Tectonic Movements: How Earthquakes Happen

Earth cutaway schematic of the Earth

Felling the earth rumble under you has got to be one of the scariest moments one could experience. It feels like the whole planet is moving and you are helpless to stop it or even run somewhere for safety. If you are one of those unlucky people who have actually experienced this, you are not alone, as thousands of others have experienced the same horror.

Fortunately, these movements, more commonly called by their every day name – earthquakes, only last less than a minute, but the damage it leaves behind in both human lives and property is incomprehensible.

So you ask yourself – why did this happen? What can be done about it? Let’s delve into what causes earthquakes and see if we can remove the mystery of why the earth moves.

The Tectonic Plates

Map of earthquakes across the world
Fault lines across the world. Red indicates heavy plate movement and black depicts most intensive or most destructive earthquakes.
At a level that is just under the earth’s service, within an area called the lithosphere, platforms called tectonic plates exist. According to scientific studies, these plates move a about 0.6 inches per year. Nothing to really get excited about. It is when there is heavy movement that we need to worry.

The plates are broken up into 12 regions, like 12 pieces of a jig saw puzzle that are connected to each other. When the plates move, they bump into each other at their (jig  saw) connections, officially called boundaries, causing collisions, or conversely, break away from each other. The image above depicts where these boundaries exist, which are called fault lines. The colors represent how intense the earthquake was. It is at these fault lines that when the plates move, volcanoes, mountains and tsunamis occur. As you can see, there is an abundance of fault lines across the entire west coast of the United States.

What lies directly under these plates is the source that causes the tectonic plates to move.

The Earth’s Mantle

Under the Earth graphic cut away
Under the tectonic plates is the mantle, which consists of magnesium and iron-bearing silicates. You can think of the tectonic plates as the ‘skin’ of the earth, analogous to the skin of an apple. Proportionally they are about the same in depth. So when the there is movement in the mantle, the plates above it feel this movement and they will then move accordingly. How much movement is dependent upon the intensity of the changes within the mantle.

What Occurs When the Teconic Plates Collide?

Earthquakes are caused by these collisions, as one plate moves over the other, the Earth shakes. The measurement of intensity is rated using a Richter Scale, which records the magnitude of the collisions, with ‘1’ being unnoticeable, up to ’10’, which can cause massive death and destruction. Fortunately, an earthquake of ’10’ is very rare.

What is the Current Theory of Plate Movement?

The reason why the plates move is still under conjecture, but one theory is that heat from radioactive processes within the planet’s interior is what causes the plates to move.

The latest theory is called slab pull, where areas of the lithosphere becomes less dense than the asthenosphere. This causes these areas above to sink further down into the mantle, pulling slabs of the lithosphere apart,  causing the plates to move in different directions. As a result, these regions are spreading or rifting,

Tetonic activity map over the Earth's history
Tetonic Activity Map Over the last One Million Years

The Latest Findings

But as it turns out, such interactions between continental plates is not the only reason for these various geological processes. Research led by a joint team of the University of Toronto and University of Aberdeen researchers have achieved an enormous breakthrough!

According to the research that uses supercomputers to run a model of the Earth’s upper mantle and crust, the prehistoric geological events could have left deep ‘scars’ that may play a significant role in earthquakes, tsunamis, formation of mountains or ocean trenches and many other ongoing geological processes.

The models created by the researchers indicate that the previous plate boundaries could stay buried deep below the surface of the Earth. These structures, which are no less than many millions of years old, are located far from the current plate boundaries and may cause drastic changes in the surface properties and structure of the interior of the continents.

The researchers went a step further to propose a new map highlighting the ancient geology of the Earth. The ‘perennial plate tectonic map’ explains through illustrations how the prehistoric geological events could affect today’s geological processes. The map is based on the common tectonic map, which is taught in elementary school, but it has been modified to include the concealed, ancient plate boundaries that may be involved in plate tectonic activity in the past as well as the present.

Owing to this recent breakthrough, some major revisions are required to the fundamental idea of plate tectonics. The research paper titled, ‘Lasting mantle scars lead to perennial plate tectonics’ appeared in the Nature Communications issue of June 10, 2016.


So we see that plate movements below the Earth’s surface can cause these disturbances to occur, but how they occur is still a forum for debate. At least we know where it happens most (fault lines) and precautions have been and will be taken for earthquakes to minimize damage.

The Fundamental Forces of Nature

Everything which happens around us is a result of the interaction of forces and we mean everything, from a fruit falling from a tree (Remember Isaac Newton?) to Earth orbiting around the Sun, aa matter around us interacts with other bodies around it, This phenomenon is based on four fundamental forces. 

Gravity, the weakest of the four natural forces is present in our everyday lives. It determines how and why things around us stay at a certain height and why some objects fall down, while others take longer. 

Electromagnetic forces run our electric and digital machines and allows us to access the universe from the comfort of our homes. 

The other two natural forces, namely the strong and the weak nuclear forces, operate at the atomic level. They influence the fundamental particles of an atom including the proton and electrons. 

Each of the four fundamental forces of nature has unique properties and characteristics. Every single interaction which takes place in the universe can be explained through these forces. However, there are certain interactions which appear to be bizarre and are not explained by these four forces. This raises the question of the existence of a fifth, unknown and unexplained force of nature. Physicists are still struggling to find the answer.  

Gravity – The Weakest Force of Nature

If a pen slips out of your hand, it will immediately fall down and touch the ground. For humans, gravity appears to be the strongest and most obvious force of nature. In reality, gravity is actually the weakest of the four elements. 

