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History Of Diamonds


Every diamond is incredibly old, formed billions of years ago, long before dinosaurs roamed the earth. Each is the result of an amazing natural journey which has turned an ancient element into the world's most sought-after jewel. Diamonds were crystallised at tremendously high temperatures and pressure, deep beneath the earth's crust. There they remained, keeping their precious secrets, until powerful forces carried them upward within volcanic molten lava, only to be concealed again by falling ash and rock. Over millions of years, the wrath of nature in the form of winds, water, heat and cold would rework the landscape time and time again. But awaiting discovery, the stones remained below the earth's surface - their beauty concealed by the very processes that created them.

Only a small number of diamonds managed to survive this remarkable journey. Of those that did, only a tiny proportion that have been found are of a size and quality that can be cut, polished and set into jewellery.

Today, approximately 49% of diamonds originate from central and southern Africa, although prominent sources have been found in India, Russia, Canada and Australia. Interestingly, diamonds can also form in other natural high-pressure, relatively low pressure events. Very small diamonds, known as "microdiamonds" or "nanodiamonds", have been found in impact craters where meteors have striked the Earth. Therefore, microdiamonds are now used as one indicator of ancient meteorite impact sites.

Diamonds are rare jewels. They have only been found in a few isolated locations, scattered among the oldest parts of the continents. For thousands of years, the only source known to man was one remote area in India, where diamonds were first appreciated for their capacity to disperse light.

New but modest discoveries were made in Borneo in the 7th century and in Brazil in the 18th century. Despite its insignificant size, the Brazilian finding was so coveted that the ruling Portuguese marked the occasion with great rejoicing. Festivals and processions were staged in Lisbon, special masses said, and messages of congratulations sent by the Pope and European monarchs.

More celebrations came in 1866 when, at last, a truly significant source of diamonds was discovered in South Africa. Diamond Mines imageStrangely, it owed nothing to the art or energy of the world's eager prospectors. A farmers' child was playing with some brightly coloured stones found beside a river, one of which was recognised as a diamond. The gem cut from it was appropriately named "Eureka" and marked the start of a remarkable new chapter in the story of diamonds.

Today, despite modern methods, diamonds are still difficult to find. Geologists search relentlessly for these precious stones, usually in very remote and inhospitable places - from the frozen tundra of Siberia and Canada to the parched deserts and ocean floors of Africa. When there is a discovery, there is still much work to be done, as enough earth to fill a house must be sifted to find a single diamond.


The romantic tradition of giving a diamond ring as a token of love and commitment began in the 15th century when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave Mary of Burgundy a diamond ring on their engagement.

Diamond Engagement Ring with rosesIn England, diamond rings were often referred to as 'scribbling rings' because lovers used them to engrave romantic messages on window panes. This whimsical form of flirtation was enjoyed by many of the nobility, including Elizabeth I who allegedly exchanged cryptic words with her admirer, Sir Walter Raleigh.

Perhaps the most publicised romantic diamond gifts in modern times have been the jewels given by Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor. These include a 33 carat diamond worth over 7 million and the pear-shaped 69 carat Taylor-Burton diamond.

However, the potent symbolism of diamonds goes beyond romance. For centuries they have been used to celebrate other joyous occasions: the birth of a child, birthdays and the achievement of personal goals.

In the 19th century, Napoleon gave his wife Marie Louise an exquisite diamond necklace on the birth of their son. More recently, producer / director Bruce Paltrow demonstrated his pride in daughter Gwyneth when, after winning the Best Actress award at the 1999 Oscars, he bought her the stunning 40 carat diamond necklace she had borrowed to wear at the ceremony.



Originally called the "Unnamed Brown" diamond, this 755.50 carat yellow-brown diamond was found in 1986 in South Africa. It is now the largest cut diamond in the world, weighing 545.67 carats. The stone was designed by Gabi Tolkowsky, who also designed the 273.85 carat Centenary Diamond. The Unnamed Brown was presented to the King of Thailand by a group of Thai businessmen in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of his coronation. The diamond was appropriately renamed the Golden Jubilee, and is now on display at the Royal Museum in Bangkok.

