It is by far the oldest thing I own, and its antiquity will certainly beat anything else I could acquire in my lifetime.
While new to me, this brilliant object’s origins likely go back around three billion years, making this gem two-thirds the age of the earth. Though I am not convinced that diamonds really are a girl’s best friend, they do make for some fascinating science.
Diamonds are just carbon, though my special rock has gone through some cutting and shaping and was fitted nicely into a ring. Carbon is a common mineral that has had some hot times and compressing conditions. Or, as Henry Kissinger said, “a diamond is a chunk of coal that is made good under pressure.” Formed at temperatures that exceed 752 degrees Fahrenheit and 435,113 pounds per square inch of pressure, diamonds were created 100 miles below the Earth’s surface in the molten rock of the mantle of the earth.
These gems rose up to the surface in volcanic eruptions through volcanic tubes, called kimberlite pipes. Rocks and minerals move up through these vertical tunnels to the surface, where the diamonds can be removed from the kimberlite rocks. Sometimes through erosion and other geological processes, diamonds end up in riverbeds and are called alluvial deposits.
Due to their unique qualities, diamonds are valued for two major uses — as gems for jewelry and for industrial purposes. Diamonds are some of the hardest natural substances known to humans. On the Mohs scale of hardness, diamonds achieve a 10 out of a 10 and can only be scratched by another diamond.
Contrast that to talc, which is a one on the scale and is easily scraped with a fingernail. Additionally, diamonds can claim the highest thermal conductivity — the ability to transmit heat — of any bulk material. Due to its connotations of permanence, it is no surprise that the word diamond is derived from the Greek root ‘adamas,’ which is variously translated to unbreakable, untamed and unalterable.
Hopefully the same could be said of the love that is symbolized by the giving of a diamond engagement ring. The tradition of giving a woman a diamond engagement ring dates back to 1477 when Mary of Burgundy became the first known recipient of a ring for that purpose. Her suitor was the Archduke Maximilian of Austria.
The Archduke’s token did not become a trend for a long time. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the tradition became popular in the U.S. The major diamond company, DeBeers, came up with an ad campaign that was dubbed one of “Twenty Ads That Shook the World,” in a book of the same name by James Twitchell. Who can argue with the brilliant slogan, “Diamonds are Forever,” which was also given accolades as the best slogan of the 20th century? It convinced millions of people in the U.S. and eventually Japan that love can’t exist without that rock on her finger, and effectively diminished the diamond re-sale market.
It isn’t hard to understand why that sparkly mineral has held so many in its spell. Though most diamonds are clear, you would never say they are colorless. A diamond shows many colors, acting like a prism and reflecting and refracting light even more so than other materials. Though light generally travels at 186,000 miles per second, it slows down to half that speed when it travels through a diamond, allowing for all the colors of the rainbow to be seen as it is dispersed.
Like a diamond, love can be strong and enduring, not to mention multifaceted and beautiful. And I have to say, both have left me pretty breathless for the moment.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.