Product was successfully added to your shopping cart.

History of diamonds

History of diamonds

Diamonds have a long history as beautiful objects of desire. In the first century AD, the Roman naturalist Pliny stated: Diamond is the most valuable, not only of precious stones, but of all things in this world.

A diamond has to go through a lot before it reaches the jeweler’s display case. It forms deep in the earth under extreme heat and pressure. It’s ejected violently upward until it arrives at or near the earth’s surface. It’s forced from its hiding place by nature or by man. Then it’s cleaved and cut and polished until its natural beauty shines through.

The world’s love of diamonds had its start in India, where diamonds were gathered from the country’s rivers and streams. Some historians estimate that India was trading in diamonds as early as the fourth century BC. The country’s resources yielded limited quantities for an equally limited market: India’s very wealthy classes. Gradually, though, this changed. Indian diamonds found their way, along with other exotic merchandise, to Western Europe in the caravans that traveled to Venice’s medieval markets. By the 1400s, diamonds were becoming fashionable accessories for Europe’s elite.

In the early 1700s, as India’s diamond supplies began to decline, Brazil emerged as an important source. Diamonds were discovered in the pans of gold miners as they sifted through the gravels of local rivers. Once it reached its full potential, Brazil dominated the diamond market for more than 150 years.

While sources changed, the diamond market experienced its own evolution. The old ruling classes—diamonds’ biggest consumers—were in decline by the late 1700s. Political upheavals like the French Revolution led to changes in the distribution of wealth.

The 1800s brought increasing affluence to western Europe and the United States. Explorers unearthed the first great South African diamond deposits in the late 1800s just as diamond demand broadened.

By the early 1900s, De Beers controlled about 90 percent of the world’s production of rough diamonds. - Courtesy De Beers

The story of the modern diamond market really begins on the African continent, with the 1866 discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, South Africa. Entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes established De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited 22 years later, in 1888. By 1900, De Beers, through its mines in South Africa, controlled an estimated 90 percent of the world’s production of rough diamonds.

The South African sources affected many segments of the diamond industry. This was especially true as diamond mining moved from the surface to farther underground. Because of the huge costs and comparatively low yields involved, the new sources forced the development of more efficient mining techniques. They created the need for better marketing. They also led to advances in cutting and polishing—advances that increased efficiency, reduced costs, and enhanced the appearance of finished stones.

The market probably changed as much after 1990 as it did in the years after the 1866 discovery of diamonds in South Africa and the establishment of De Beers. The 1990s brought exciting new sources and encouraged the dramatic growth of some cutting centers. All this was happening as the world economy fluctuated wildly.

Only since the beginning of last century diamonds have become also the symbol for love.

De beers in 1939 launched a marketing campaign with N.W Ayer & Son in an attempt to revive the to revive the American diamonds market. Aimed at young men linking the idea of diamonds in wedding rings to true romance. Women, too, would be targeted with the idea that no courtship would be complete without a sparkling diamond.Famous houses of worship were featured in follow up advertisements, establishing a link between diamonds and the sacred tradition of a religious wedding. In the marketing campaign the used the , now iconic , slogan : diamonds are forever.

It was also in the 20th century that experts in gemology have developed methods of grading diamonds based on the characteristics that define their value as a gem. These four characteristics knows as the four C's are now commonly used to describe the diamonds : these are carat (its weight) , cut (quality of the cut is graded according to proportions, symmetry and polish), color ( how close to white or colorless) and clarity ( how free the diamond is from inclusions).

Origin and formation of diamonds

The term diamond is derived from the greek Adamas (unbreakable). Diamonds are thought to have been first recognized and mined in India where they have been known for at least 3000 years.Most natural diamonds are formed at high temperature and pressure at depths of 140 to 190 kilometers in the earth's mantle over a period of millions of years. Diamonds are brought close to the earth's surface through deep volcanic eruptions, where they are found afterwards in rocks know as kimberlites.Diamonds are the hardest natural substance on earth, they are 58 times harder than the next hardest mineral on earth from which sapphires and rubies and formed ( corundum).

Famous diamonds

1. The Great Star of Africa – Carats: 530.20

Also known as the Cullinan I and Star Africa, this particular diamond happens to be the largest cut diamond in the entire world. It is basically pear shaped, has 74 facets, and is set in the Royal Scepter, where it is placed with other Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. It was actually cut from the largest diamond crystal to have ever been found – the 3, 1096 carat Cullinan, which was found in Transvaal, South Africa in 1095 during an inspection tour of the Premier Mine. It was Joseph Asscher and Company of Amsterdam that initially cut the Cullinan, and examined the substantially sized crystal for nearly six months prior to working out how it needs to be divided. Eventually, it yielded about nine major, and 96 smaller brilliant cut stones. Upon being initially discovered, there were signs that suggested that the Cullinan might have been part of a much larger crystal. However, the other missing half has never been authenticated.