Simply defined, gravity is the attraction between any two objects which have a mass. The force depends upon the mass of the objects. According to the law of gravitation, the magnitude or intensity of the gravitational force can be calculated by multiplying the masses with the universal gravitational constant ‘G’. The resultant is then divided by the square of the distance between the centers of the masses. There is a different force of gravity constant for each object in the solar system and for that matter, the universe. The formula is F = G*m1*m2/r2 . One example would be the force of gravity on Earth is 9.8 meters per second squared, or 9.8 m/s2

Gravity is very weak on the atomic level, but since most objects around us have so much mass, the force of gravity becomes stronger and more apparent. The force becomes stronger and more evident for universal objects with larger masses including the planets and stars. In this case, gravity is strong enough to keep them in an orbit. When it comes to galaxies, the mass further increases and gravity plays a crucial role in attracting galaxies even when they are far apart.  

The Weak Nuclear Force 

The weak nuclear force is much stronger than the gravitational force (1010times). However, the force is only stronger within a certain range. It acts at a distance within the size of the proton. The particles which carry the weak nuclear force are called the weak vector bosons and have symbols w+, w and z0. The interaction between these particles causes one type of charged particle to turn into another type of charged particle. This interaction is responsible for phenomena such as beta and other radioactive decay

Electromagnetic Force 

The electromagnetic force is far stronger than the gravitational pull and has a much wider range than the weak nuclear force. This third strongest force of nature is 1040 times stronger than the gravitational force. An easy way to assess the strength of the electromagnetic force is to hold a magnet against a few paper clips. Gravity will attract the paper clips downwards but the electromagnetic force, which is stronger than gravity, will end up attracting the paper clips upwards. 

The electromagnetic force allows the interaction of particles with an electric charge. When the charged particles are at rest, they interact through electrostatic forces. When in motion, they mingle together through both electrical and magnetic forces. 

Though less powerful than the strong nuclear force, the electromagnetic force is by far the most prevalent force in the world. It can affect objects with a fair amount of power when they are at a reasonable distance. 

The Strong Nuclear Force

The strong nuclear force is the strongest fundamental force of nature. It is the biggest influence on the fundamental particles of the universe. It is this force which binds together the nuclei of the atom. However, the range of the strong nuclear force is only limited to subatomic particles. 

The nuclei of an atom is made up of a positively charged proton and a neutral charged neutron. Since like charges repel, each proton in the nuclei is working hard to get away from the other proton. This is where the strong nuclear force comes in. The strong force allows particles called gluons to stick together and create nucleons. These gluons can interact with other gluons and further strengthen the bond within the nuclei. The presence of the strong nuclear force is the reason why so much energy is released when the nuclei of an atom breaks down. 

The Fifth Force – Fact or Fiction 

Physicists around the world have unanimously agreed that the four fundamental forces explain every phenomenon that takes place in the universe. However, there are various mysteries of physics which cannot be explained by these four fundamental forces of nature. One such mystery is the existence of dark matter. After immense research, physicists have agreed that dark matter is a form of a stable and huge particle which experiences gravity but no other known forces. Researchers have failed to identify the reason why dark matter does not experience any force other than gravity. 

There are many ideas about why other forces do not act on the dark matter. One famous hypothesis is the presence of an unidentified fifth force. Physicists around the world are studying the possibilities of existence of a fifth fundamental force of nature. But it is too early to claim its presence.  

How Mountains are Created

Mountains big and small have been the result of plate teconics.

The formation of the Himalayas was created when the Indian subplate burrowed under the European continent and formed the Appalachian Mountains.

When the North American and African plates collided, a large separation of earth materialized and the Atlantic Ocean opened up.

The volcanic and seismic activity of the West Coast of the US occurs as a result of grinding of the North American and Pacific plates.

The above are just a few examples of the effects of plate tectonics. The geological history of Earth is littered with such phenomena that have made the Earth what it is today.

Some of the Most Environmentally Dangerous Places on Earth

Kilauea Volcano with smoke plume rising
Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii © SS

You’ve heard the term: “It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”. Well, we going to explore places that appeal to some for a short visit but wouldn’t want to overrun their stay. 

The Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of these places. A live volcano that spits out lava like a bottle pouring ketchup on a hamburger, but it doesn’t have a peak, instead it is rather flat; nevertheless, it is a live volcano.

Big Island Hawaii volcano areaJust walk along the charred ground leading up to the lava plume and you will see what I am talking about. A friend of ours traversed this chard ground, passing many warning signs of “danger to your health and possible death.” He walked for about a mile to the ocean to see the molten lava spewing down into the water from the rocks above. It was a sight to see and a place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to camp out there, not to mention live there.  

There are however, locations on this planet that are a little more charitable and surprisingly, some people do make the places their home. Maybe not as treacherous as the Kilauea Volcano, but tough and scary just the same, as they are sitting right in the middle of mother nature’s hidden fury. 

According to the World Health Organization, about 90,000 people are killed every year due to natural disasters. Globally, natural disasters affect almost 160 million people yearly. They have an immediate effect on the lives and property, but in the long run, it can be detrimental to human survival. 

The places which are most prone to natural disasters are considered to be the most dangerous places on earth. Let’s take a look at where they are. 

I-44 Tornado Corridor 

Large tornado moving towards a house in a rural area
“crazy tornado” by rustybrick is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Ranked as one of the most dangerous places to live, the I-44 tornado corridor is located between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. This geographical location has been hit by hundreds of tornadoes since 1950. The only period when there were no tornados was between the years 1992 and 1998. The following year has been known to be one of the most deadly years in the history of Oklahoma and Tulsa. 

In 1999, the area was hit by a series of 70 tornadoes which swept thousands of homes and killed hundreds of people in multiple cities. This series of tornadoes affected the areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  

The areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa are densely populated and are a home for over a million people. The spring season is particularly damaging for this location as the cool and dry air from the mountains collide with the warm, hot and humid air of the coastal area. As a result, most tornadoes hit the region in the spring season making it very difficult for people to live. 


A rural area in central Guatemala showing houses and people“Guatemala” by Green Empowerment is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A relatively poor country south of Mexico in Central America, Guatemala is constantly affected by natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. According to a survey, natural disasters between 1975 and 2015 have caused damage that has cost a total of $9.1 billion. 

