Trace element partitioning in mixed-habit diamonds

D. Howell*, W. L. Griffin, N. J. Pearson, W. Powell, P. Wieland, S. Y. O'Reilly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Mixed-habit diamonds are a special type of crystal that form by simultaneous growth by two different mechanisms; octahedral and cuboid growth. This type of crystal growth is known to preferentially partition nitrogen into the octahedral growth sectors during growth. To identify if this fractionation occurs for any other trace element, this study applies in situ laser ablation mass spectrometry to a well-studied collection of mixed-habit diamonds. The results show high concentrations of nickel (3.6-36.4 ppm) and cobalt (0.108-1.25 ppm) in the cuboid sectors, whereas the octahedral sectors contain only < 0.05-0.35 ppm nickel and < 0.014-0.03 ppm cobalt. The relative enrichment of nickel in the cuboid sectors varies between 10 and 460 times. For cobalt, where the concentrations in the octahedral sector are commonly below the limit of quantification, the enrichment is estimated to be in the range of 10-100 times. There appears to be a rough linear relationship between the concentrations of the two elements in the cuboid sectors, with nickel concentrations approximately 27 times that of cobalt. This finding of nickel fractionation into the cuboid sectors is the opposite of what is seen in synthetic diamonds grown from FeNi solvents, where Ni is only found in the octahedral growth sectors. We propose that this is because the inherent lattice strain in the rough cuboid diamond growth of natural mixed-habit diamonds is greater than that in the smooth octahedral growth, making it easier to fit the large Ni and Co ions into a divacancy. In diamonds grown from metal solvents (i.e. industrial synthetic diamonds), the cube face is a smooth one, therefore the partitioning of trace elements is simply a result of the octahedral surface offering more bonding opportunities than the cube surface.Due to the extremely low concentrations of trace elements in these gem quality diamonds, many of the elements are commonly below the limit of quantification (LOQ). While we are confident that Pr, Sr, Pb, Zr, V, Cr and Zn are not fractionated by the crystal growth mechanisms of mixed-habit diamonds that affect Ni and Co, this remains to be proven for the remaining trace elements analysed. Data on the fractionation of copper are inconclusive, with 75% of data from the cuboid sectors above the LOQ and all data from the octahedral sectors below the LOQ. However, the values of the LOQ for the octahedral data are often higher than those of the cuboid data, so further investigation of Cu is necessary to confirm its behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)134-143
Number of pages10
JournalChemical Geology
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2013


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