2. The Orloff – Carats: 300

Found in India, this diamond had a slightly bluish green appearance and was exceptionally pure in terms of clarity. It was basically a Mogul-cut rose shaped diamond, and is currently placed in the Diamond Treasury of Russia in Moscow.It is believed that this diamond was first set as the diamond eye of a Hindu god Vishnu’s idol, in the innermost sanctuary temple in Sriangam. However, a French deserter stole it in the 1700s. What needs to be mentioned here is that the deserter was only able to dig out on eye for fear of retribution. He traveled to Madras where he sold it for 2, 000 pounds to an English sea-captain.

With the passage of time, the stone arrived at Amsterdam wherein Grigori Orloff, the Russian Count was residing. He was the ex-lover of Empress Catherine the Great, and he purchased the stone for 90, 000 pounds and brought it to Russia for Catherine. The stone has since then been named the Orloff. Catherine mounted the stone in the Imperial Sceptre, and in exchange for the Orloff, she gave a marble palace to Grigori – the stone could not help Grigori win Catherine’s love, which lead to Grigori’s death in 1783. The Orloff was then hidden in a priest’s tomb by the Russian in 1812 when they feared that Napolean was about to enter Moscow. Supposedly, Napoleon found the Orloff and was about to claim it when a priest’s ghost appeared and cursed the Army. This made Napoleon scamper away without the Orloff. .

3. The Centenary Diamond – Carats: 273.85

Discovered at the Premier Mine in July 1986, the Centenary diamond is believed to have weighed about 599.10 carats in the rough. Master cutter Gabi Tolkowsky and his select team took nearly three years to transform it in to the largest, most modern-cut, flawless, and top-colour diamond. It is known to possess 247 facets with 164 of them on the stone, and 83 over its girdle. On the whole, it weight 273.85 carats. It was unveiled in May 1991 at the Tower of London.

4. The Regent – Carats: 140.50

Although The Regent has been surpassed in terms of its weight by other diamonds, it is its perfect cut and limpidity that make it stand out. The stone was initially discovered in 1698 in India where Thomas Pitt, the Governor of Madras acquired it. It was sent to cutting purpose to England. It was sold to the Regent in 1717 for the French Crown. It was first fixed on the band of Louis XV’s silver gilt crown in 1722 for his coronation. It was then placed on Louis XVI’s crown in 1775. It was later placed on the hilt of the First Consul’s sword in 1801, and then in 1812 on the Emperor’s two-edged sword. In 1825 it was worn on the crown at the coronation of Charles x, and during the Second Empire it embellished the “Grecian diadem” of the Empress Eugenie. It is currently placed at the Louvre in Paris.

5. Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light) Carats: 105.60

This oval cut diamond is now a part of the British Crown Jewels. The Mountain of Light, as its name suggests, has a history that dates back to 1304 and it happens to be the longest of all the most famous diamonds.It was the Rajahs of Malwa that captured it in the sixteenth century by the Mogul Sultan Babar. It later remained in the possession of Mogul emperors and is believed to have been set in the famous Peacock Throne that was prepared for Shah Jehan.

It was basically after the break-up of the Persian empire that this diamond reached India although it might have travelled to Afghanistan as well with a bodyguard of Nadir Shah who ran away with the stone when Shah got murdered. He later offered it to Ranjit Singh of Punjab to acquire military help. Later, the diamond was claimed by the East India Company as a partial indemnity during the fights between the British and the Sikhs. The East India Company then presented it to Queen Victoria in 1850. The stone is said to weigh nearly 1986 carats upon coming from India. However, it was then recut to about 108.93 carats and the Queen first wore it in a brooch. It was later set in the State Crown, worn by Queen Alexandra and Queen Mary, and 1937 was worn for by Queen Elizabeth for her coronation. At the moment, the diamond can be found in the Tower of London, with the other Crown Jewels.

Further diamond education

Our diamond education pages help you to understand the 4 C's of diamond quality so yo can choose your next diamond wisely.

Learn more about :   the 4 C's of diamond quality - The different diamond shapes - Diamond certification

Learn more and save money buying diamonds online. Get your FREE guide today.

Get our exclusive deals

Sign up for our newsletter