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Diamonds may be forever. Their apparent scarcity isn't.
September 17, 2012 2:24 PM   Subscribe

The Russian Institute of Geology and Mineralogy announced an allegedly previously undisclosed 60-mile-wide field of "trillions of carats" of impact diamonds caused by a metor strike into graphite rock in Siberia. The media is reporting that this has been known about since the 70s but undisclosed, but this is misleading. As detailed by Vishnevsky [academic summary PDF], for example, the presence of large amounts of impact diamonds within the impactites was very well known; it is perhaps better to say that the market-distorting sheer yield of the field (around an order of magnitude of increase over known reserves) had not previously been discussed. The diamonds produced by such high temperatures and pressures are around twice as tough as normal diamonds, and the extreme hardness and compartively cheap availibility is likely to hugely widen the usage of industrial diamonds even setting aside the gemstone issues. This does however put the 2011 sale of the Oppenheimer family 40 per cent stake in De Beers in an interesting light, especially as the field at once offers the prospect of huge diamond stones whilst devaluing De Beers' existing stockpile hugely.
posted by jaduncan (50 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related: this 2003 wired article on Synthetic Diamond production and the De Beers cartel is one of the better pieces of journalism Wired has done. Diamonds suck in so many ways, not least of which is that they are not actually rare.
posted by mcstayinskool at 2:34 PM on September 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


...the field at once offers the prospect of huge diamond stones whilst devaluing De Beers' existing stockpile hugely.

Win!
posted by Thorzdad at 2:34 PM on September 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


So these would be "interplanetary conflict" diamonds?
posted by yoink at 2:34 PM on September 17, 2012 [32 favorites]




"So, wait. If I crash just the right type of meteor into just the right strata of earthly rock, I can make a titanic field of diamonds? How ... Interesting." . "Maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter, maniacal laughter!"
posted by newdaddy at 2:37 PM on September 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


ONE SPACE ELEVATOR, PLEASE
posted by theodolite at 2:39 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I couldn't put in the post because it's editorialising: between synthetics and existing academic discussion of the yields in Popigai, it's very likely that the Oppenheimer family just looked at the private research numbers they had and ran for the hills with the first decent offer that didn't consider them. One has to suspect to suspect that Popigai was not a perfectly kept secret, and if there was one company likely to benefit from knowing about it (and pay large amounts for the information) it would be De Beers. It's not like they aren't known for extralegal methods, either.
posted by jaduncan at 2:40 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


At least we know that the Russians will make good use of the money.
posted by goethean at 2:40 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have been reading articles about the imminent collapse of the diamond cartel for at least twenty years. Last time it was supposed to be huge new diamond deposits discovered in Canada, I think. Or maybe Australia? No wait, it was Brazil.

Anyway, huge new diamond deposits continue to be discovered and it never makes a difference.
posted by LarryC at 2:42 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


LOL, wait til they find the gold.
posted by spitbull at 2:44 PM on September 17, 2012


You know, is it possible the Russians are BSing in their claim "twice as hard as normal diamonds"? And if not, what is the difference? I'd surely like to hear the insight of a materials scientist (one that doesn't have any skin in the game.)
posted by newdaddy at 2:45 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Back in the 1970s, Soviet geologists discovered there the first extra hard "diamonds" - impact diamonds having unusual features. They were two times harder than regular ones and had a different structure. But due to the fact that at that time the government decided to develop construction of plants to produce synthetic diamonds, any studies stopped, and data on the field were classified.

Gotta love 'em Five Year Plans.


My immediate suspicion is now the diamond to have will be an impact diamond, anything else being worthless, or, impact diamonds will have some kind of perceived "flaw" which really doesn't make them suitable for jewelry, etc.


I'd love for regular diamonds to be super devalued - they sure do catch the light and sparkle like anyone's business.(envisions five carat key ring)
posted by Atreides at 2:46 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


My partner and I decided early on that all clear gemstone gifts would be moissanite, rather than diamond. No blood, first discovered in a meteorite, vanishingly rare in their natural form, very nearly as hard/durable (unlike CZ), and, at least in our opinion, more beautiful. However, technically they're visually indistinguishable with anything less than a full gemology lab.