A hurricane hit the country in 2005 caused severe damage. It also triggered landslides and floods. Multiple villages disappeared. With changes in the global environment, Guatemala is likely to experience an increase in temperatures and heat waves, which can affect more lives.  


Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia

“Fishermen boats in Cirebon, west Java, Indonesia.”by USAID Digital Development is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Indonesia has managed to survive many natural disasters, including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis. With a recorded history of natural disasters dating back to the 13th century, Indonesia has endured multiple disasters in the last three decades. 

The most famous being the deadly tsunami of 2004, which caused 227,898 deaths. Being started by an earthquake of magnitude 9.1, this tsunami affected many other Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. 

Due to changes in the global climate, Indonesia has experienced one major natural disaster every year since the 2004 tsunami. 

Africa’s Killer Lakes 

Lake Kivu, Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun, located in Congo and Cameroon are known as the “Killer Lakes of Africa”. These lakes have large volumes of methane and carbon dioxide stored underneath their surface. Eruption of these gases from the lakes have resulted in creation of a gas cloud which has killed thousands of people in the region. According to research, the reason for this eruption is the volcanic activity taking place under the surface of these lakes. 

Lake Kivu, located between Congo and Rwanda is the home for over 2 million people. However, this is a very dangerous zone as Lake Kivu, holds 2.3 trillion cubic feet of methane gas. It also holds around 60 cubic miles of carbon dioxide gas. Both these gases have a greenhouse effect. However, release of these gases can immediate kill the entire population in the region. 

Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun which also holds large reserves of these dangerous gases are located in Cameroon. People living around these lakes have experienced the eruptions of these harmful gases. The cloud of gas which formed after the release of CO2 and methane gas has killed thousands. Not only does it kills human beings, but it is also deadly for all creatures including plants and animals. 

The population living there is under immense threat as any volcanic eruption under the lakes can kill the entire population living in the region. 

The Cold Pole 

The toughest place for human survival is near the poles. The cold and dry climate not only hinders the growth of vegetation and animals but is also detrimental for the human survival. The oldest city located in the heart of Siberia is known as the Cold Pole. The Cold Pole is known to be the coldest place which is inhibited by humans. The Russians have been living in this harsh climatic zone for more than three centuries. 

The river which flows in the region is frozen for nine months in a year and the city hardly sees sun during winters. During summers which range from September to March, the area gets sunlight for less than five hours per day. The temperatures during winters can go down to -60 degrees Fahrenheit, but this area of extreme climatic conditions is still home for 1,500 people.  


The most populated country in the world has probably endured the most dangerous and deadly natural disasters in history. China is prone to many natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods, and typhoons. 

China is located in a region where the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates are always colliding. This makes China one of the most dangerous countries in the world when it comes to natural disasters. Out of the 10 most deadly earthquakes on the planet, the top three were experienced by China. Not only earthquakes, but China’s coastal region is regularly hit by typhoons and storms. 

Between 2000 and 2015, natural disasters in China have affected 1.6 billion people and resulted in damages worth $300 billion. 

Creeping Sandbox, China 

If China doesn’t have enough to worry about, the once fertile oasis located in the Minqin Country in China is now an arid land. The people residing there are under an extremely tough situation as they are trapped between two deserts which are growing at a rapid rate. Human activities like deforestation has increased the rate of desertification and each year, the desert is growing by 10 meters. As a result, the land is becoming arid and barren and farmers living there are unable to meet their agricultural needs. 

Around two million people reside in this difficult climatic zone where there are 130 days of wind and sand storms each year. Due to extreme weather conditions and increased deforestation, the area of cultivable land has decreased from 360 sq. miles to 60 sq. miles. A number of farmers are relocating because of difficult living conditions. The government has also officially announced the relocation of displaced farmers in January this year.

Sahel Region of Africa 

Slightly change the definition of natural disasters, and you will notice that drought can also be disastrous to a region – a natural disaster in its own right. The dry and arid region of the Sahel region situated right next to the Sahara desert is prone to droughts. 

According to the UN Environmental Program, the drought in the Sahel region killed more than 100,000 people between 1972 and 1984. Over 750,000 people were dependent on food aid as they were unable to grow their crops due to extreme weather conditions and shortage of water. Studies have shown that the exploitation of resources by humans has further increased the risk of drought in the future, making it one of the world’s most dangerous places. 

Lake Nyos, Cameroon 

As soon as you hear about a death toll of 1,700 people, the kind of natural disasters which may come to mind are earthquakes, volcanic eruption or a flood. No one can imagine that this high death toll can be the result of the release of carbon dioxide.

Lake Nyos is located in Cameroon with no signs of volcanic activity. However, this silent blue lake killed 1,700 people and thousands of animals due to an abrupt turnover of water. Studies have shown that the volcanic activity taking place underneath the surface release carbon dioxide gas (CO2). This CO2 dissolved in the depths of the lake and the water became saturated with CO2. 

The water which is rich in CO2 does not mix or circulate, causing layers to form. These layers do not mix with each other. However, there is a periodic turnover of water which releases the trapped CO2 into the environment. 

This turnover which occurred in 1986 resulted in a sudden and disastrous release of CO2 in the atmosphere and killed many people. This periodic turnover continues to be a threat for people living near Lake Nyos in Cameroon.


There are many other places on earth which experience natural disasters of varying intensity, making them very dangerous places to live. With changes to the climate, the intensity and frequency of natural disasters have drastically changed. However, natural disasters are nothing but Mother Nature’s way of restoring balance to the earth. 

Uses of Silicon in Everyday Life

The 14th element in the periodic table, silicon is a grey, shiny metalloid with multiple uses. Besides oxygen, silicon is the second most readily available element on Earth and the 8th most common element found in the universe. Naturally, silicon occurs as a compound, bound up with other elements. 

