In the world of conflict minerals, blood diamonds are now widely understood to refer to rough diamonds that are mined in war-torn Africa and used to finance conflict, human rights abuses, and terrorism. But the term also refers to stones that have been colored to resemble the real thing — a practice that’s been around for centuries.
Colored diamonds are a relatively new phenomenon, first appearing on the market in 1961. However, these unassuming stones have a surprisingly sordid past. Their origins and the stories behind them are the subject of this article, which explores where colored diamonds come from, the people who use them, and the impact they have.
Where do Colored Diamonds Come From?
Colored diamonds are a man-made product, which means they are artificially colored. Natural colored diamonds are quite rare, occurring only in tiny traces throughout nature. Therefore, the vast majority of diamonds mined globally are uncolored.
With that in mind, the process of turning natural diamonds into colored stones is relatively simple: The natural stone is first subjected to heat and pressure to “decolorize” it. The decolorized stone is then treated with an acid that extracts the color, leaving behind a less-than-perfect imitation. While this process does yield some near-white stones, it’s primarily used to create light blues, grays, and blacks.
The People Who Use Colored Diamonds
Colored diamonds have been around for less than 50 years, so it might seem odd that they have only recently become a focus of conflict-minerals research. In fact, the stones have been used for centuries by jewelers, who often color them to match the stone setting they’ll wear alongside their expensive pieces.
While jewelers have long colored their diamonds, their primary use has been to imitate rubies, sapphires, and other expensive stones. The Victorians were particularly fond of tinting their diamonds wine red, and it was common to wear a red ruby as an engagement ring.
One of the first documented cases of imitation rubies using natural coloration was in 1672, when a Spanish royal decree banned the use of red metals in adornments. The prohibition prompted a Dutch gemologist named Abraham Goudie to come up with a new way to color diamonds blue.
The Impact of Colored Diamonds
In their natural form, natural diamonds are rare and expensive. However, the manufacturing process for colored diamonds has managed to significantly reduce their cost. As a result, conflict free diamonds have seen explosive growth in recent decades. In fact, the industry now produces more than 500 million carats of rough and polished colored diamonds each year.
That’s compared to 42.5 million carats of natural diamonds.
While the term “blood diamonds” has primarily referred to rough diamonds mined in war-torn Africa, the industry now produces more than 500 million carats of rough and polished colored diamonds each year.