As a weird-but-true bonus, moissanite is about a tenth the price of diamond at the same weight and quality, which makes it expensive enough to feel like proper jewelry. A quirk of human psychology, but that is actually an important consideration. My experience is you wind up spending the same as you would have, but you wind up with a larger and higher quality stone.
posted by gilrain at 2:48 PM on September 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


The timing on a $5B deal is fortuitous. Did the Oppenheimers know something in advance?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:49 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


"They find pearls on their coast, and diamonds and carbuncles on their rocks. They seek them not, but if they find them by chance, they polish them and give them to their children for ornaments, who delight in them during their childhood. But when they come to years of discretion, and see that none but children use such baubles, they lay them aside of their own accord; and would be as much ashamed to use them afterward, as grown children among us would be of their toys."
--Thomas More, Utopia.
posted by resurrexit at 2:50 PM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


Brazil, Canada and Australia have all proven to be susceptible to De Beers carrot and stick: play ball and become part of the Cartel, colour outside the lines and lose your investment by predatory through pricing. Those finds were too small and too hungry for outside investment to be able to to be really independent.

Russians with sufficiently large reserves broke one long-lasting cartel, OPEC, though most of the 90s. De Beers isn't exactly the same, it's a lot more cohesive than OPEC was/is, but it will be interesting to see if it survives, if the Russians decide to compete aggressively.
posted by bonehead at 2:51 PM on September 17, 2012


LarryC: I have been reading articles about the imminent collapse of the diamond cartel for at least twenty years. Last time it was supposed to be huge new diamond deposits discovered in Canada, I think. Or maybe Australia? No wait, it was Brazil.

Anyway, huge new diamond deposits continue to be discovered and it never makes a difference.
If you RTFA, you'd know why: De Beers has been making back-room deals to control the market - a sort of diamonds OPEC. DPEC.

This is different, especially as the Oppenheimers have pretty much sold off their De Beers interests this year. They were the brains behind the diamond cartel; the game is different now, simply because they're gone.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:00 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


gilrain: However, technically they're visually indistinguishable with anything less than a full gemology lab.
Incorrect. They look very different, to the trained eye (that is, any reputable jeweler, and many informed customers). From your own link:

Because it has its own unique appearance, it can not be truly called a diamond simulant.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:07 PM on September 17, 2012


newdaddy: You know, is it possible the Russians are BSing in their claim "twice as hard as normal diamonds"? And if not, what is the difference? I'd surely like to hear the insight of a materials scientist (one that doesn't have any skin in the game.)
Yeah, I really suspect they are lying. Not the first time Russia has made some purely bullshit scientific claims... and, if it were true, the crystalline structure would be well-known. There aren't an infinite number of ways to combine carbon.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:08 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


They look very different, to the trained eye (that is, any reputable jeweler, and many informed customers).

My wife also has moisanite stones in her rings for the same reasons as Gilrain. You can really tell the difference when you put them next to a diamond. They have a bit of a green/gray tint and they sparkle a lot more, especially around multiple light sources.

The difference in color is something that we can only really see when we put it right next to a diamond and we like that it sparkles more. We've never once regretted the decision to go with moisanite over diamond.

The wikipedia article about diamonds draws a distinction between hardness (resistance to scratching) and toughness (resistance to shattering under impact) but the "twice as tough" claim still seems dubious to me. Any experts care to weigh in?
posted by VTX at 3:22 PM on September 17, 2012


Short version: they aren't lying, and the structure is known. The diamonds are polycrystalline diamond from graphite.
posted by jaduncan at 3:25 PM on September 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


"twice as hard as normal diamonds"?

they aren't lying, and the structure is known.


Hooray! Thank you, jaduncan. I was going also going to ask about this, and my guess would have been that it would take extreme heat to somehow compress the lattice structure of the crystal. Since I can't access anything but the abstract, can you tell me exactly what the heat/pressure does?


I really hope that this is true, and can only wish that extracting these diamonds would result in a net good for slaves to the diamond trade. Being extremely skeptical of human nature, I'm pretty sure the interplanetary conflict" diamonds will also eventually be covered in blood.

On the other hand, if it turns out to be a 'mistake' then one could only hope De Beers somehow winds up taking a bath on this sale. (my eternal optimism.)
posted by BlueHorse at 3:33 PM on September 17, 2012


VTX: "the "twice as tough" claim still seems dubious to me. Any experts care to weigh in?"

jaduncan: "Short version: they aren't lying, and the structure is known. The diamonds are polycrystalline diamond from graphite."

I didn't think this would wash either, but it looks like we just got diamowned.
posted by boo_radley at 3:41 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


BlueHorse, does this work for you?

