How Diamonds Work

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        Science | Minerals

Cutting Diamonds


Th­ere are special techniques that are used to cut and shape a diamond before it gets to the jewelry store. Diamond cutters use these four basic techniques:

  1. Cleaving - To cut a rough diamond down to a manageable size, the cutter must cleave it along the diamond's tetrahedral plane, where it is the weakest. A wax or cement mold holds the diamond in place while the cutter carves a sharp groove along the plane. The cutter places a steel blade in the groove and forcefully strikes it, cutting the rough diamond in two.
  1. Sawing - Sometimes, diamonds have to be cut where there is no plane of weakness, which cannot be done with cleaving. Instead, the cutter saws the diamond using a phosphor-bronze blade rotating at about 15,000 rpm. Lasers can also be used to saw diamonds, but the process takes hours. During the sawing step, the cutter decides which parts of the diamond will become the table (the flat top of the stone with the greatest surface area) and the girdle (the outside rim of the diamond at the point of largest diameter). Then, he proceeds to cutting.­
  2. Bruiting/Cutting - This technique gives diamonds their shape. When diamonds are cut by hand, the technique is called bruiting -- cutting refers to bruiting by machine. When the cutter shapes diamonds by hand, he relies on the diamond's hardness as his tool -- he uses diamonds to cut diamonds. He uses a small, stick-like instrument with a cement-filled bowl at the tip to hold the diamond. The diamond is inserted in cement with just one corner exposed. Using one of these sticks in each hand, the cutter rubs the exposed diamond parts together to bruit them. In the mechanical process, the diamond is placed in a lathe, and another diamond in the lathe rubs against it to create the rough finish of the g­irdle.
  1. Poli­shing - To create the diamond's finished look, the cutter places it onto the arm above a rotating polishing wheel. The wheel is coated with an abrasive diamond powder that smoothes the diamond as it is pressed against the wheel.

Next, we'll learn what determines the beauty and worth of a diamond.