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Diamond: Still Unrivaled

Most people believe that diamond is the hardest material known to man.

What you may not know is that there are a number of materials that surpass it, such as the aggregated nanorods (ACNR) created in 2003 that had a 0.3% higher density than diamond.  ACNR could easily be dismissed as a rival to diamond given its artificial birth in a laboratory, not to mention, with a common name like ‘nanodiamonds’, one could argue that ACNR qualifies as the same raw material as its namesake.  Most people would still consider diamonds to be the hardest material in nature or in the laboratory.

As it turns out, though, that is not as accurate as you might think.   In 2009, two naturally occurring substances—wurtzite boron nitride and lonsdaleite—were found to have chemical bonds denser than those of diamond. They are even harder than the artificially constructed nanorods.  Wurtzite boron nitride surpasses diamond’s hardness by 18%, while lonsdaleite outstrips them all with a whopping 58% greater density.  Lonsdaleite can be rationalized away, given that it’s made of the same atomic base as diamond (carbon), with only its unusual structure to give it that extra kick.  But, wurtzite boron nitride is made of a different substance altogether!

Despite their hardness, it does not look like we’ll be turning to either of those substances for jewelry any time soon. Their superior strength is rivaled by only one thing: their rarity. While they do technically occur in nature, they are only formed under incredibly specific circumstances. Lonsdaleite forms when the earth is hit by meteorites containing graphite, and wurzite boron nitride forms only during an active volcanic eruption.

We think it’s safe to say that diamond will prevail in the jewelry market for a while yet.


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