The brilliance of a diamond is breathtaking, and the gorgeous gem did not take long to shine its way into our hearts. And these days, diamonds are commonly used to celebrate important occasions, such as birthdays, engagements, and anniversaries.
The Ancient Romans and Greeks thought the exquisite gemstone was the result of a falling star. Some were so taken aback by its beauty that they believed diamonds were Gods’ tears.
Other theories included Cupid wandering around with an arrow dipped in diamonds. And on the flip side, Hindus believed that diamonds were created during a lightning storm.
One thing that all these beliefs had in common was: Everyone who saw the magnificence of a diamond thought it must’ve been something out of this world.
But have you ever wondered how old this precious stone is? What’s its origin? And can you date a diamond?
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Can You Date a Diamond?
As far as we know, all diamonds on Earth are relatively ancient – and the majority of diamond creation occurred in the first few billion years of Earth’s existence.
There have been discoveries of younger diamond deposits – the rock itself, the Kimberlite, is probably just tens of hundreds of millions (well, that’s a mouthful) of years old. Odd use of the word “just,” we know.
Diamonds are generally dated by examining inclusions of other minerals in the diamond that can be dated using radioactive methods.
The diamonds themselves can not be dated precisely, though. Scientists weren’t even able to figure out where exactly did the first diamonds come from – let alone when they formed.
However, suppose the mineral inclusions – substances included within a mineral during its creation – contain some traces of potassium and other elements that might be of use in the radioactive dating method.
In that case, dating the inclusion in the diamond could provide some insight into the age of the diamond itself. And such dates almost often indicate that the gems are incredibly ancient – hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years old.
Dates range from one to three billion years old, to be precise. They were formed when the world was presumably hotter than it is now – and therefore, conditions were potentially more favorable for diamond development.
Diamonds & The Carbon Dating Method
The basic premise of radiocarbon dating is straightforward: All living organisms absorb carbon from their surroundings – including the small quantity of naturally radioactive carbon-14.
When a plant or animal dies, its ability to absorb radioactive carbon ceases. However, the radioactive carbon it has collected continues to degrade.
Measuring the quantity left over provides an approximation of how long something has been dead.
However, this simple estimate suggests that the quantity of carbon-14 in the atmosphere has been constant across time and space – which is not true.
The use of fossil fuels and nuclear bomb testing in recent decades has significantly affected the quantity of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. The seas also absorb carbon and circulate it for decades, complicating matters even more.
What’s more, the quantity of carbon-14 fluctuates according to the number of cosmic rays that reach the Earth. Solar activity and the Earth’s magnetic field have a significant impact on that.
As a result, conversion tables that match calendar dates with radiocarbon dates in different areas are required.
What Does This Have To Do With Diamonds?
Well, as you hopefully know by now, diamonds are made of carbon.
Diamonds form when carbon atoms bind together at high temperatures and pressures to form crystals. Under these conditions, carbon atoms will bond in this strong sort of bonding where each carbon atom is bound to four others.
That’s why diamonds are such a hard substance; each carbon atom participates in four of these powerful covalent connections that form between them.
As an outcome, you get this hard, beautiful substance called a diamond.
Again, where the carbon comes from and how rapidly carbon atoms develop are unknowns. Still, the circumstances are such that some groups of carbon atoms are close enough that they begin to bind.
Other carbon atoms will connect to it as they move into the area. That is how any crystal develops.
This repeating network – this structure of carbon atoms – that finally grows large enough to create crystals that we can see is produced by the process of particles locking into place.
Each diamond represents billions upon billions of carbon atoms that all have to lock into place to make this incredibly organized crystalline structure.
Is It Possible To Date A Diamond With A Carbon Dating Technique?
The short answer would be no. That’s because diamonds are much older than any ancient artifact. Therefore, carbon dating – which can only date objects back to about 60,000 years ago – is not possible.
And also, let’s not forget that carbon dating is a method for determining the age of organic material. The last time we checked, diamonds don’t fit that description.
Plus, since carbon-14 decays quickly, it only yields “ages” in the tens of thousands of years, as we explained above. If every atom inside the planet were carbon-14, even after 1 million years, there would be no carbon-14 atoms left since they would have all decayed away.
That is why radiocarbon dating is not used to date rocks that are millions of years old.
However, some research confirms radiocarbon in diamonds that are at least 40–320 million years old. These results might further suggest that the Earth is not as old as initially thought.
How Are Diamonds Formed?
Diamonds originate in the upper mantle of our planet – roughly 100 miles below the surface. There is a lot of pressure because of the weight of the underlying rock. Thus, a combination of high temperature and high pressure is required to form diamond crystals.
As far as we know, diamonds that originated on our planet developed under those tough conditions – and it’s a portion of the Earth we humans can’t sample directly.
That’s because we don’t have a method to drill to that depth or go down to the Earth’s upper mantle.
How Do Diamonds Reach The Earth’s Surface?
The diamonds we see on the surface are delivered by a deep-seated volcanic explosion. It’s a very specific type of eruption, considered extremely powerful, that occurred many millions of years ago in Earth’s history.
Such eruptions have not occurred in recent memory. They were most likely when the planet was hotter – which is why those eruptions were more deeply embedded.
The diamonds that had already grown in the upper mantle were transported to the Earth’s surface by these eruptions. The diamonds are typically found trapped within piles of volcanic debris formed after the eruption reached the surface and cooled.
These are the so-called Kimberlites – the usual origins of the majority of the world’s mined diamonds.
The process of the Kimberlite eruption transporting the diamonds from the upper mantle to the Earth’s surface had to happen extremely rapidly.
Because if they traveled too long and too slowly, they would have literally transformed into graphite along the way. As a result of traveling fast, they were effectively trapped into their diamond structure.