Golden Jubilee diamond

Discovered in 1701 in India, the Regent diamond originally weighed 410 carats. The diamond was sold to Thomas Pitt who sent it to England to have it cut and polished. The result was a brilliant cushion-shaped diamond of 140 carats. In 1717, it was sold to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, and hence its name, The Regent. The diamond resided in many royal ornaments: the crown of Louis XV, the hair ornament of Queen Marie and as an adornment in the hat of Marie Antoinette. After the French Revolution, the stone was set in the hilt of Napoleon Bonaparte's sword. Napoleon's wife, Marie Louise, carried the Regent back to Austria upon his death. Later, her father returned it to the French crown jewels. Today, it remains in the French Royal Treasury at the Louvre in Paris.
The Regent diamond

The Jonker diamond is named after the poor but determined diamond miner who struck it rich with this 726 carat diamond. On 17th January 1934, one of Johannes Jonker's employees found the egg-sized diamond in a bucket, at first thinking it was a large piece of glass. At the time of its discovery, the stone was the fourth largest gem-quality diamond ever unearthed. There was even speculation as to whether it had once been part of the Cullinan crystal, the largest diamond ever found, as the cleavage face seemed to match perfectly with that of the Cullinan. Despite his initial wealth gained from the discovery, Jonker's fortune was squandered and he was left with not much more than he started with. The last known owner of the diamond was considerably more wealthy - in 1977 it was sold privately in Hong Kong for a reported 1.25 million.
Jonker Diamond

Mined in the early 1990s, the De Beers Millennium Star is so flawless and so great in size that diamond experts cannot put a price on it. It took three years for cutters to transform the stone into what is now the world's only internally and externally flawless, pear-shaped diamond weighing 203 carats. It was available for public view at London's Millennium Dome during the year 2000. So enticing was the stone that on 7th November 2000 a robbery attempt was made. Using a bulldozer, nail guns and smoke grenades, the would-be robbers ploughed towards the exhibit, smashing a gate on the way. Once inside, the thieves were foiled by Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, who had been tipped off and were posing as cleaners. The stone remains safely in the hands of De Beers LV.
De Beers Millennium Star diamond

In 1908, famous master-craftsman Joseph Asscher was chosen to cut the largest diamond ever discovered - the 3,106 carat Cullinan. After long preparation, he at last struck the first blow. His cleaving blade promptly shattered and Asscher fainted on the spot. Fortunately, no damage was done. The cut proceeded and nine gems were created from the Cullinan; the two largest are now part of the British Crown Jewels.

This 40.70 carat almond-shaped stone is the largest and finest natural green diamond ever found. Although of Indian origin, nothing was known of it until Frederick Augustus II of Saxony purchased the diamond at the Leipzig Fair in 1743 for about $150,000. Set in an elaborate shoulder knot, the stone was exhibited with the other Crown Jewels of Saxony in the famous Green Vaults under the Dresden Palace. After World War II, these gems were confiscated by the Russians, but they were returned to Dresden in 1958, and are again on display in the Palace. In 2005, however, reports are being received on 2 larger green diamonds than the Dresden which would make this now the 3rd largest in the world. More details to follow.
Dresden Green diamond

  • The youngest diamond is 900 million years old.
  • The world's largest gem quality diamond, the Cullinan, was found in South Africa in 1905. Uncut, it weighed 3,106 carats (approximately the size of an ostrich egg).
  • Diamond is the hardest natural substance known to man. It is 58 times harder than the next hardest mineral on earth.
  • Only diamond can cut diamond.
  • Diamonds exist in all colours - the rarest of all colours is red.
  • The highest price paid per carat at auction for a diamond is 750,000 for a 0.95ct purplish-red diamond.
  • If you were to gather all the diamonds ever polished since the beginning of time, they would fill only one double-decker bus.
  • The word 'diamond' comes from the Greek term 'adamas', meaning unconquerable.
  • The word 'carat' comes from the carob tree whose seed was used for centuries as the standard for weighing precious stones.
  • The custom of wearing a diamond ring on the fourth finger of the left hand comes from the ancient Egyptians, who believed that the vena amoris ("vein of love") runs directly from this finger to the heart.
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