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Can Diamonds Decay? Do Diamonds Decompose?

Can Diamonds Decay? Do Diamonds Decompose?

A copywriter Mary Frances Gerety created a famous slogan, “A Diamond is Forever,” for De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd quite a long time ago. It became a worldwide catchphrase quoted for who knows how many times. Yet, is it true? Are diamonds really forever, or is it a myth?

No. Sadly, nothing lasts forever – not even the diamonds. There are numerous ways you can destroy these precious stones. For example, heating a diamond can vaporize it. Of course, the temperature needed for this is quite extreme, but the point is, it can be done.

What happens if you let the diamond be? Can diamonds decay? Do diamonds decompose? Will these gems turn to vapor even if people do not interfere?

Let’s find out together!

How Long Will It Take For A Diamond To Decompose?

In short: At normal atmospheric pressure, a diamond will eventually decay to graphite. The process might last to the end of the universe, though. It might seem like a joke, but it isn’t. 

Diamonds are in a so-called metastable state. Their carbon atoms are aligned in an incredibly robust cubic lattice named a diamond cubic. The unique molecular structure makes these precious stones one of the hardest materials known to humankind. 

And in the absence of extreme heat, their structure can last forever. Therefore, it would take quite some time for a diamond to degrade into graphite. For example, a standard engagement ring diamond weighing up to one carat will require a few billion years – or even more – to turn into graphite. Therefore, in comparison to our short human lives, diamonds do last forever

Your diamond ring will outlast you, your descendants, the planet itself, and perhaps even the entire (or at least a majority) of the universe. 

After all, diamonds are formed about 90 miles below the Earth’s surface, where temperatures can reach 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pressure is super high. Sometimes, they emerge to the surface via lava. The temperature of lava can be between 1300 to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit, too. 

As you can see, these stones are as tough as it comes. Diamonds will not evaporate at usual temperatures and normal atmospheric pressure any time soon. If you want to destroy a diamond, you need to take out the big guns! 

Increase the heat and pressure to the extreme and convert a diamond to graphite.

How Do You Turn A Diamond To Vapor?

Oxidize it! Oxidation is a simple chemical reaction. As its name already suggests, during oxidation, oxygen interacts with another substance. Oxidation happens all around us, all the time. After all, oxygen is a principal part of our atmosphere. 

And different materials and substances around us oxidize pretty commonly. For example, rust on iron is evidence of its oxidation. That is why it is also known as iron oxide.

Let’s get back to diamonds, though. As you surely know by now, these brilliant stones are a form of pure carbon. When carbon oxidizes, a chemical reaction takes place and turns it into carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. 

These are the everyday gases, so congratulations; you’ve succeeded in vaporizing a diamond

Can You Speed Up The Destruction Of A Diamond?

Yep, you can. So, if you are determined to destroy something as valuable as a diamond for the sake of science, there are a few methods to choose from here. And some are very easy!

Crushing A Diamond

Yep, even the hardest rock on the face of the Earth can be crushed. It seems diamonds are not indestructible, after all. 

Even though it is not too common, diamonds can get scratched, broken, or chipped. And sadly, when that happens, there is rarely a way to repair the gem. Your only option is to have it recut into a smaller one. 

Prepare for loss of value, as well. 

If you seek revenge or want to destroy every memory of an ex-fiancee, you can take a hammer and easily smash a diamond into a thousand bits. It will not destroy the diamond chemically, but you will break it down into smaller pieces. 

If you want to make it disappear from the face of the Earth, you’ll have to put in a bit more effort.

See Also: Can Diamond Be Crushed? 

Heating The Diamond

As we have already established, diamonds are crystals of pure carbon, and so are graphites. The only difference is in the structure – how their atoms are arranged.  

You probably assume that diamonds are more stable, but you are wrong. Believe it or not, at normal temperatures and pressures, graphite is more chemically stable. 

What does that imply? It implies that in time, diamonds will degrade into a more stable structure and turn into graphite. 

It does not happen easily or quickly, though. 

An enormous amount of energy is required in order to break the chemical bonds in a diamond. That’s exactly why the degradation under normal atmospheric conditions is so slow – to the point where it is almost non-existent. 

You could speed up that process by heating the diamond or bombarding it with ions. The carbon atoms receive an energy boost to overcome the energy barrier and transform to graphite when you do that.

You can see an example of that when you use diamonds in the industry. These hardcore stones are typically used as a cutting edge to cut through, drill, or polish very hard materials. During the process, diamonds get extremely hot and start to flake off – this is because they have degraded into graphite.

Read Also: Will A Diamond Shatter If Heated?

Burning The Diamond

Making the diamond disappear requires you to play with fire. Everything made of carbon burns – and diamonds are no exception to this rule. 

If you want to burn the diamond, you’ll need more than just start the flame. Namely, oxygen that is usually present in the atmosphere is not sufficient for an adequate reaction. 