Silicon is one of the seven elements that are known as metalloids, which refers to elements that possess the properties of both metals and nonmetals. This makes it ideal for uses in many different industries and is the main component in making alloys (mixing metals with non-metals). Silicon is not only used in the construction industry, but high tech equipment like computer chips, solar panels, and transistors are all made up of silicon. 

The fact that silicon can act as a semiconductor, by allowing control of electrical current, makes it ideal for virtually all electronic equipment. 

Facts About Silicon

Silicon is one of the most interesting elements in the periodic table. Some facts about this element are as follows:

  • Naturally, silicon is not found in its pure state and is always combined with other elements. 
  • Over 90% of the Earth’s crust is made up of silicon-containing compounds. 
  • Most meteorites contain large amounts of silicon. 
  • On the Mohs scale of hardness, silicon carbide scores an impressive 9-9.5, which is slightly less than a diamond. 
  • The hardness of silicon compounds makes them an ideal abrasive for industrial use. 
  • Silicon was first isolated to develop silicon-only crystals in 1854. 
  • Silicon has a higher density in liquid form as compared to when it is solid. 
  • Unlike most metals, the conductivity of silicon improves when the temperature increases.

Properties of Silicon 

Due to its metalloid nature, silicon does not behave like a typical metal or non-metal but shares the properties of both. Certain factors like temperature and combination with other elements affect its behavior and properties. Some properties of silicon are: 

Silicon is a Semiconductor 

Silicon does not behave like a typical metal or nonmetal. This is the reason why silicon is considered as a semiconductor. It can act as a conductor of electrical current or an insulator depending upon the temperature. As the temperature increases, silicon’s conductivity gets better.  

Melting and Boiling Points 

Though silicon is not a pure metal, it is has a very high melting and boiling point. The melting point of silicon is 1410 degrees Celsius, whereas the boiling point is 2355 degrees Celsius. 

Reaction with Other Elements 

Pure silicon is highly reactive. Since there are four valence electrons available, silicon can form an ionic or covalent bond by sharing or giving away its electrons. This is the reason why it is not available in its pure form naturally. In its solid form, silicon remains an inert element and does not react with oxygen or water.

Uses of Silicon 

The structure and properties of silicon make it a suitable element for a number of industries. Though silicon is hardly used in its pure form, silicon compounds are more commonly used for industrial applications. 

Alloy Making 

This metal is widely used in making alloys. It is produced at very high temperatures and when heated, it  can easily react with other elements like iron. Ferrosilicon is one of the most commonly used silicon alloys and is used in the manufacturing of steel. This alloy of iron and silicon gives hardness and strength to steel. It is also used as the prime deoxidizer in steel manufacturing and helps in removing impurities from the steel. 

The aluminum industry also heavily relies on the use of silicon alloys. These alloys are used in welding and manufacturing of molds.  

An electronic mother board for a computer

“Resistors and Transistors”by Andrew Mason is licensed under CC BY 2.0


One of the most important properties of silicon is that it works as a semiconductor. Its high melting point and ability to conduct electricity makes it ideal for its use in the electronics industry. 

Prior to its use for electronic devices, silicon is refined in two stages. First, oxygen is removed from the compound, and then it is further refined to produce hyper pure silicon, which is a semiconductor grade element. Hyperpure silicon is used in the manufacturing of many electronic devices, including transistors, circuit boards, and microchips which have multiple uses. 

A recent milestone in computer technology using silicon-based chips is the invention of quantum computers. These computers can outperform normal computers. Using silicon, these computers can replace normal computers in the near future. 

A recent development in medicine is the use of silicon nanoneedles. These are tiny needles which are used for intracellular drug delivery. 

Solar panels on the roof of a house

“Solar Panel”by Marufish is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Solar Panels 

With climatic changes and a high concentration of greenhouse gases, there is much emphasis on the use of renewable sources of energy. Solar energy is one of the most environmentally friendly sources of energy. Using solar panels, we can easily convert the energy of the sun into electricity without damaging the environment. 

Most solar cells and solar panels are created using silicon because of its physical and chemical properties. Silicon’s ability to work as a semiconductor makes it the most suitable element for solar panels. However, pure silicon is not used as it is a poor conductor. Silicon is mixed with impurities (also known as doping) so that it can absorb the energy from the sun and convert it into electricity. 

Initially, using silicon in the manufacturing of solar panels was an expensive technology. With recent developments in research and technology, silicon solar panels are now affordable for most people. 

Nature has provided mankind with all the resources it needs for survival. It’s up to us how we harness and utilize the bounties of nature without damaging the environment. 


The discovery of silicon has had a major impact on how we live our lives everyday. Although it is not apparant, it would be hard to imagine how we would live today without the use of silicon.

Ten Gorgeous Diamond Cuts for Engagement Rings

Groom and bride holding hands with ring showing on her fingerDiamonds are eternal – just like your bond with your life partner. That’s why these sparkling rocks are the one and only choice for an engagement ring. Proposals can leave you in a bundle of nerves but what’s even more stressful is getting the right ring for her. Diamonds come in a variety of clarities, sizes, shapes and cuts, and you can pay an arm and a leg for them. Since you are probably going to invest a huge part of your savings on an engagement ring, you should know about some stunning diamond cuts which would surely make her say ‘yes!’

Walking into a jewelers shop can be a bit intimidating. One can easily get confused when surrounded by all the different cuts and designs. Before delving into the cuts, it’s important to distinguish between the cut and the shape. The shape is the geometric appearance of the gemstone, whereas a cut is what makes a diamond bright and shiny. A gemstone sparkles when light reflects from it.

The facets (flat surfaces that allow more light to be reflected; hence, more brilliance) and angles (how the facets are placed on the gem to bring in the most light), their quantity, symmetry, and proportions are all responsible for the reflection of light. A diamond is intricately cut to maximize this reflection, but not all diamonds are equal. Some have less quality cuts then others and hence the price difference you will see as you shop, but the better the cut, the more brillance, the more she will like it, but the more you will pay for it.