I don't know what I can and can't see due to the academic IP, and am also doing unrelated academic writing. The paper in question summarises the Ries crater, but has universal applicability. I've picked out the applicable page (although the previous page is also worth it). The whole book is interesting, if you have a side interest in geology.
posted by jaduncan at 3:51 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The figures for ppm may or may not be a bit out, however. The USSR made the decision to close all the data which would allow sensible discussion of what apparently caused such an intense yield in this case.
posted by jaduncan at 3:52 PM on September 17, 2012


Oh, and this is likely not to be the only form of diamond there. The field is so large that it's probable that hugely different heat and pressure levels occurred across different areas of it. Maybe even things we don't know about, which would be exciting.
posted by jaduncan at 3:57 PM on September 17, 2012


The new 3C's: Colour (from Outer Space), Cult, and Cthulhu
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 3:59 PM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Slightly longer version: Normal diamonds are a single (relatively) unbroken crystal. The impact diamonds are made of thousands/millions/billions of tiny crystals, fused together by the heat and pressure.

[this bit's a little outside my expertise]
With a large crystal some pressure can be dispersed through the lattice, similar to the movement of force through a rubber ball. The lattice will flex a little as bond angles distort, relieving a little of the external force.

In an impact diamond there's no large lattice to absorb the force, and so you're essentially trying to jam a bunch of tiny diamonds together. Much harder, because the individual lattices have to break before they'll significantly compress.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 4:03 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


This IS pretty exciting and there are many ways to speculate what's going to happen. It's hard for me to imagine, though, that Russia will dump into the current market and cause a massive devaluation. There's just too much money to be made when they can just hoard and trickle the way De Beers does.

OTOH, I'd LOVE to see a ton of this stuff fall into the hands of tech researchers and scientists. I imagine that this find could make such research much less cost prohibitive.
posted by snsranch at 4:07 PM on September 17, 2012


Hmm.. not a materials scientist, but I am a geologist (and long-ago was a diamond prospector). I've just read the Geology paper (Koeberl et al. 1997, doi: 10.1130/0091-7613(1997)025<0>2.3.CO;2 -- linked above but direct link didn't work for me) and the TASS presser.

Unusual structure is correct. These diamonds were abruptly transformed from graphite, and so retain a lot of the crystallographic structure from graphite. Whether this makes the diamonds thus made harder or tougher is not addressed in the paper.

The TASS presser leaves me a little skeptical, to be honest. By way of analogy, I am involved with prospecting and evaluating unconventional oil and gas reserves. One of the things you quickly realize when you make a global inventory of these resources -- particularly gas -- is that there is A. LOT. out there. Like, orders of magnitudes more than discovered and probable undiscovered conventional fields. The world's methane hydrate resources are a well known example, but even methane lying around in high latitude swamps is on the scale of all the conventional gas fields in the world. So what has this got to do with impact diamonds? Well, so far, the economics of swamp methane is such that no one has bothered to put it into a pipe and deliver it to a market. The resource is huge, but its so broadly distributed that the resource density is too small for commerciality. Shale gas used to be like this: low resource density, large absolute resource and generally uncommercial. The evolution of gold mining fits a similar story: small, high grade deposits (vein gold, placer) dominate thousands of years of gold mining, but the exploitation of more finely disseminated, low concentration deposits, mined as open pits and concentrated using cyanide heap leaching is now the main game in town.

Back to diamonds. Has the commerciality of these deposits been proven? In the Canadian Arctic, a kimberlite that yielded 100 carats a ton was a mine maker, worth millions of dollars. One that yielded 10 kt/tn was not. What are the concentrations in the impactites?

The other big deal -- and much bigger if we're talking about taking out deBeers -- is the quality of the diamonds. What proportion of these diamonds are gem quality? This isn't disclosed, but it is my feeling that diamonds with tons of inclusions and lamellae such as described in the paper may not fetch large prices for the jewelry market. And make no mistake, this is the only market that matters. If it weren't for the absurd valuations we place (through emotion, marketing, and market rigging) on shiny baubles there wouldn't be a single diamond mine in the world today.

Don't get me wrong, I would love, love, love for the entire diamond mining industry to go away, but I'm not sure this is it. (Not to mention that just another mining source of diamonds isn't what I'm pulling for)
posted by bumpkin at 4:10 PM on September 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Current Blue nile pricing info certainly has not been updated yet.

1.00-Carat Round Diamond Very Good-cut, D-color, and VVS1-clarity Diamond comes accompanied by a diamond grading report from the GIA.

Price: $12,211.

This is the same almost to the dollar the last time I looked up this information over a year ago when some business press was predicting a diamond price crash.
posted by bukvich at 4:13 PM on September 17, 2012


Jaduncan:

Not seeing the concentration figures in your links, but it sounds like you've seen them somewhere. What are we talking?

