Can Diamonds Be Recycled?

Fantasy Diamond - J Durham/Morguefile

Diamonds are often used as fashion accessories, but they have other applications. Their durability and ability to capture light make them ideal components for jewelry made to last a lifetime, and for use in low- and high-tech manufacturing. Whether used in jewelry or by industry, many diamonds can be recycled.

How Industry Uses Diamonds

Diamonds are the hardest natural substance. Their strength also makes them ideal for cutting other materials. Most mined diamonds are not of an appropriate quality or size for use in jewelry. Tiny flawed diamonds are often used to coat other cutting tools. Diamond-coated blades are used to cut other gemstones and numerous materials of all kinds. Diamonds are also used in other areas like optics and computing. Writing about industrial diamond use for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Donald Olsen shares this interesting fact: "The manufacture of every automobile made in the United States consumes 1.5 carats of industrial diamond."

Diamonds and the Environment

Diamonds, both real and synthetic, are made entirely of natural substances. They can be safely discarded by themselves, but many used in industry are glued to other materials or are part of components whose parts are toxic. To recycle or safely discard industrial diamonds, recyclers must separate them from any toxic parts.

Recycling Industrial Diamonds

Some industrial uses for diamonds make their recycling impossible. Many are used in grinding and essentially turn to dust. Those that can be salvaged are recycled when possible. The USGS reports that "it is estimated that about 4.9 million carats of used industrial diamond was recycled in the United States during 2003. Most of this material was recovered by recycling firms from used diamond drill bits, diamond tools, and other diamond-containing wastes. Additional diamond was recovered during the year from residues generated in the manufacture of PCD; most of this material was recovered from within the production operations of the PCD-producing companies."

Recycling, Resetting and Recutting Diamonds in Jewelry

Diamonds can be removed from their current settings and reset. Diamonds can also be recut. Recutting can make an older diamond appear more modern, remove any flaws or chips, and improve its polish. Do not remove a diamond from a setting yourself. Have a jeweler help you. The process of setting, resetting, and cutting gemstones always includes a risk of damage or destruction. Though diamonds are considered the hardest natural material, that title refers only to their ability to scratch other materials. They are not the sturdiest materials. It's easy to shatter a diamond with a well-placed blow.

You May Already Own a Recycled Diamond

It's possible that someone prior to you already recycled the diamonds in your jewelry. All diamonds are very old. Some were formed 4 billion years ago. Unless you know your diamond's history, since it was initially found in its uncut form, there's no way of knowing its provenance.