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The World’s Most Romantic Gemstone: Diamonds and Their History

Archduke Joseph Diamonds
Archduke Joseph Diamond. A 76.02-carat diamond, with perfect color and internally flawless clarity, it came from the ancient Golconda mines in India. It was named for Archduke Joseph August of Austria, the great grandson of both a Holy Roman emperor and a French king.
Photo credit: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

We all think of them when we hear that someone got engaged. And some of the biggest and best are literally word famous and worth untold sums of money. But what do we really know about diamonds? When were they first valued as something to be prized? At what point in history did they become something one would use to adorn themselves? And when the heck did they gain the popularity we know today as something to be set in a ring that proposes a lifetime together?

Diamonds and Their History

Your Dad's been under a lot of pressure lately. diamondsLet’s start at the very beginning. With coal. You see, diamonds and coal share very similar characteristics. Diamonds are basically coal (well, carbon really) that’s been under high heat and pressure for a very, very very. . . very long time (like 1.3 to 3 BILLION years. See. Told you it was a long time). And because it can be difficult to contaminate this carbon under pressure, most of what we get are “white” diamonds. However, there are some contaminates that can make for some pretty color variations. For example, such as boron and nitrogen. Small amounts of defects or impurities (about one per million of lattice atoms) color diamond blue (boron), yellow (nitrogen), brown (lattice defects), green (radiation exposure), purple, pink, orange or red. And no matter what color, they are tough cookies. No, really. They are knows to be the hardest material on both the Vickers and Mohs scales (for measuring such things).

A Spectacular Pink Diamond
A Spectacular Pink Diamond
Photo credit: independent.co.uk via Diamonds Geek on Pinterest

But enough about the geological make up of diamonds. Let’s talk beauty and fashion. It was India that was first known to recognize the beauty of the diamond and mine it. We’re talking 4th century BC. For centuries, only the Indian elite wore diamonds. But that changed as diamonds found their way in the great caravans traveling to Europe and beyond. While they were worn as adornments at that time and thought to ward off evil and provide protection, they were truly revered for their strength, ability to refract light and to cut metals. During the Dark Ages, they were even thought to be medicinal, as used in an attempt to cure certain maladies. But somewhere around the 1400’s, diamonds became a fashion statement for the elite and wealthy of the time.

Gigantic Diamonds - Engagement Rings
Diamond Engagement Rings in various cuts Photo credit: Leviev Diamonds

It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that it was determined that diamonds were available to be mined outside of India. Since the India mines had been depleted by that time, a search began to find alternate sources. And while such source was found in Brazil around 1725, it wasn’t able to withstand the demand and was also depleted. One hundred and forty years later, a young boy was walking the banks of the Orange River in Africa and stumbled across what he thought was just an ordinary rock. Ordinary it was not. It turned out to be a 21.25 carat diamond.  Another even larger deposit of 83.5 carats was found in a nearby region and an industry in Africa was born. Twenty-two years later, British entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes established De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited, which grew to control and estimated 90% of the worlds rough mined diamonds.

Famous Diamonds From Around The World
Famous Diamonds From Around The World
Photo credit: Reena Ahluwalia Designs

But by the very early 1900’s, diamonds had become less fashionable (however, still used for industrial purposes) and demand had dropped by 50%, as had their values. That is, until DeBeers engaged advertising agency N.W. Ayer in the late 1940’s to create a new ad campaign to try and boost sales. And boy did they. The phrase, “A Diamond Is Forever” was born and the suggestion was that if you really loved your intended, the only choice to express your unending love was a diamond engagement ring. And it worked. The campaign was wildly successful and a resurgence was seen in the fashion market for diamonds, especially for engagement and wedding rings.

Old European Cut Diamonds Halo Engagement RingThe diamond’s appeal and popularity continues to grow. As we saw just this week with the sale of The Oppenheimer Blue, rare and famous stones continue to fetch record-breaking sums at auction. Do you have a “favorite” diamond? Do you have a favorite way to wear diamonds? Share your diamond stories with us in the comments! And if you’d like to learn more about the famous Hope Diamond in particular (it’s shrouded in mystery and supposedly cursed), we think this documentary is a great one to watch!

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