For hundreds of years, diamonds had been mined from secondary sources like rivers and mud pools. Rough diamonds were found along river beds when forces of nature carry them away from primary sources of kimberlite pipes. In the 18th century, diamond pipes were discovered in South Africa and a “diamond rush” ensued.
Back then, mining was a dangerous and labor intensive task. There were little safety guidelines in place and the overcrowding of people and equipment made the mines a precarious place.
Diamond diggings at Kimberley Kopje in 1872. Notice the Ropes extending into the mine?
Transport equipment used to carry buckets of ore and crushing machinery
Mining for diamonds is a dangerous job
If you think about it, a diamond is made of exactly the same material found in everyday items like pencil leads and charcoal. But just how did the black carbon we are all familiar with transform into something so beautiful? What is the reason behind the magnificent qualities that could turn them into gorgeous ornaments and sparkling jewelry?
From a scientific point of view, it is the special covalent bonding between each carbon atom that makes diamond behave differently from the rest of the carbon family. In a diamond, the atoms exist as a tetrahedral structure which gives it to have extreme properties in strength.
When they were first discovered, diamonds were widely used in religious ceremonies. They were believed to possess supernatural powers that could ward off evil and offer protection. In the Dark Ages, people actually swallowed diamonds in hope of curing diseases and ailments.
With the development of polishing technology, diamonds started to become popular with the general public in the 19th century. At that time, diamonds were largely reserved for the upper class and the royalty. With the discovery of vast diamond bearing pipes, the industry reached new heights and contribute to an important part of worldwide economy.
In present day, the industry is divided into two main groups. One that is largely targeted at industrial needs and the other which is targeted at the jewelry market. Interestingly, Debeers is often credited for its huge role in marketing diamonds to consumers and driving fanatical demand.
Throughout history, Africa had always been a great source of diamonds. Yet, despite the wealth this precious resource can provide, people were still living in poverty and suffering from the aftermath brought about by unethically sourced diamonds.
At present, there are regulations in place that control how diamonds can be obtained, especially in Africa. The Kimberly process was formed by a coalition of countries to make sure rough stones produced in countries of Africa are not “blood diamonds”.
With the introduction of better prospecting techniques, sources were discovered in other parts of the world. Other significant producers include countries like Canada, Russia, Australia, Botswana, The Democratic Republic of Congo and Siberia.
Diamonds from these countries have found their way into the worldwide market. Every different mine had gained tremendous fame due to different reasons. Some of them are famous for the color of the stones they produce (Australia’s Argyle Pinks) while some are mines are legendary for the incredible sizes of stones they produce.
The future prospects for the industry look very optimistic. Efforts had been placed to find new sources and ethical mining methods had been constantly improved. Perhaps with time and patience, geologists may go on to discovering new places where more of this precious resource can be extracted to fulfill our insatiable demand for these jewels.