Cutting a diamond too shallow would allow most of the light to pass through the bottom, making this an extremely poor cut. If cut too deep, a diamond would reflect light from its sides and would fail to produce the required gleam and glitter. A perfectly cut diamond would reflect all its light from its top face and would shine brilliantly. The more radiant a diamond appears, the more expensive it will be. 

Now, let’s look at the ten most popular diamond cuts that would be perfect for an engagement ring:

Round Cut

Top face and side view of a round cut diamond
Brilliant Round Cut Diamonds

This cut is one of the most popular and most famous type of cut for engagement rings. About 50% of engagement rings have a round cut diamond. This particular cut gives maximum shine to the diamond, partially do to the large amounts of facts (58) and the ideal position at which they are set. You’ll find a range of grades, styles, and settings for a round cut diamond. A simple gold or platinum ring with an isolated round-cut diamond looks like a personification of “beauty lies in simplicity”. You can also try a solitaire setting to add glamour to this cut. 

Round cut diamonds are considered the most expensive of the cut variations, but they display the most brilliance. You can’t go wrong with a round cut diamond. 

Princess Cut

Diamonds with Princess Cuts
Princess Cut Diamonds

Also known as a square modified brilliant cut, the princess cut is  a popular choice for engagement rings. First created by Betazel Ambar and Israel Itzkowitz in 1980, princess cuts appears like a square or rectangle from the top.

It has four beveled sides and a bottom that resembles an inverted pyramid. You’ll find this cut in 30% of the rings. It looks a bit familiar to the Asscher or Emerald cut but it has more facets at the top as opposed to the flat top face of Asscher.

Emerald Cut

Top face and side view of a princess cut diamond
Emerald Cut Diamond

This cut derives its name from the famous gemstone emerald because these stones are usually cut in this manner. However, this cut looks equally classy for diamonds. It is a stepped cut that seems to have an aura of enduring beauty. Its top face is a narrow rectangle with trimmed corners. Since this cut is not used as frequently as a round or princess cut, it is relatively inexpensive and so a ring with a high-grade emerald cut diamond will cost you less or if you were going to sell one, you won’t get what you would get if you had a round cut stone; however, those with smaller hands prefer the emerald cut because it makes their fingers look longer.   

Oval Cut

Top face and side view of a princess cut diamond
Oval Cut Diamond

Oval cut exhibits a classic and traditional impression. This cut has gained popularity in recent years. It beautifies the hand as it has a lengthening effect. The oval cut is a great choice for East-West trendy rings. It is about 25% more affordable than a round cut diamond ring. Its greater surface area makes the diamond appear bigger. However, an oval cut has one undesirable feature called ‘the bow-tie effect’ which means the cut will show a darker area in the middle if one looked down upon it. The greater the bow tie effect, the poorer the stone quality. Excellent quality diamonds will have a very subtle darker region.

Asscher Cut

Ascher Cut Diamond
Ascher Cut Diamond

Created in the early 1900s, it came into light in the 1920s. It was named after its creators the Asscher Brothers who ran Holland’s Asscher Diamond Company which later became the Royal Asscher Diamond Company. It was an attractive cut with a vintage feel about it. Similar to an emerald cut, it has a square or rectangular appearance with cropped corners. It has 74 large step facets and a high crown which makes yields more brilliance than the emerald cut. It is set in a four-prong setting and reflects light like a never-ending corridor lined with mirrors on all sides. 

Cushion Cut

Cushion Cut Diamond
Cushion Cut Diamond

A cushion-cut, also known as a pillow cut, is made to emphasize clarity. This cut is almost 200 years old which gives it a vintage flair. On the other hand, it looks extremely stylish and modern with a square top face with rounded corners. To further elevate this symbol of understated love, you can mount it in a halo setting for a perfect engagement ring.

Marquise Cut

Marquise Cut Diamonds
Marquise Cut Diamonds

Considered bold and beautiful, Marquise cut is also known as the football-shaped cut, the eye-shaped cut, and the boat-cut. It exudes a dramatic persona with an elliptical shape with pointed ends and 58 facets. Its French history is as interesting as the cut itself. Back in the 18th century King Louis XV of France ordered a jeweler to design a cut inspired by his mistress’ lips. A diamond ring in this cut would require multiple prongs and a setting which can act as a stable base for the stone.

Radiant Cut

Radiant Cut Diamonds
Radiant Cut Diamonds

A radiant cut gets its name from its matchless radiance. Since a radiant cut diamond has numerous facets, it reflects light in all directions and appears luminous. This cut also has a square or rectangle shape with trimmed corners. Looking directly into the top face of the stone would reveal a circular pattern in the center. 

Pear Cut

Pear Cut Diamonds
Pear Cut Diamonds

This would be an ideal cut for those looking for something elegant and sophisticated. The pear cut has the best features of marquise and round cut diamonds. It is so beautifully proportioned that it looks like an angel’s teardrop. It makes the hand appear slender due to its pointed corner. The cut makes the diamond look bigger than it actually is.   

Heart Cut

Diamonds in heart shape cutA heart cut diamond looks very exquisite and lovely. When buying a ring with a heart-cut diamond, make sure you check its proportions closely. Give enough attention to the body and the cleft of the heart shape. This cut would require a setting with more prongs.

A Guide on How to Buy Ethical Diamonds

Diamond lying on a red clothThis universal symbol of love and commitment does, unfortunately have a dark side. A side we as consumers are never exposed to with the exception of possible seeing it being addressed in the movies or on the news. 

The illegal diamond trade, especially in conflict zones is filled problems rangings from exploitation of labor (in some cases, children) to using the money for war funds. 

Problems Related to Purchasing Ethical Diamonds 

With the spread of information, people are now more aware of purchasing a diamond that has been sourced ethically and in an environmentally friendly way. The most prevalent problems associated with purchasing ethically sourced diamonds are as follows. 