I see now that the ABC story makes clear that these diamonds are not gems. I doubt that this deposit has anything to do with the Oppenheimer sale. Diamond mine economics work because of jewelry. Industrial diamonds are a bonus, but by themselves don't drive the economics.
posted by bumpkin at 4:17 PM on September 17, 2012


Thanks bumpkin. Considering what you said and the fact that this field is spread across 60 miles, it's easy to understand how this may not be commercially viable at all.
posted by snsranch at 4:30 PM on September 17, 2012


Too many paywalled links.

Try this overview: Poplgai Impact Structure.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:31 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


P.S. What proportion of these diamonds are gem quality? This isn't disclosed..

Yes it is, in the first link. Answer: 0%. The link I just posted says these are microcrystalline aggregates, it shows a polarized light shot that makes it obvious these are lumps of fused diamond crystals, totally unsuitable as gems.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:38 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can create diamonds physically by different methods (vapor deposition etc.).

Diamonds seem tho have an artificial value, hyped up by marketing and advertisement. And a diamond is the last thing I would by my future wife.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 4:44 PM on September 17, 2012


Might be interesting from an industrial diamond standpoint, but I doubt there will be anything close to a gem quality diamond in there. The thing that makes gem diamonds sparkle is that they are comprised of a single crystal that reflects/refracts light. Growing crystals that size requires a whole lot of time at high pressure, which is not the case in meteorite impacts. Maybe there will be some carbonado diamonds (crystal aggregates) in there, but those aren't worth much.

Also, there's a lot of outdated impressions about De Beers in this thread. They got out of the diamond trading business in the late 1990s, after BHP (a very large mining company) decided to sell their mined diamonds on the open market rather than in the De Beers system. De Beers now only markets diamonds they mine themselves, so they are no longer the shadowy (evil?) price-fixing cabal they used to be. Now De Beers is controlled by a much larger mining company (Anglo American), and diamonds are sold on the open market.
posted by gumpstump at 4:56 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Large single diamond crystals have a cleavage plane. Impact diamonds do not. That's why they are tougher.

I still have my happy dance shoes ready for when de Beers finally goes down. My wife and I chose to concentrate on colored gemstones exclusively. Neon Tourmaline and Alexandrite are actually much more reliably valuable than diamond. We have a ... cough ... large gemstone collection. The only diamonds are a few small natural crystals which are not suitable for jewelry, but which represent the mineral.
posted by localroger at 5:07 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


jaduncan : The USSR made the decision to close all the data which would allow sensible discussion of what apparently caused such an intense yield in this case.

Not really... Atreides already quoted the *cough* reason *cough*: "at that time the government decided to develop construction of plants to produce synthetic diamonds, any studies stopped, and data on the field were classified."

Hey, I just read this, and call me crazy, but here's the numbers, they made 'em, maybe?

The Russians found a good way (CVD, anyone?) to produce gem-quality synthetic diamonds. Around the same time, they found this pretty cool, but small or low yield impact deposit. After a few teasers about the newest diamond field on the planet, ramping up production of those those synthetics, and suppressing anything about either for 40 years...

Hey! We have this uber-high yield "impact" diamond mine! Gonna put De Beers out of business!

No, I have no proof. So don't bother. :)
posted by pla at 6:54 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


bumpkin writes "If it weren't for the absurd valuations we place (through emotion, marketing, and market rigging) on shiny baubles there wouldn't be a single diamond mine in the world today. "

Are industrial diamonds all synthetic? If not surely that demand would keep some mines open even if the bottom dropped completely out of the jewellery market.
posted by Mitheral at 7:45 PM on September 17, 2012




And a diamond is the last thing I would by my future wife.-- yoyo_nyc

And what if your future wife, despite her fine character and intelligence, and many other qualities that you love her for, had one weakness: what if she falls for the symbolism of a diamond ring as an important part of portraying the commitment toward marriage?

The DeBeers have been really good at playing this emotional card, what with their "To really show their love and commitment, men usually pay two months salary to show their love."

Heck the quote in the article shows that they will never give up with this:
If people really love each other, then they give each other the real stone.

You didn't give her the real stone? Don't you really love her?

That's the thing--the emotional argument only has to work with one half of the couple. It isn't just your choice (and if you don't understand this, then you are not ready for marriage).
posted by eye of newt at 9:13 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


eye-of-newt: this sort of thing does not exist in isolation. The particular weakness we are talking about is evidence that marketing has triumphed over intelligence and fine character.

I bought the sapphire for my sweetie's ring on eBay. It looks great and matches her eyes. DeBeers can go fuck themselves.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:44 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


So these would be "interplanetary conflict" diamonds?

