Diamond is the only gem made of a single element: It is typically about 99.95 percent carbon. The other 0.05 percent can include one or more trace elements, which are atoms that aren’t part of the diamond’s essential chemistry. Some trace elements can influence its colour or crystal shape.
The way a mineral forms helps determine its identity. Diamond forms under high temperature and pressure conditions that exist only within a specific depth range (about 100 miles) beneath the earth’s surface. Diamond’s crystal structure is isometric, which means the carbon atoms are bonded in essentially the same way in all directions. Another mineral, graphite, also contains only carbon, but its formation process and crystal structure are very different. The result is that graphite is so soft that you can write with it, while diamond is so hard that you can only scratch it with another diamond.
Without any one of these factors, diamond might be just another mineral. Fortunately, though, this special combination of chemical composition, crystal structure, and formation process gives diamonds the qualities that make them extraordinary.