The Misleading Nature of Conflict Free Diamonds 

You may have heard the term conflict diamonds also known as blood diamonds. This phrase was first coined in the 1990s when rebel groups were taking over mines in western and central Africa. Once the mines were in their control, the rebels would illegally trade diamonds for money and weapons to stage bloody wars against governments and civilians. 

To tackle this problem the Kimberly Process Certification System was established in 2003 to stop the flow of blood diamonds. But the problem with this process is that it only ensures that the diamonds aren’t fuelling any rebel wars. It doesn’t take into account diamonds tainted by violence, environmental harm or child labor.

The Kimberley Process has duped buyers in regards to ethically sourced diamonds. Diamonds certified under this process does not take into consideration those who have mined or the environment and surrounding communities. Conflict-free diamonds are only regulated to ensure that they don’t fund rebels without giving other aspects any regards. 

Most Diamonds are not Traceable to Their Origins

As much as most people would like to believe it, most diamonds are not traceable to their origins like other products such as organic produce. The reason for this is that a diamond changes many hands from mining to retail and not all of them are honest. 

Thought most of the diamonds mined today are done so industrially, there is still no reliable method to distinguish a corrupt diamond from an ethically sourced one. The reason being that despite the technical advancements, there is still no way to trace a diamond back to its original source. 

What Should an Ethically Conscious Buyer Do 

Canadian Diamonds

Canada isn’t the country that comes to mind when you think about diamonds. The main reason is that it is a relatively new source for diamond production. Diamonds were first discovered in the 1990s and Canada has now emerged as a major supplier of high-quality diamonds, many of which are able to be traced back to the source. 

Though they may be more expensive, Canadian diamonds are mined in accordance with strict adherence to fair labor laws and environmental standards. 

Diamond Details 

Do not settle on a diamond simply because it has been verified through the Kimberly Process or because the retailer gives vague assurances about the supplier. 

Consumers need to ask questions about their diamonds and not settle for an easy answer. You can also ask for a guarantee of the diamond origin by asking for a credible certificate of origin such as CanadaMark for Canadian diamonds. Even independent bodies such as the Jeweltree Foundation are promoting ethical business practices in the diamond and are also able to issue a credible certificate of origin. 

Knowing Your Supplier 

Buy from suppliers that make a commitment to ethical sourcing and have a sound reputation in the market for giving back to the communities living around the mines. For instance, De Beers Forevermark diamonds are guaranteed by the company to be ethically mined following stringent criteria throughout the entire supply chain. Though these diamonds cannot be traced to the exact mines where the stones were extracted from but De Beers invests in local schools and hospitals around mining communities, especially in Botswana. Other companies that are known to engage in ethical sourcing and investing back in mining communities include Tiffany, Cartier, and Signet. 

Recycled Diamonds 

Thought it might seem like a strange option, recycled diamonds are the world’s largest diamond resource according to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). 

Recycled diamonds are gaining a lot of popularity nowadays, especially amongst buyers looking to avoid the environmental and ethical issues associated with tainted stones. They have no stark differences when compared to a freshly mined diamond. Recycled diamonds are often re-polished and re-cut after being separated from their original mount. 

Other Alternatives 

Synthetic diamonds or lab created diamonds are great options for buyers seeking environmentally friendly and ethically sourced rocks. These stones are completely man-made and free of risk to miners or the environment while looking like real diamonds. 

Countries to Avoid 

You should avoid purchasing diamonds from countries like Angola and Zimbabwe where there are numerous instances of abuses in and around mines, verified by credible institutions such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. 

African nations such as Botswana and Namibia are good options for ethically sourced stones. These countries have a good reputation of ensuring that the income generated from diamond mining created jobs and promotes development. Laws that give rights to miners are also strictly enforced by these countries. 

Final Thoughts 

Buying diamonds is much like buying any other commodity or investment; you conduct your research and make a decision based on what feels right.

The 4C’s of Emeralds

An emerald gemstone in organic conditionEmerald, a deep green rare gemstone that symbolizes peace and tranquility. Emeralds are loved for their color as it beautifies your jewelry and according to legend, gives you calmness and relaxes your nerves. 

Buying an emerald is not as tricky as buying a diamond. Knowing the physical attributes of a gemstone can help you make the right choice. The 4C’s which are used to evaluate a diamond can also be used to choose the right emerald. However, a different significance is assigned to each C when assessing emeralds. By using the information about the 4C’s of emeralds, you can find a gemstone which is the right value for your money. 


Color is by far the most important C when evaluating an emerald. The best emeralds range from bluish green to pure green with bright tone and color saturation and which is not too dark, in contrast to diamonds where a colorless diamond is what brings in the most value. When you look at an emerald, it is either a bright vibrant green or a dull, limp color or possibly something in between. 

Trace elements like chromium, vanadium, and iron give color to an emerald. The presence or absence of each of these trace elements determines the exact color of the crystal. 

Color can be broken up into three categories – hue, tone, and saturation


Hue means the type of green color an emerald has. Most emeralds sold in the market today range from bluish green to dark green. If the color is too yellowish or bluish, it is not an emerald and the value will be lower compared to the original emerald.  

The emerald market is saturated with Columbian emeralds and most Columbian emeralds have a more intense pure green color. Whereas Zambian emeralds are said to have a cooler, more bluish green color.  


The tone of an emerald stone determines its value. It classifies the stone in terms of light and dark. A good quality, naturally occurring emerald falls somewhere between very light and very dark. 

It is believed that the darker the tone, better is the emerald. However, this is not true. An emerald with a medium tone is ideal for purchase, but it is important to look at the hue and saturation of the crystal as well. 


Saturation of an emerald refers to the intensity and strength of the green color of the crystal. Saturation can vary on a scale of dull to vivid. An emerald with dull saturation is likely to have more grey. Grey will reduce the saturation and give a dull look to the stone. Therefore, emeralds with visible grey should be avoided. 

When you are evaluating the color of an emerald for your jewelry, make sure you go for a crystal that is greenish in color, has a medium tone and vivid saturation. You can fall in love with the green color of emeralds with the right saturation and tone.    