These eruptions – these Kimberlite pipes going to the surface – might have been traveling at speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour once the diamonds were moved from high temperature to low temperature extremely rapidly.
When diamonds are brought to the surface and swiftly cooled, the carbon atoms are sealed, and there is simply not enough energy to begin rearranging them into graphite.
Where Does The Carbon Originate From?
Carbon that was already present on our planet appears to have formed within the Earth’s mantle. There is even evidence that the carbon may have formed near the Earth’s surface, which is rather unusual.
This carbon might’ve been part of carbonate deposits or animals, plants, shells, or whatever was transported down into the upper mantle by the plate tectonics phenomenon, known as subduction.
How Long Do Diamonds Take To Form?
Nobody knows for sure. There have been attempts to date inclusions in various sections of diamonds – but they have mostly failed.
Diamonds might develop in as little as a few days, weeks, months – or millions of years. It is not usually a constant process, as it is with many crystals that develop on Earth.
The diamonds might begin to develop, stop for whatever reason – changes in the conditions, temperature, pressure, carbon supply, or anything else – and then sit there for millions, if not hundreds of millions of years before beginning to grow again.
That’s part of the difficulty with attempting to impose a growth period on them; things don’t always happen “on schedule” here on Earth.
Diamonds can be produced in a lab under similar conditions, too. But some things have to be done in the laboratory to create these gems that look like the real thing.
Metals are frequently added to induce diamonds to grow – but no such catalysts have been found in diamonds from the Earth’s upper mantle.
Learn More: How Long Does A Diamond Take To Form And Grow?
A Brief History Of Diamonds
The first diamonds were discovered in India in the fourth century BC, while the most recent deposits originated 900 million years ago. The bulk of these early stones were transported via the Silk Road, a network of trade routes that connected India and China.
Diamonds were highly coveted at the time of their initial discovery because of their strength and brightness, as well as their ability to reflect light and carve metal.
They were used as ornaments, cutting tools, and talismans to fend off evil and were thought to give protection in combat. Diamonds were also utilized as a medicinal aid throughout the Dark Ages and were supposed to treat disease and heal wounds when swallowed.
Bad idea, by the way.
India was considered the only source of diamonds until the 18th century. The search for other supplies of diamonds began after the Indian diamond mines were exhausted. And despite the discovery of a deposit in Brazil in 1725, the supply was insufficient to fulfill global demand.
Erasmus Jacobs, a 15-year-old boy, was investigating the banks of the Orange River in 1866 when he stumbled upon what he believed was an ordinary stone – but turned out to be a 21.25-carat diamond.
Then, in 1871, a massive 83.50-carat deposit was discovered on a small slope known as Colesberg Kopje in South Africa.
These discoveries attracted hundreds of diamond explorers to the area, resulting in the first large-scale mining operation, known as the Kimberley Mine. The world’s diamond supply grew significantly due to this newly found source, resulting in a dramatic drop in the value of diamonds.
The wealthy no longer believed diamonds to be rare and replaced this “ordinary” stone with colorful gemstones. And suddenly, the upper class began to choose emeralds, rubies, and sapphires as engagement ring stones.
What Is Alluvial Diamond Mining?
Scientists and miners were perplexed for a long time about the origin of diamonds owing to the way they were discovered.
Diamonds were first found through the alluvial diamond mining method and afterward during the diamond pipe mining procedure. Alluvial diamond mining occurs when diamonds are discovered in a location distant from the Kimberlite pipes.
Some examples include the ocean, streams, or riverbanks.
After some investigation, geologists decided to follow the secondary source’s path in hopes of discovering the primary source of diamonds. That’s how miners discovered the Kimberlite pipelines – where they found reserves of even larger diamonds.
The History Of Diamond Engagement Ring
Rings have been used to symbolize devotion since ancient times – especially in the Roman betrothal (truth) rings.
These early rings – generally made of twisted copper and braided hair – were worn on the left hand’s third finger. The ring’s location was crucial because the Romans thought that a vein in the third finger, known as vena amorous, went straight to the heart.
For Romans, betrothal rings were presented as a token of affection or friendship rather than as a symbol of marriage, though.
The history of the engagement ring dates back to 1215, when Pope Innocent III, one of the most influential popes of the Middle Ages, decreed a period of waiting between a betrothal and the marriage ceremony.
In the meanwhile, the rings served as a symbol of the couple’s devotion.
Around the same time, rings were added as a key component of the wedding ritual, and the Roman government required that all marriage ceremonies take place in a church.
These medieval rings, in addition to functioning as symbols of intent to marry, also reflected social standing: Only the privileged were authorized to wear lavish or jewel-encrusted rings.
In 1477, Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed marriage to Mary of Burgundy with the first known presentation of a diamond engagement ring.
Although engagement rings were prevalent at the time, diamonds were a rare commodity reserved for royalty and the upper ranks of society.
Related Read: Diamonds Meaning: What Do Diamonds Symbolize?
In the end, no one knows the exact time or place diamonds were formed.
However, it is believed that they are as old as our planet Earth – there is some evidence that diamonds are at least one to three billion years old.
There are some methods, such as the carbon dating technique, that may suggest the age of some diamonds. But even that method is not relevant here as it can only date objects that are 60,000 years old at most – and many, if not all, diamonds are much older than that.
Moreover, the scientists also don’t know how much time it takes for the diamond to form. It may take a few days, months, or even years.
The only thing they know for sure now is how they are created and transported to the Earth’s surface. No wonder they’re so expensive, considering the immense effort that goes into their mining.
So, today’s craze for diamonds is by no means a new phenomenon. Diamonds are certainly a bright, brilliant, and captivating stone deserving of admiration.