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It may be hard to believe that the graphite in your pencil is made of the same stuff as diamonds, but carbon is an element with many guises including all living creatures. When an element like carbon exists in several natural forms, each form is called an allotrope. One of the best-known carbon allotropes is diamond, the hardest of all natural materials and among the most beautiful.
Diamonds begin at least 100 miles underground. There, pressure 5,000 times greater than surface pressure and temperatures nearly hot enough to melt iron transform carbon into diamonds, and there they stay until blown to the surface by the spew of a particular kind of volcanic eruption, a kimberlite eruption. The last diamond spitting eruption happened over 100 million years ago leaving its plumbing known as kimberlite pipes as evidence. But finding the pipes hidden by time and erosion is no small task.
Geologists employ odd comrades in the search. In this case, termites. In the process of building these impressive mounds, termites excavate rocks and minerals that may or may not suggest a cache of diamonds below. In the 1960's, geologists discovered one of the wealthiest kimberlite pipes in Africa with a little help from termites. Once the mining begins, earth moving on a termite scale seems utterly insignificant. 85 tons of rock is blasted, crushed and processed to produce a single handful of gems. At the Finsch Mine in South Africa, miners have been digging for 30 years. This mine which is an open cast hole is 2,500 feet wide and 1,200 feet deep.
Inside a cut diamond, light is split and facets creates rainbows, but the sought-after gem is nothing more than pressure-packed carbon atoms. The tight crystal structure makes diamonds hard as well as beautiful. In a single year, three and a half million tons of rock is blasted, crushed and extracted all for tiny pieces of pressurised carbon. Only 20% of the diamonds unearthed make the grade as gems; and after all that, it turns out that diamonds are not forever. In several million years, these hard-won gems will disintegrate.
So from studying the above if a diamond is not for you, then there are other alternatives such as sapphires. We will continue this article on this most remarkable and mysterious precious stone.
The beautiful gemstone that is sapphire
Now, sapphire has long had associations with mystery, romance, and also royalty. But, did you know it's also considered to be a good luck charm?
So, where does it get its name from? Sapphire gets its name from the Latin word sapphiros, and also from the Greek word sapphirous. They're quite similar aren't they, but mostly they both mean blue. Some even believe that sapphire also gets its name from the planet Saturn. For over a thousand years this beautiful gemstone has long had associations with royalty. In fact, Prince Charles bought an engagement ring for Princess Diana in the 1980s, and this was made of Ceylon sapphire. In fact, this ring is now one of the most important and famous rings in the whole world and has since been passed on to Kate Middleton by Prince William.
Sapphires are unearthed in countries as far afield as Madagascar, Australia, Thailand, and also China. But the most highly regarded sapphires come from Shri Lanka, which is often referred to as Gem Island.
Sapphire has a rich and lustrous history. And one incredible love story, featuring non-other than King Edward the Eighth, and American socialite Wallis Simpson. Wallis Simpson was going through her second divorce when she became embroiled in a huge, controversial relationship with King Edward the Eighth. Edward desired to marry Wallis, which threatened to cause a constitutional crisis in the United Kingdom. So instead, Edward chose to abdicate his throne and married Simpson on the third of June in 1937. Edward lavished Wallis with jewellery including diamonds, emeralds and rubies. However, Wallis always maintained that her favourite gemstone was sapphire. In fact, he had her clothes specially tailored to display a sapphire bracelet that was designed by Van Cleef and Arpels.
Now, sapphire belongs to the corundum gemstone family, which also includes rubies. So, why do sapphires and rubies differ so much in colour? Well, simply put, it's down to the impurities held within the stone. The red of a ruby is in fact due to the presence of chromium, and the blue of the sapphire is due to titanium and iron.
In fact, corundum comes in a rainbow of different colours, which are dependent upon the impurities found within. This includes lots of different colours ranging from colourless, violet, green, yellow, and even pink. In fact, to top it off some even display pleochroism, meaning that they exhibit a colour change phenomenon.
If that wasn't already incredible enough, corundum is also amongst the hardest of gemstones, measuring a number nine on MOH scale, placing it second only to diamond.
If you were born in September, then this gorgeous gemstone is, in fact, your birthstone. We love it just because we think its got an incredible and beautiful history, and it's fascinating to read about.