Scientists have found a planet they believe to be a giant diamond.
posted by homunculus at 12:21 AM on September 18, 2012


eye of newt: That's the thing--the emotional argument only has to work with one half of the couple.

Actually, even less than that! For instance, hypothetical wife Anne might have convinced her fiance Peter that she wants a moissanite instead. In fact, after research, Peter very much agrees with her in theory. However, Peter knows some of his friends would look down on he and Anne's decision as cheap or classless, despite their better qualities, and he doesn't want to have to lie and pretend the ring is a diamond.

I think this scenario happens a lot. It's not necessarily, as implied above, that the woman has an emotional weakness for diamonds, although sure, that happens. (In my experience, it's as often the man that insists on a diamond.) It's an entire socioeconomic system of expectation.
posted by gilrain at 5:49 AM on September 18, 2012


And what if your future wife, despite her fine character and intelligence, and many other qualities that you love her for, had one weakness: what if she falls for the symbolism of a diamond ring as an important part of portraying the commitment toward marriage?

(In my experience, it's as often the man that insists on a diamond.) It's an entire socioeconomic system of expectation.


I would be a little perturbed that my future wife, despite her fine character and intelligence, would be so swayed by advertising that she couldn't understand the execrable conditions under which diamonds are produced.

Again, if my future husband was so into the socioeconomic system of expectation (keeping up with the Joneses Romneys, I would have serious doubts about his character and maturity.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:51 PM on September 18, 2012


And a diamond is the last thing I would buy my future wife.-- yoyo_nyc

And what if your future wife, despite her fine character and intelligence, and many other qualities that you love her for, had one weakness: what if she falls for the symbolism of a diamond ring as an important part of portraying the commitment toward marriage?--eye of newt

Then you buy her estate diamonds and have them reset, and you try hard not to think about the implications of saddling yourself for life with a person who takes advertising so much to heart she can't reason.
posted by gingerest at 4:39 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


BlueHorse writes "I would be a little perturbed that my future wife, despite her fine character and intelligence, would be so swayed by advertising that she couldn't understand the execrable conditions under which diamonds are produced. "

Canadian diamonds aren't produced under execrable conditions. Their price may not reflect there true value (what ever that is for a pure luxury good) but they aren't the result of bloodshed or exploitation.
posted by Mitheral at 4:56 PM on September 18, 2012


Bloodshed aside, if you feel like buying a diamond learn how diamonds are classified and invest in a 10x loupe and a color chart. And leave your innocence at the door because you will be amazed at how many jewelers will try to rip you off.
posted by localroger at 5:21 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


My father is a life-long (retired) diamond crystallogapher. He's published numerous papers, and for many years, he's headed the diamond research lab at the geology/crystallography institute in Yakutsk, Russia. He still does some research; his latest paper is slated to be published in the 2013 issue of Crystallography Reports.

All this is to say that his opinion is worth something :)

So... I've sent him the link. His response, in a word, was "bs" (russian "dog" instead of the english "bull", same bodily function).

Sample points: ain't no such thing as some diamonds being harder than others; diamonds are harder than any other natural material so ain't no such thing as special abrasive properties for metalworking; impact diamonds are always microscopic in size and of especially poor quality, at best suitable for industrial applications and no better that typical diamond dust that's plentiful and readily available. (There were other points that I am too lazy to translate, especially since I am late to the discussion).

On to my own opinion of the Wired article mentioned by the parent.

There was a lot hype at the time around synthetic diamonds. I recall 3 lengthy articles detailing various developments in diamond synthesis by a handful of different companies, each more sensational than the next. I was beyond excited. I love futureporn :)

Fast forward 5 years (give or take), none of those companies are anywhere near the disruptors they were supposed to be. Even Apollo Diamonds, the most promising of that handful of companies and the only one that managed to actually produce colorless synthetic diamonds, fell far short of the breathless expectations outlined in Wired and other publications.

Their diamonds were not "better" than natural diamonds by any definition of "better". Not better rated along the 4Cs scale, not bigger, not cheaper, not more plentiful, not quicker to acquire, etc. If you went to the Apollo online shop before they went under, you'd see a whole lot of frankly sub-par stones with signifcant inclusions and discoloration.

I'd love to be proven wrong. The potential of diamonds for computing, super conductivity, etc. is stupendous. If this news were true, we'd be at the beginning of a new age, similar to the industrial revolution. Alas, this is hype. Want proof?

1 US dollar = 31.2140 Russian rubles

And there you are.
posted by rada at 11:31 AM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


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