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The History of Diamonds

by Eli Butbul

Glittering, breathtaking and brilliant, diamonds have long dazzled us with their intense beauty and romantic symbolism. The Greek word “Adamas” meaning unconquerable is the root word for diamond. Diamonds have stood for wealth, power, love, spirit and magical powers. Diamonds arrive at the earth’s surface by volcanic eruptions that leave a pipe-like path of tell-tale ore, called “kimberlite”. The biggest and best diamonds are regularly found at the top of this pipe. The first recorded history of the diamond dates back some 3,000 years to India, where diamonds were first valued for their ability to refract light. In those days, the diamond had two functions; for decorative purposes and as a talisman to ward off evil or provide protection in battle. The diamond was also used for some time as medical aid. A diamond held in the hand while making a sign of the cross would heal wounds and cure illnesses. Diamonds were also ingested in the hope of curing sickness. Up until the 15th Century only Kings wore diamonds as a symbol of strength and courage.

During the Middle Ages greater attention was paid to the value of diamonds, rather than their apparent mystical powers. As the value and the worth of diamonds became better known mine owners created myths that diamonds were poisonous to prevent mineworkers swallowing the diamonds in an attempt to smuggle them from the mines.

Diamonds were not only perceived as being the bearers of luck and success, but also that they could counter the effects of astrological events. Diamonds were worn by many as charms as they believed that diamonds could increase sexual prowess and attract others. Plato even wrote about diamonds as living beings, embodying celestial spirits.

Diamonds are made up of carbon that was buried deep within the Earth under intense pressure and heat. They are so popular because loose diamonds are the hardest known substance. They do not easily break, crack or chip, but can be cut by a single blow. Today, 90 percent of diamond jewellery is made from diamonds mined in African countries, with the remaining 10 percent in Australia, America, Israel and Russia. Roughly only one fifth of all mined diamonds are considered to be of gem quality. Nowadays anywhere from 40 to 250 tons of gravel and sand must be processed to recover one rough diamond from the world’s depleting diamond deposits. Experts estimate that all known supplies of diamonds will be depleted within 30 to 40 years.

Diamond engagement rings are by far the most popular use for diamonds today. The tradition of a diamond engagement ring started when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave the first diamond engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Placing the ring on the third finger of the left hand dates back to an early Egyptian belief that the vein of love runs directly from the heart to the tip of the third finger. Today there exist many substitutes for diamonds, including the extremely popular and affordable cubic zirconia. However nothing beats the real thing.

Even today, people have a deep fascination with diamonds believing them to be the world’s ultimate symbol of love. The diamond’s rarity and natural beauty have contributed to making it such an extraordinary and magical gift. The timeless history of each diamond makes it the most meaningful and powerful way to symbolise eternal love. The large range of diamond jewellery that exists today is testament to the fact that diamonds really are “a girl’s best friend”.