers must move a lot of rock to reach a few tiny gemstones under the earth. According to some estimates, miners must move up to 250 tons of earth to find a single carat of diamond!
There are several different methods of diamond mining:
Open Pit Mining
As the name suggests, open pit mining involves the creation of wide, open pits. This method only works when the kimberlite deposits are close to the surface.
Miners blast through sand and rock in search of these deposits. When they find kimberlite pipes, they use trucks and conveyer belts to sift through the exposed rock. Excavators load the diamond ore they find onto trucks so the extraction process can start.
One of the most famous examples of open pit mining is the Big Hole in Kimberley, South Africa.
When the kimberlite deposits are far underground, miners must tunnel into the depths as well. The details of underground mining may vary from site to site.
However, in most cases, miners will create several different levels of tunnels. They may create small blasts to disperse ore, allowing it to collect in dedicated funnels for processing.
Alluvial mining involves sifting through the sand and sediment along the banks of rivers and streams. This is common in areas where a surface-level kimberlite pipe is old enough to have eroded away.
Miners will often build walls to encourage water to collect in certain areas for easier collection. Once they have collected enough sediment, they will sift through it for diamonds.
When miners discover diamond deposits in the seabed, they must resort to marine mining. This type of mining uses specialized ships that suck up deep-sea gravel through long hoses. Some ships also have drills that allow them to dig into the seabed.
Namibia is a great example of marine mining in action, as most of the country's diamond production comes from under the sea.
How Does Diamond Refining Work?
Once the rough ore has made the journey from the earth to the surface, how do experts refine it?
From the mines, diamonds travel to the workshops of intermediaries around the world. Common locations include Antwerp, Mumbai, and Tel Aviv. Skilled experts at these diamond refining centers will sort the diamond ore and separate it by size, color, shape, and quality.
In the past, this process happened by hand. Today, many experts supplement their knowledge with modern 3D scanning tools.
This technology helps to verify a diamond's measurements, shape, and even mineral makeup. Through the mapping process, experts can identify which parts of the diamond to maintain and which to cut away. This way, they can figure out the potential of each rough diamond before they refine it any further.
Some rough diamond ore will lose half of its weight or more during this refining process. Cutting away unwanted sections of the stone can help highlight the best features of each diamond.
Experts prioritize the beauty and brilliance of each stone, but they also try to keep as much of its weight as possible. They must also take care to maintain the gem's symmetry and proportions, or the resulting diamond may not be as brilliant as it should be.
Once the stone is mapped and ready for cutting, an artisan will shape its facets using neat, precise cuts. These facets will help create the brilliant sparkle each diamond is known for. For ideal brilliance, a diamond may have anywhere from 20-60 cuts.
As diamond is the hardest material in the world, artisans must often use diamond cutters or laser technology to create facets.
Polishing is the next step in the refining process. Experts use diamond dust to further smooth the surface of the gem. They may scan the stone to ensure that the polishing has allowed the stone to reach its full potential according to the original 3D mapping.
How Do Diamonds Get Certified?
Quality control is a crucial part of the diamond creation process.
Once the diamonds are bright and polished, they're shipped off to independent laboratories. There, gemologists will scrutinize them and create a unique certification document for each gem.
Independent labs are crucial for certification, as scientific opinions can help buyers and sellers judge the worth of a stone. These labs have no connections to diamond miners or manufacturers, allowing them to remain unbiased. Often, each gem will have multiple expert analysts evaluate its quality before the team reaches a consensus on paper.
Diamond laboratories use the 4Cs of diamonds to analyze the quality of each stone. This prompts them to judge the stones' color, clarity, cut, and carat weight.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA), the nonprofit that developed the 4Cs, is the industry standard for diamond grading today. The American Gem Society (AGS) is another reputable and well-known lab. Certification from these sources can help buyers feel more confident about a buyer's quality.
No matter which lab a diamond goes to, specialists will issue a unique certificate for each stone, also called a "diamond report," to detail its quality. The certificate may also note any additional features of the stone, including mild fluorescence, graining, or symmetry. The certificate will also include a diagram that marks the gem's clarity and any inclusions as well as its proportions.
Think of this document like a birth certificate. It travels with the diamond and provides crucial details about its origins and characteristics.
What's the Diamond Jewelry Manufacturing Process?
With the final analysis complete, it's time for the diamond jewelry manufacturing process to begin.
Note that only the most brilliant diamonds are chosen for jewelry manufacturing. Diamonds of poor quality, small size, or low value may instead go to other industries. Industrial diamonds may be ideal for use as a drill tip or for cutting or polishing other diamonds.
The jewelry-grade diamonds, along with their certificates, get sent to diamond cutters around the world. These specialists hold exhibitions to show off the polished stones for sale. Some of the biggest are in Las Vegas and Hong Kong.
Thousands of diamond jewelry manufacturers around the world seek out these gems. From big names like Cartier and Tiffany to independent creators in India and China, manufacturers want only the best!
Larger, higher-quality diamonds are often in higher demand. However, quality gems of smaller sizes may still sometimes end up as beautiful diamond accents on rings, bracelets, watches, and other types of jewelry.
Diamonds may also go to manufacturers and designers via other channels. They may end up in the hands of diamond dealers or wholesalers, who then market and sell the diamonds on their own.
How Is Diamond Jewelry Made?
Once the gemstone is in the hand of an expert artisan, they will begin making diamond jewelry.
Like the process of cutting a diamond, the jewelry creation process may use special technology. Modern tools can help artisans visualize and design the ideal setting for each gemstone based on its cut, color, and size. They may match a gemstone to a jewelry item they wish to create by considering the gem's overall quality.
The artisan will set diamonds into a wide variety of jewelry types, including pendants, earrings, rings, and bracelets. They will shape and manipulate the metal to account for the diamond. They may use metalworking and personalized engraving to create the jewelry and set the stone.
Quality checkpoints are crucial when making diamond jewelry. Most designers ensure that their pieces pass multiple checks before shipping them to buyers or sending them to retailers for sale.
Find Your Perfect Match Today
When you buy a diamond, you're getting a piece of geological history. Each one has been around for billions of years, traveled up to reach you via volcanic eruption, and voyaged to far-flung corners of the world for the diamond jewelry manufacturing process. When you consider everything each diamond goes through to reach your finger, it's amazing how far they've come!
Now that you've stopped asking, "How is diamond jewelry made?" it's time to find your perfect match. With plenty of stunning diamond accents to choose from in our collections, there's no reason not to choose an item you'll love. Shop our jewelry today or contact us for more information.