Everyone knows that diamonds are among the most precious items on earth. But not everyone realizes that journey of this stone is very long and difficult and lots of efforts are required to develop its beauty from a rough stone to a beautiful faceted gem.
Here is a brief recount of a diamond's incredible trip from Earth to the retail market.
A diamond's story begins deep in the earth - 100 to 200 miles below the surface. Approximately 3 billion years ago, these stones were formed as a result of unbelievable heat and pressure placed on carbon crystals.
Basically diamonds have two main uses: in Jewelry (due to their rarity and beautiful appearance) and in Industrial Applications (due to their unique molecular properties). In terms of quantity, about 30% of diamonds are of gem quality and are distributed to experts for cutting, polishing and jewelry production. The remaining 70% of diamonds are sold to industries for cutting, drilling, grinding and polishing in industrial applications.
Journey of a Diamond from the Earth to Retail contains several stages which are explained as under:
Due to powerful volcanic activities, 'Pipes' are formed which are nothing but openings in the earth and through these pipes, some diamonds and other minerals such as kimberlite etc. are forced up to the surface whereas most of the diamonds which are forced up through the earth settled back into the kimberlite rocks in these pipes.
In this process, Diamond Prospectors explore the possibility of diamond existence deep below the Earth and normally search for kimberlite rocks by testing the ground for changes in magnetic fields.
Although diamonds are found in numerous exotic locations around the world, Australia, Botswana, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Russia and South Africa account for some 80% of the world's diamond supply.
Once kimberlite or diamonds are discovered after the process of exploration then mining operations are used, to extract these minerals.
In Mining operations following few methods are mainly used to extract diamonds:
- Open Pit Mining - This is a method of extracting rock or minerals from the earth by their removal from an open pit. In other words, an open pit mine refers to an excavation or cut made at the surface of the ground for the purpose of extracting ore. Open pit mines are used when deposits of minerals are found near the surface or along kimberlite pipes.
- Underground Mining - It refers to various techniques used to mine gems, minerals, and ore bodies by tunneling underground and creating underground "rooms" supported by timber pillars of standing rock.
- Marine Mining - This is a method of excavation of diamonds from the seabed. Now-a-days due to enhancement in technology, marine mining has also become commercially viable.
- Artisanal Mining - This is a non-industrial method of mining where individuals, families and communities are involved in mining by using the most basic equipment, such as sieves and pans.
After the extraction, the ore containing the rough diamonds goes through many stages of blasting, crushing and processing, including advanced x-ray techniques, to release the diamonds. It is estimated that it takes more than 250 tons of ore to produce just one carat of rough diamond. Over 120 million carats of rough diamonds are mined each year, out of which only about a quarter will be considered gem quality.
Once the rough diamonds have been mined and processed, the next step is to sort, classify and value them. In this process of sorting, these rough diamonds are grouped, according to their size, shape, quality and color, in to thousands of categories.
The next step for the rough diamonds are cutting and polishing. This is a great skill, with meticulous techniques that have been practiced for ages. Gem quality diamonds are usually distributed to one of the main diamond cutting and trading centers in Antwerp, Mumbai, Tel Aviv, New York, Johannesburg, China or Thailand.
Although some of the polishing process is computerized, most of the work is still performed by hand. Firstly, the cutter uses cleaving, sawing or laser cutting to separate the original rough into smaller, more workable pieces. Then, the girdler uses a process called Bruting that grinds away the edges of stone and provides its outline shape. Faceting follows, usually in two steps. The first 18 facets (table, culet, bezel and pavilion of a stone) are cut and polished by the blocker. The brillianteer cuts and polishes the final 40 facets, including the star, upper girdle and lower girdle. Finally, the cut gem is boiled in acids to remove dust and oil.
Once polished, most diamonds are sold and traded in the 24 registered diamond bourses around the world. At this point, the polished diamonds are ready to be set into finished pieces of jewelry, which is the manufacturer's job. USA, India, China, Italy, Spain, Thailand and Turkey have established a reputation in jewelry manufacturing.
Finally, diamond jewelry is either sold to a wholesaler, who works as a middleman to sell the goods to the retailer, or sold directly to the retailer. Lastly, retailers sell the diamond jewelry to the consumers.
The value of diamond jewelry sold each year exceeds US$60 billion, which includes the cost of the diamonds, precious metals and other gems. USA represents the largest market share (55%), followed by Japan (15%), Europe (10%), Asia Pacific (5%), Asia Arabic (5%) and other countries (10%). According to independent research, diamond jewelry is the most highly sought-after category of luxury goods, both by women for themselves and by men for gifts. The diamond industry employs approximately ten million people around the world, both directly and indirectly, across a wide spectrum of roles from mining to retailing.