|Infobox on Diamond|
|Example of Diamond|
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Description / Application
In mineralogy, diamond is an allotrope of carbon, where the carbon atoms are arranged in a variation of the face-centred cubic crystal structure called a diamond lattice. Diamond is less stable than graphite, but the conversion rate from diamond to graphite is negligible at ambient conditions. Diamond is renowned as a material with superlative physical qualities, most of which originate from the strong covalent bonding between its atoms. In particular, diamond has the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material. Those properties determine the major industrial application of diamond in cutting and polishing tools.
Diamond has remarkable optical characteristics. Because of its extremely rigid lattice, it can be contaminated by very few types of impurities, such as boron and nitrogen. Combined with wide transparency, this results in the clear, colourless appearance of most natural diamonds. Small amounts of defects or impurities (about one per million of lattice atoms) colour diamond blue (boron), yellow (nitrogen), brown (lattice defects), green (radiation exposure), purple, pink, orange or red. Diamond also has relatively high optical dispersion (ability to disperse light of different colours), which results in its characteristic lustre. Excellent optical and mechanical properties, combined with efficient marketing, make diamond the most popular gemstone.
Most natural diamonds are formed at high-pressure high-temperature conditions existing at depths of 140 to 190 kilometres (87 to 120 mi) in the Earth mantle. Carbon-containing minerals provide the carbon source, and the growth occurs over periods from 1 billion to 3.3 billion years (25% to 75% of the age of the Earth). Diamonds are brought close to the Earth surface through deep volcanic eruptions by a magma, which cools into igneous rocks known as kimberlites and lamproites. Diamonds can also be produced synthetically in a high-pressure high-temperature process which approximately simulates the conditions in the Earth mantle. An alternative, and completely different growth technique is chemical vapour deposition (CVD). Several non-diamond materials, which include cubic zirconia and silicon carbide and are often called diamond simulants, resemble diamond in appearance and many properties. Special gemological techniques have been developed to distinguish natural and synthetic diamonds and diamond simulants.
The market for industrial-grade diamonds operates much differently from its gem-grade counterpart. Industrial diamonds are valued mostly for their hardness and thermal conductivity, making many of the gemological characteristics of diamonds, such as clarity and colour, irrelevant for most applications. This helps explain why 80% of mined diamonds (equal to about 135,000,000 carats (27,000 kg) annually), unsuitable for use as gemstones, are destined for industrial use. In addition to mined diamonds, synthetic diamonds found industrial applications almost immediately after their invention in the 1950s; another 570,000,000 carats (110,000 kg) of synthetic diamond is produced annually for industrial use. Approximately 90% of diamond grinding grit is currently of synthetic origin.
The boundary between gem-quality diamonds and industrial diamonds is poorly defined and partly depends on market conditions (for example, if demand for polished diamonds is high, some suitable stones will be polished into low-quality or small gemstones rather than being sold for industrial use). Within the category of industrial diamonds, there is a sub-category comprising the lowest-quality, mostly opaque stones, which are known as bort.
Industrial use of diamonds has historically been associated with their hardness; this property makes diamond the ideal material for cutting and grinding tools. As the hardest known naturally occurring material, diamond can be used to polish, cut, or wear away any material, including other diamonds. Common industrial adaptations of this ability include diamond-tipped drill bits and saws, and the use of diamond powder as an abrasive. Less expensive industrial-grade diamonds, known as bort, with more flaws and poorer colour than gems, are used for such purposes. Diamond is not suitable for machining ferrous alloys at high speeds, as carbon is soluble in iron at the high temperatures created by high-speed machining, leading to greatly increased wear on diamond tools compared to alternatives.
Specialized applications include use in laboratories as containment for high pressure experiments (see diamond anvil cell), high-performance bearings, and limited use in specialized windows. With the continuing advances being made in the production of synthetic diamonds, future applications are becoming feasible. Garnering much excitement is the possible use of diamond as a semiconductor suitable to build microchips, or the use of diamond as a heat sink in electronics.
Synthetic diamonds are diamonds manufactured in a laboratory, as opposed to diamonds mined from the Earth. The gemological and industrial uses of diamond have created a large demand for rough stones. This demand has been satisfied in large part by synthetic diamonds, which have been manufactured by various processes for more than half a century. However, in recent years it has become possible to produce gem-quality synthetic diamonds of significant size.
The majority of commercially available synthetic diamonds are yellow and are produced by so-called High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) processes. The yellow color is caused by nitrogen impurities. Other colours may also be reproduced such as blue, green or pink, which are a result of the addition of boron or from irradiation after synthesis. A round, clear gemstone with many facets, the main face being hexagonal, surrounded by many smaller facets. Colourless gem cut from diamond grown by chemical vapour deposition.
Another popular method of growing synthetic diamond is chemical vapour deposition (CVD). The growth occurs under low pressure (below atmospheric pressure). It involves feeding a mixture of gases (typically 1 to 99 methane to hydrogen) into a chamber and splitting them to chemically active radicals in a plasma ignited by microwaves, hot filament, arc discharge, welding torch or laser. This method is mostly used for coatings, but can also produce single crystals several millimetres in size (see picture).
At present, the annual production of gem quality synthetic diamonds is only a few thousand carats, whereas the total production of natural diamonds is around 120,000,000 carats (24,000 kg). Despite this fact, a purchaser is more likely to encounter a synthetic when looking for a fancy-coloured diamond because nearly all synthetic diamonds are fancy-coloured, while only 0.01% of natural diamonds are.