Unlike diamonds where the value diminishes when there are inclusions, emeralds contain them and are visible to the eye without the aid of any equipment. In fact, 99% of the naturally occurring emeralds have inclusions. The GIA organizes emeralds as Type 3 which means that there are always inclusions. If you don’t see any inclusion, you need to check if the emerald is real or not. 

Inclusions are not necessarily bad for emeralds. Emeralds belong to the beryl mineral family and the inclusions are a result of liquids, gases and minerals like chromium and vanadium. As with diamonds, emeralds with better clarity are sold at a higher price in the market. When the inclusion affects the transparency and clarity of the stone, it can dramatically reduce its value.  

However, you need to be careful about the type of inclusions you see in an emerald crystal. Typical emerald inclusions resemble branches and roots. So if you see inclusions that look like bubbles and big blotches, the emerald is not for you.  


Just like with diamonds, the cutter of an emerald must consider the depth of color, durability and inclusions when making the decisions about cutting the stone. Mistakes in cutting can seriously affect the value of this precious gem and can result in considerable weight loss.

Ideally, an emerald should be cut in a symmetrical manner so that the appropriate amount of light can pass through the stone. If cut too deeply, the light will escape on the side and the emerald will look dark. Similarly, if the cut is too shallow, the emerald will not appear brilliance. Since color is a very important consideration when choosing an emerald, the cut must maximize the hue, tone and saturation of the stone.  

The best cut for an emerald is the “emerald cut”. It is a rectangular or square cut which maximizes the shape of the rough and allows maximum light to flow in giving the right brilliance and tone to the stone. Apart from the emerald cuts, there are round and oval cuts but they are expensive and result in a lot of wastage.

One important factor when cutting is an emerald is that all emeralds have natural occurring inclusions and fissures. A cutter must design the cut in a way that the finished stone has minimal impact on the clarity of the stone. 

Carat Weight  

The weight of emeralds is measured in Carats where each carat is equal to 0.02 grams. The emeralds with the Royal family and in the museums weigh hundreds of carats and are extremely valuable. In comparison, the popular size of emeralds used in jewelry is between 0.25 and 1.5 carats. 

An emerald with more carat weight will be more expensive compared to a smaller emerald keeping all other factors the same.

Choosing a rare gemstone can be tricky for an untrained person. With more information about the 4C’s of emeralds, you can surely make a more informed decision when choosing emeralds for your jewelry. 

The Mighty Mountains

Mountains in Colorado SpringsWhat would the world look like without the peaks and glory of the mighty mountains? From the Himalayas to the Rocky Mountains, these mysterious peaks cover almost one-fifth of the Earth’s surface. 

A mountain is a land form which stretches above the land, many times in the form of a peak. Like every landscape, mountains are unique in their formation, characteristics, and the way they affect the environment.   

What are Mountains?

Mountains are generally assumed to be a giant formation of rock, but there is no universally accepted definition of a mountain. Factors like elevation, slope, and continuity define a mountainous environment. The UN Environmental Program defines a mountain as a piece of rock with at least one of the following attributes:

  • A piece of rock with an altitude of at least 2500 meters above sea level.
  • A piece of rock with an elevation of at least 1500 meters above sea level and a slope of more than 2 degrees.
  • A piece of rock with an altitude of at least 1000 meters above sea level and a slope of more than 5 degrees.
  • A piece of rock with an elevation of at least 300 meters and an elevation range of more than 7 kilometers.

The World’s Most Famous Mountains 

Mountains cover almost 24% of our planet and are scattered all around the globe, with some being underwater and the rest on the surface of the Earth. The longest mountain range is called The Mid Ocean Ridge, which is almost 65,000 kilometers long and is mostly underwater and stretches almost all around the globe.

But the world’s longest mountain range above sea level is The Andes. The Andes is 7000 kilometers long range and is located in seven countries of South America.

The most famous mountain range in the world is The Himalayas. This is because of the fact that mountain climbers try to summit the mountain peaks in this area. The range contains 3 of 5 highest mountain peaks in the world. The Himalayas include:

  • Mount Everest – The world’s highest point with a peak height of 8848 meters above sea level. It is situated in Nepal. 
  • The K-2 – The second highest point on earth and located in Pakistan.
  • Nanga Parbat – One of the most dangerous mountains to summit. Compared to Mount Everest and K2, this mountain is responsible for the highest climber death toll in the world.

It might come as a surprise, but the world’s tallest mountain is actually not Mount Everest. It is called Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea has a total height of 10,203 meters – almost 2 kilometers more than Everest, but almost 6000 meters of it are under the ocean.  It is situated on one of the islands in Hawaii and is basically an inactive volcano. 

How Are Mountains Formed?

The two known ways of mountain formation are: 

Tectonic Plates Movement

Diagram of Earth's Inner LayersThe Earth consists of six main tectonic plates, which are located in the Lithosphere (Higheset layer). These plates are continuously moving over the hot magma. They are like a jigsaw puzzle and when any of the two pieces collide with each other, they create a disturbance which, in common terms, is known as an earthquake. 

When this happens underwater, it creates a tsunami. But when this happens on land, we get earthquakes. As a result of this, these plates overlap each other and create uphill surfaces known as mountains. An interesting fact about The Himalayas is that the process of the creation of these mountains started about 55 million years ago and the range is continuously growing because of these continuous tectonic movements.

Volcanic Activity

Some mountains are formed by the movement of these tectonic plates, but others are formed by volcanic eruptions. 

Volcanoes are basically openings in our planet that are directly connected to the hot magma which is flowing under it. Whenever a volcano erupts, it lets go of lava (hot magma), gas, ash, and solid rocks. With the continuous release of lava over time (volcanic eruptions), a solid block is formed. This happens when the hot lava cools down. With this continuous release over time, a cliff or a mountain is formed.  Mauna Kea in Hawaii and Mount Fuji in Japan are examples of volcanic mountains.

