Big Yellow Diamond

The BBC has a story about an exceptionally large, and therefore exceptionally rare, yellow diamond.  The tear drop-cut stone weighs more than 110 carats and is called the Sun Drop.  The BBC story explains that its yellow color is caused by traces of nitrogen in the carbon for the stone.  (Other colored stones are caused by the presence of other substances — boron creates a blue stone, for example, and radiation creates a green cast to a diamond.)

Why do some people lust for gems?  A diamond is a glittering object — but so is a well-cut piece of crystal.  How many people have the skill and knowledge to distinguish an actual diamond from cubic zirconium, or some other skillful knock-off?  Why is wearing a big diamond, or some other gemstone, so important to some people?  And how inflated are the prices charged by the jewelry store at the mall for their rings and pendants with diamond chips?  How much is the mark-up on the rings featured in those sappy romantic TV ads?

Diamond mining is an industry with lots of issues.  In some African diamond mines, child labor is common, working conditions are poor, and workers are terribly exploited.  Mining can ruin otherwise arable land, cause serious erosion problems, and contaminate drinking water with heavy metals and chemicals in the run-off from mining operations.  The physical dangers of diamond mining include collapsing walls, flooding, and explosions — to say nothing of potential visits from rival factions in war-torn African regions, looking to use diamonds to fund their purchase of weapons and other rebellious activities.

The Sun Drop is a pretty thing — but are diamonds really worth it?