You’ll need to add more of it. Therefore, to burn the diamond, you first need to place it in pure oxygen gas (or liquid oxygen). If you do this, you can then use a regular blowtorch to set it ablaze. 

What will happen if you do all this? There will be no more diamond – it will turn into plain carbon dioxide and disappear.

Exposing The Diamond To UV Radiation

Recent studies have proven that diamonds evaporate when exposed to intense UV radiation. In normal environmental conditions, this process takes ages, just like degradation into graphite. 

No matter how bright the sunlight might be, it would take billions of years for a diamond to start showing any sign of change. You cannot do this at home, nor do we suggest you should try it. 

After all, it’s highly unlikely that you have an easy source of intense UV light lying around in your basement. 

Even if you put a diamond in a UV tanning bed or under a UV lamp, it would still probably take billions of years to notice any damage. But in lab settings, diamonds have been exposed to high levels of radiation – and it has been proven that pockmarks do appear in a matter of seconds. 

Read More: Can Ultraviolet (UV) Light Destroy A Diamond?

How Can You Prevent Damaging Your Diamond?

In short: Do everything opposite to what you have read so far! 

Gems are famous for their durability, but you know now that they can be both damaged and destroyed. Try to prevent this! A diamond can go through much. It can withstand wear, heat, and chemicals. Gems are valued for their hardness, toughness, and stability. 

The hardness of a diamond stands for its ability to resist scratches and abrasion. Toughness shows how efficiently a gem can resist breakage and chipping. Finally, stability stands for the diamond’s resistance to chemicals and thermal shock.

Diamonds excel when it comes to hardness and stability, but they are not as tough. The actual durability of a diamond greatly depends on the cutting process and its shape.

The good news is that diamonds are invulnerable to almost any acid. On the downside, and we have already discussed this, extreme temperature changes can damage diamonds or destroy them. 

It is consoling that they can withstand higher temperatures than most other gemstones. 

It is best not to try your luck and keep your diamond away from heat or open flame. It’s better to be safe than sorry – especially when it comes to something as expensive as diamond jewelry. 

Try to preserve your diamond jewelry from hard impact as well. Diamonds can chip or fracture, especially in areas called cleavage planes. It can happen even in the course of normal wear. 

It is thus essential to carefully plan before cutting or cleaving the diamond. Every gem has both hard and soft directions in the crystal. 

The hard directions are the most difficult for the cutter to work with; a cutter must understand the hard and easy directions and locate cleavage planes to make a good cutting plan. 

In general, cutting styles with pointed corners or ends are more suspectable to physical damage. A hard blow to this area often leads to chipping that can even run down the entire side of the gem. For example, the corners on a princess cut are highly prone to chipping because they lie very close to the cleavage plane. Chips of this type usually have a stepped appearance. 

See Also: What Can Destroy A Diamond?

How To Reduce The Risk Of Your Diamond Chipping?

Try not to strike anything hard with your diamond. Bathroom and kitchen countertops are the greatest hazards. 

Moreover, avoid wearing different pieces of diamond jewelry next to each other. It is best to resist buying diamonds with points or sharp corners no matter how much you like them. Round cornered diamonds don’t have the point exposure and are far more resistant to chipping.

If you cannot resist a princess cut, ask around and look for the one that has been cut with the so-called chamfering cutting technique. It is believed to enhance the durability of princess cut diamonds

Pointed culets are extremely prone to damage. Even though this area is protected by the actual jewelry, be careful not to expose it to any risk. Pointed culets are most vulnerable when diamonds are loose. If that’s the case, visit the jeweler ASAP.

Inspect the prongs that hold your diamond in place regularly. If they are bent or broken, prongs cannot do what they are supposed to – protect the gemstone’s corners, points, and sides from physical damage.

If your diamond has chipped, take it off immediately and do not wear it until you have it repaired. The chipped area is at extreme risk of getting damaged even further. 

The best protection is to wear your diamonds only when you’re not involved in risky activities. If there is a high chance you will hit your jewelry against any hard surface, do not wear it! Diamonds are tough but can be damaged if not careful.

Learn More: Does Insurance Cover A Chipped Diamond?

Conclusion

Diamonds are not forever, but they are mighty close to eternity. In normal conditions, they will most likely outlast most of the universe.

If you want to speed up the decay of a diamond for whatever reason, you can rely on a couple of different techniques. A diamond can be crushed, burned, or irradiated.

If you hope to do the opposite and avoid the damage, then stay away from heat sources and risky activities. A sharp blow will most likely chip a diamond, so make sure it does not happen to you accidentally. 

It would be best to wear your diamond jewelry only on special occasions when it is improbable to hit it hard and ruin it.

Learn More: Diamond Care – How To Take Care Of Your Diamonds

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