Belgian scientists say they can determine the origin of diamonds

A team of Belgian scientists said they have developed a way to determine of the origin of a diamond. The initial results of this pioneering research will be published in the scientific magazine The Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry.

By all counts, it is the first known incidence by which the geological source of a diamond can be confirmed by scientific means.

The new method is the result of a joint project of the research centre of the Antwerp Diamond High Council (HRD) and the University of Ghent. The project was initiated in 1999 with the onset of the conflict diamonds issue.

The researchers say, in an HRD statement, that the new method involves a technique that allows the analysis of trace elements in solid materials, called “Laser Ablation-Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectroscopy,” (LA-ICP MS).

“It entails the creation of a minute crater in the diamond using a laser beam. The different elements that are released are then analyzed. Because the diamond is a remarkably pure carbon product, very small quantities of atoms from sub-microscopic inclusions can be traced,” the statement says.

Diamonds from four different mines were analyzed: Panda (Canada), Premier (South-Africa), Orapa (Botswana) and Udachnaya (Russia). This resulted in the selection of nine elements for fingerprinting: Aluminium (Al), Mercury (Hg), Sodium (Na), Nickel (Ni), Lead (Pb), Antimony (Sb), Tin (Sn), Titanium (Ti), and Zinc (Zn). “By being able to recognize the very specific patterns or fingerprints created by the elements in diamonds from different origins, it is possible to make distinctions between the various mines,” the statement says.

However, say the scientists, there is still a long way to go before the technique can be used to determine the origin of all diamonds. To get a complete picture, samples from the various mines worldwide need to be examined. This will require several more years of intensive research, and the cooperation of the mines, which must provide materials for sampling.

Furthermore, for now the technique is not effective in determining the presence of conflict diamonds, because typically diamonds from conflict areas are alluvial, meaning that they were extracted from riverbeds, having been washed often hundreds of kilometres away from the kimberlitic source from which they originated, the researchers say, adding that the international certification scheme that is part of the Kimberley Process remains the most effective means of deciding that a diamond did not originate from a conflict area.