National Geographic : 1979 Jan
the increcib e crystal D AMONDS ARTICLE AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRED WARD BLACK STAR ARRY WINSTON, the world's most famous gem merchant, touched the original Louis XV table in his quietly elegant office above New York City's Fifth Avenue, and said: "'Diamond' is a magic word today. The true dial Prices have never diaphanousperfect been higher, or risen which doth sparkle so fast. Yet customer like the twincklin demand is exceeding "THE HISTORY OF PRETIOI supply. Even though I have people coming in to buy million-dollar diamonds for investment, most of my busi ness is in quarter-carat and smaller stones selling for hundreds of dollars." It seems that today diamonds are for everybody as well as forever. Along with the almost frantic interest in gem diamonds has come an unprecedented proliferation of uses for the lesser-quality diamonds that literally make our industrial system work. Grinding, sawing, drilling, and polishing are the oldest and most com mon tasks, but diamonds are proving indis pensable in exotic jobs as well: * As America's latest Venus probe plunged through that planet's hostile atmosphere, it encountered searing heat and crushing pres sures. On a mission to unravel mysteries of mn tly JfC UJS Venus's dense cover, the instrument-laden capsule had been fitted with a transparent diamond window, through which infrared energy would pass to an on-board radi ometer, an aid in determining the thick clouds' composition. nd is a hard, Diamond was the Transparentstone, only material trans orth its glorie much parent to infrared fa glorious starre. that could stand the STONES,"T. NICOLS, 1652 cold and vacuum of space as well as Ve nus's atmospheric temperature of about 920°F (493°C) and atmospheric pressure a hundred times that of earth. * In hospitals around the world, eye sur geons can now remove cataracts with super sharp diamond knives whose edges are so even that no imperfections are visible at a thousand times magnification. * A pinhead-size gold-coated diamond cube is an essential element in high-capacity min iature transmitters that carry television and telephone signals across the United States. Since diamonds have the greatest thermal conductivity of any material, they keep the tiny transmitters from burning up. What is this amazing substance that turns the wheels of industry, advances science, and is the (Continued on page 89) Ace of diamonds: Harry Winston, New York merchandising mogul of the gem world, stands beside a box encrusted with 1,100 diamonds, made for Frederick the Great. Winston, whose insurance broker forbids his being recognizably photo graphed, has handled 60 of the world's major diamonds, more than any other dealer. The stone Pliny the Elder called "most highly valued of human possessions" remains the queen among jewels, as well as the consort of industry.