Characteristics of Mountains

Capital Reef National Park
Capital Reef National Park, Utah

All mountain systems share a common characteristic of height. Other than that, the mountain ranges supply almost 80% of all the spring water present on earth. This spring water comes from the melting of ice that is present on the peaks of these mountains.

Mountain ranges are home to several living creatures as well. Around 10,000 species of animals and plants are found on the different mountain ranges around the globe. Moreover, not just plants and animals, but 10% of the world’s human population lives on various mountain ranges. They earn a living on these mountains by growing and selling various types of vegetation. 

How Do Mountains Affect the Environment?

Mountains are not just bumps on the earth which serve as geographical borders and adventure hubs for climbers. They have a wider impact on the environment. 

Mountains divert the flow of wind on the surface, and the effect can be seen not only in the vicinity but far, far away. The higher you go up a mountain, the thinner the air gets, and there are more chances of rain. Also, as the weather gets cooler, and there is a higher probability of snowfall. This snowfall forces the air to become cooler, and the whole area enjoys lower temperatures. When the snow from the mountains melts in the summer, it provides an ample supply of natural spring water. This is the reason why valleys are more wet and green. 

Elevation and depression play an important role in the absorption of carbon dioxide. The green valley absorbs the carbon dioxide in our system, hence creating a positive impact on the environment. Mountains play an important role in the ecosystem, and hence, they are much more than just an elevated piece of rock.

Treated vs. Untreated Gemstones – Why Should You Opt for Natural Untreated Gems

Assorted Green GemsMore than 80% of the gemstones currently being traded in the market are either enhanced or treated in one form or another.  To understand the difference between untreated and treated gemstones, we will first need to understand the implications between the two.

Untreated gemstones are those that are not altered or enhanced in any way. They remain in the same form as when they were extracted from the earth. These gemstones remain in their original form and only get polished and cut to be used as jewelry accessories.  

Types of Treatment

Listed below are just some examples of the various treatments a gemstone is made to undergo.


The stone is exposed to high temperatures to enhance its clarity and alter the color. The most common gemstones that undergo this treatment are Zircon, Topaz, Sapphire, Ruby, Tanzanite, Aquamarine, and some others. Heating is a practice that is widely accepted in the gem market.


Rubies and emerald are one of the most commonly oiled gemstones. Other gemstones that undergo oiling are Demantoid Garnet and Alexandrite. Oiling makes the surface more smooth and reduces any visible incisions.


Stones are exposed to varying degrees of controlled radiation to alter their color. Diamond, topaz, pearl, and quartz are common examples of gemstones that undergo radiation.


The fractures of a precious stone are exposed to colored dyes. To check whether a stone is dyed or not, you can perform a simple test at home using acetone. Pearl, Lapis Lazuli, Jade, and Quartz are some examples of commonly dyed gemstones.


A stone is bleached when it’s exposed to a certain chemical to change i.e. reduce or slightly alter the color of a precious gem. Tiger’s Eyes, Pearl, and Jade are some examples of stones that are bleached to reduce their color.

Large MineralWhy Gemstones are Treated

  • Treated gemstones are cheaper. This is one of the biggest advantages of a treated gemstone. Most people want to buy or wear an emerald but since an emerald costs $50K per carat (untreated), most people cannot afford it. The solution is a treated emerald that starts at $10 per carat and can go up to $10K per carat.
  • Treated gemstones are more available than natural gemstones. Untreated gemstones, especially of a larger size, are a very rare find. For example, an untreated diamond that is above 5 carats would cost millions of dollars and extremely hard to find as no one would be willing to sell that on the open market. Treated diamonds are available everywhere in most sizes.
  • Rapid changes in fashion and general trends. A new outfit calls for a new piece of jewelry to go with it.

Advantages of an Untreated Gemstone

  • Treated gemstones are less durable. The heat treatment, which is a widely accepted and practiced process, leaves the surface of the stone more brittle. After a certain amount of time, the straightened edges of the stone become chipped and fall in value.
  • Irradiated gemstones might be harmful to some. Irradiated stones are exposed to radioactive materials such as beryllium which is harmful to health.
  • Treated gemstones do not have a rigid price. New ways of treatment are being introduced to the market every day. As new methods come out, gemstones treated using old methods fall in value quite drastically. One of the best examples is the case of the Yellow Sapphire, whose price crashed in the 90s when newly treated gemstones were introduced which had superior qualities.
  • Treated gemstones are unnatural. Mother Nature has a fixed supply of gemstones in her crust. This limited supply is what contributes to the high prices that natural gems can fetch. The market is flooded with treated gems; hence, they are valued as such.

The Global Market

Now that most of the world has been mapped and explored precious minerals, gem dealers and gemologists alike have a grasp on what stones to classify as rare.

Although new mines are discovered, the overall supply remains unaffected. This was not always the case as diamonds were extremely rare a few centuries ago, and could only be afforded by royalty and the very wealthy individuals.

When the large deposits in Africa were discovered to be overflowing with diamonds, the major companies dealing in these stones knew it spelled doom. They realized that if these stones were sold in unrestrained quantities in the open market, the price would plunge. At the time, diamonds were still not common in the open market and a cartel was formed to restrict the flow of diamonds. The flow is still controlled by the same cartel to this day.

In contrast to diamonds, other precious stones in their natural state are extremely uncommon. The natural stones keep getting more expensive with the passage of time as more people realize their true worth.

Final Thoughts

Whether they shine, luster or sparkle, gemstones have been held in high regards ever since they were first discovered. When the first gemstones were discovered there were no treatments available and hence natural stones had no substitute.  

Natural stones have a value that goes far beyond what the eye can see. If, however, appearance is your only concern, then you might opt for a cheaper treated stone. Keep in mind that synthetic jewelry and treated stones will never have the same allure and uniqueness that is found in real gemstones.

Howard Fensterman Minerals