words by willow defebaugh
Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an aerial view of the latest events in climate and culture—and how they all fit together.
“A diamond doesn’t start out polished and shining. It once was nothing special, but with enough pressure and time, becomes spectacular.”
It’s true what they say: Diamonds are timeless. A coveted commodity across cultures ever since they were first unearthed, geoscientists have dated diamonds back as far as 3.5 billion years, making them nearly as ancient as the Earth itself. On top of that, their formation happens slowly, between 100 and 150 miles below ground (though some have surfaced from as far as 600 miles). Diamonds require depth.
Diamonds develop in the deepest reaches of the planet because they require carbon to be exposed to massive amounts of heat and pressure. In the Earth’s mantle, temperatures can reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, at a pressure that is approximately 240,000 times the atmospheric pressure we experience at sea level—perfect for forming a certain precious stone.
While they are entirely made of carbon, the secret to diamonds’ exquisite nature rests in their atomic arrangement. Under the right conditions, the carbon forms tetrahedra, wherein each atom is attached to four others—creating a 3D structure that allows for an infinite network of atoms. Perhaps this is why we associate diamonds with dedication and commitment: it is their bonds that make them nearly indestructible, the hardest known material on Earth.
So how do they get to the surface? The short answer is that we have deep-source volcanoes to thank for their ascension. They are carried upward as fragments by highly pressurized magma that tries to ascend to the surface through vertical fractures known as kimberlite pipes as fast as possible. Essentially, eruptions cause them to rise up and meet the world.
As if their journey wasn’t harrowing enough, the rough diamonds that do reach the surface are a far cry from the gemstones you might buy on a ring. You likely wouldn’t even be able to separate them from other stones in the kimberlite. Rather, they require a trained eye, followed by cutting and polishing in order to reach perfection—which is no easy feat, considering diamond can only be cut by diamond, or cracked open with a precisely calculated blow.
While often prized as emblems of perfection, for scientists, it’s the stones with imperfections that possess the most value. What some might see as blemishes are actually minute components of other minerals, gases, and even water carried from the depths of the planet, offering us the rare opportunity to learn more about the realms beneath us. It is in their flaws that wisdom is found.
Under the weight of a world that can no longer afford to wait for us to change, where the heat is undeniably rising and eruptions are everywhere to be found, where polish and perfection are always the expectation, we have much to learn from diamonds. Then again, I think you know that already. Down in the depths of your own core, I think you know that we are made in times of duress—that our beauty and bonds of fortitude are not found, but forged.