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The Natural History and Properties of Diamonds

Since long ago, people everywhere have valued the rare, beautiful, shiny, sparkling things which they occasionally found on the ground, in the river, and on the mountains. These things have been treasured, used as gifts or money, and even valued for bringing good luck and warding off demons. As more of these came to light, people noticed differences in their quality- diamonds were more rare and more beautiful than quartz crystals or other sparkling stones. As civilization developed, this demand naturally created a diamond market for the same purposes as other markets: to regulate supply and demand.

There are many stones which are also sparkling and valuable, but diamonds have become the king of gems, long believed to symbolize purity, strength, power, beauty, and good forces which can drive away evil. Why is this? Perhaps we can learn something from the basic chemistry. Diamonds are almost the only high class gems which are a pure element- pure carbon. Most of the others are combinations of various elements from the over 100 pure elements of the periodic table.

The world’s oldest diamond mine has been found in India. From records found in Rome and the Middle East, we know these diamonds were exported there- possibly as long ago as the 8th century B.C. Words for diamonds and diamond trading have been found in writing as early as the 4th century B.C. In the 1st century B.C. a lot of people were already involved in the diamond business, including Arabs, Persians, and even some adventurous Europeans like Vasco Da Gama. In the Hebrew Bible, the word JAHALOM means “diamond.” Scholars assume this word is related to ADAMAS and ADAMANT, which means “very hard,” or “hardness.” In very old English and French, it is suspected that the word DYAMAUND means “diamond.” The word as it is spelled today came into usage in the 16th century.

Nature and Properties of Diamonds

Diamonds are the hardest single substance in the world. However, they are not unbreakable. Things which are very elastic are unbreakable, and diamonds are certainly not elastic. It is their rigidity which gives them their hardness. Think about an old cowboy or cops and robbers movie. The criminals have opened the safe and taken out what looks like a big diamond. But is it? To test, they smash it with a big rock- surprise, it breaks! So they know they were cheated, right? Actually, no. A real diamond would break just the same. Gold, for example, will NOT break, because it is elastic- you can saw it in half easily. However, only a diamond-based saw can cut a diamond. Cleaving a diamond is also possible, along the plane of the natural crystal.

Hardness is measured on the MOHS scale, from 1 to 10. Diamonds, naturally, are 10. There is another system called the KNOQS hardness scale on which diamonds usually measure from 5,700-10,400. To compare, another very hard substance, silicon carbide, is only 1,875-3,980 on the same scale.

Heat Conductance of Diamonds

  : 20 Watts Per Square Centimeter
          : 4.18 Watts Per Square Centimeter
      : 3.70 Watts Per Square Centimeter
          : 3.11 Watts Per Square Centimeter

As you can see from this chart, diamonds are an even better conductor of heat than most of the better metals. This is important in many applications which we already use and in some which will become more and more important in the future. For example, when you go to the dentist, he uses a diamond drill which is both hard and conducts the heat from the drilling away from your teeth. A normal drill would generate so much heat it would kill the root of your tooth even if this was not necessary.

In the kitchen, some companies have invented a diamond-coated pan. This pan heats oil and anything else incredibly quickly- so that your fried eggs will be finished almost immediately. Of course, it’s also very easy to clean and never gets scratched like Teflon. Furthermore, the diamond is not reactive and doesn’t get into your food like aluminum or copper.

In medicine, diamond knives are used for very fine cutting, especially in cosmetic surgery, because they do not leave big scars and have very fine control. They make even thinner cuts than lasers.

In your stereo and computer equipment, you are probably already using diamonds- for example, a well-known diamond product is the DVD. Diamond chips may be coming soon, and there are many other IT products which need diamonds.



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