Diamonds have fascinated humans for centuries with their beauty, rarity, and lasting value. The word “diamond” comes from the Greek word “adámas,” meaning unbreakable, much like its eternal symbol of love. The attraction of diamonds is as strong today as it was in ancient times, and has many factors such as social, cultural, and economic that make them the gemstone we know and love today.
India's diamond mines were a true marvel of the ancient world. They hold a history that dates back to the 4th century BCE, and their diamonds have decorated the most precious jewelry and religious artifacts at the time.
The Golconda area of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh were famous cities for mining. They produced some of the world's most famous and valuable diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor, the Hope Diamond, the Daria-i-Noor, and the Regent Diamond.
Hope Diamond by Eaton-Magaña, from the Smithsonian
The miners of Golconda showed amazing craftsmanship, using very simple tools like chisels and hammers to get these incredibly valuable gems from under the earth’s surface.
The word generally used for diamond in Sanskrit is transliterated as "vajra," "thunderbolt," and "indrayudha," "Indra's weapon." Because Indra is the warrior god from Vedic scriptures, the foundation of Hinduism, the thunderbolt symbol indicates much about the Indian conception of diamond.
Image of the Vajra of diamond symbolism from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Early descriptions of diamonds date to the 4th century BC. By then, it was a valued material. The earliest known reference to diamond is a Sanskrit manuscript by a minister in a northern Indian dynasty. The work is dated from 320-296 BCE.
During the same time period, the ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were tears of the gods that had fallen to Earth. It was a symbol of godly power and was believed to possess qualities such as strength, courage, and invincibility. This made them a highly desired and respected gemstone choice.
Even the great philosopher Plato wrote about diamonds, describing them as the "first and purest of all substances" and believed that they could strengthen the soul and are connected to truth and purity.
Much of Roman mythology is similar to Greek mythology, with some notable differences, and the role of diamonds doesn't escape these differences. Literature as early as the first century AD mentions that Cupid’s arrows were lead (diamond)-tipped, clearly continuing the power that Greeks had placed within these magnificent stones.
In Roman stories, diamonds were also connected with the god of war, Mars. They believed that diamonds could improve the wearer's physical and emotional strength, making them unbeatable in a fight.
They also saw them as a source of healing, believing that wearing diamonds or eating diamond powder could cure sicknesses and heal wounds. The Romans valued diamonds not only for their perceived magical and healing properties but also for their rarity and beauty.
Signet ring with diamonds
They used diamonds in jewelry, especially in signet rings that served as personal seals, authenticating documents and displaying one's wealth and status; much like how we see them today!
During the medieval times, diamonds were mainly owned by the rich and powerful, such as kings and queens. They were highly valued for their rarity, beauty, and durability, and were often a status symbol.
Diamonds were often included in crowns, scepters, and other regal objects. Diamonds were also used to decorate religious objects such as crosses, religious boxes, and beautiful cups.
Image of Mary of Burgundy’s engagement ring from the Archduke of Maximilian of Austria (1477) taken by The Cape Town Diamond Museum
In addition, diamonds were also used as cutting tools during the medieval period. Because of their hardness and durability, diamonds were used to cut and shape other precious stones, as well as to engrave metals.
Diamonds were sold throughout Europe during the time and were still sourced from India. The trade routes that brought diamonds from India to Europe were known as the "Silk Road", and they helped to spread the popularity of diamonds throughout Europe.
Small numbers of diamonds began appearing in European regalia and jewelry in the 13th century, set as accent points among pearls in wrought gold. By the 16th century the diamonds became larger and more prominent, in response to the development of diamond faceting, which enhances their brilliance and fire. Diamonds came to dominate small jewels during the 17th century and large ones by the 18th century.
As more diamonds reached Europe, demand for them increased. The earliest diamond-cutting industry is believed to have been in Venice, a trade capital, starting sometime after 1330. Diamond cutting may have arrived in Paris by the late 14th century. By the late 14th century, the diamond trade route went to Bruges and Paris, and later to Antwerp.
18th and 19th Centuries
The discovery of diamonds in Brazil in the early 18th century changed the diamond industry, as it led to a big increase in diamond production and availability. Brazil became the world's leading diamond producer, with its diamond mines supplying most of the world's diamonds for at least 20 years.
Picture of the mines from NASA
The diamond rush in Brazil attracted many prospectors and small business starters, including the British East India Company, which established diamond mines in the area. The British East India Company's control of the diamond trade, along with their control over the Indian diamond mines, allowed them to rule the worldwide diamond market.
In addition to India and Brazil, diamonds were also discovered in other parts of the world during the 18th century, such as South Africa, Australia, and North America. However, it would be several decades before these new diamond sources would affect the diamond industry.
Today diamonds are mined in about 25 countries, on every continent but Europe and Antarctica. However, only a few diamond deposits were known until the 20th century, when scientific understanding and technology extended diamond exploration and mining around the globe. For 1,000 years, starting in roughly the 4th century BC, India was the only source of diamonds.
Diamond production has increased enormously in the 20th century. India's maximum production, perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 carats annually in the 16th century, is very small compared to the current production of around 100 million carats. There are also renowned global laboratories like the Gemological Institute of America and the International Gemological Institute that grade diamonds.
Diamonds are still widely popular and continue to be connected with the ideas of love, commitment, and luxury. It appears in numerous pop culture references such as the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, made famous for Monroe’s performance of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend.
Movie posters of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and The Pink Panther (1963)
Years later we would see one of the first examples of diamonds “targeted” towards men with the release of The Pink Panther, starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau. In the films, the Pink Panther is a valuable, rare pink diamond based on the real-life, legendary Argyle Pink Jubilee.
Even now, the symbol of diamonds grows ever-popular with celebrities like Beyoncé being part of social media campaigns for a diamond jewelry company, showing that all kinds of people can sport a beautiful diamond in all occasions from red carpet events to concerts and even just staying at home.
Beyoncé’s $6.89 Million emerald-cut diamond
Diamonds are also used in jewelry for everyday use such as earrings, bracelets, and the ever-famous engagement ring as a symbol of eternal love!
There is a growing interest in the market for different options such as lab-grown diamonds to create more alternatives for getting the gemstone. Lab grown diamonds have the same brilliance, luster, and more. This means that it is virtually impossible to tell the difference to their earth-mined counterparts.
Modern times has also allowed advanced technology to set diamonds in intricate designs. For example, Brilyo Jewelry, one of the leading custom jewelry companies in the Philippines, specializes in bespoke jewelry using ethically sourced earth-mined and lab-grown diamonds, among many other gemstones.
With new technology and ethically mined diamonds, there’s a diamond with your own love story written on it. Become part of a growing history and hallmark your love today with your own diamond pieces.
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