About 2-3 billion years ago, carbon bearing rock about 100 miles below the earth’s surface was put under immense pressure and heated up to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. The carbon atoms were forced to rearrange themselves in a crystalline structure and became diamonds. Various elements found their way into these new forms of carbon and created the different diamonds known today: pink, ruby red, yellow and blue. All the diamonds were transported to the surface in molten rock. Mines were dug near the kimberlite structures from where the diamonds emerged.
Diamonds were first mined in India. The Sanskrit word for diamond is vajra, meaning thunderbolt, and indrayudha, meaning Indra’s weapon. The Hindus believed that diamonds represented the power of Indra and put them in the eyes of some of their statues. The earliest evidence of the use of diamonds as drills in India dates back to 400 BC.
In Greece, Plato described diamonds as living creatures, impersonating divine spirits. The Greek word for diamond comes from the words adamas, meaning invincible, and diaphanes, meaning transparent. The Greeks believed that diamonds came from the Valley of Diamonds in Central Asia. The diamonds were protected by snakes. Alexander the Great slew the snakes and brought the diamonds back to Greece.
The diamond was mentioned in the writings of Pliny the Elder in Rome prior to the first century AD. He wrote about the qualities of diamonds and their use on chisels to cut through all materials. The Roman poet Plautus wrote of the diamond as a token of love.
The rise of Christianity resulted in the decline of the diamond in Europe for nearly 1000 years. It was not until the Middle Ages that diamonds became acceptable again. Medieval treatises, lapidaries, described it as a medicine and antidote for poison. Marbode, Bishop of Rennes (1061-1081), wrote De gemmarum. He noted the spiritual and medicinal attributes of gems. He described the diamond as capable of bestowing indomitable virtues on the bearer, enabling him to strike hard against his enemies if they were set in silver, armored in gold, and fastened to the left arm.
It was during this time that people began to believe that diamonds could attract luck and success and defy astrological events. Many wealthy people used them as jewels on their clothing to increase their sexual power and capacity to attract others.
In the 13th Century diamonds began to reappear in numbers in Europe. King Louis IX of France (1214-1270) passed a law decreeing that only kings could possess diamonds because they were a symbol of courage, power and invincibility. The earliest centre of the diamond trade in Europe was located in Venice. Techniques for diamond cutting were developed around 1330. Later, the diamond trade advanced to Paris, Bruges and Antwerp.
By the 16th Century, faceted diamonds were admired for their brilliance and fire. It was during this period that the settings of diamonds became important. The diamond broach was replaced by the pendent. Diamonds came to dominate smaller jewels during the 17th Century and the traditional gold settings are replaced by silver to avoid casting yellow over the diamond’s brillance.
In the 18th Century, diamonds started being mined in South America. New faceted designed were developed. Women began wearing diamonds more than men. The matching set of jewelry became more prized than a collection of stones in different sizes. Wearing of diamonds was limited to the night hours because they were considered too flashy in the daylight.
In 1866, diamonds were discovered in South Africa. The Kimberley mines established a new era in diamond mining and trade. Now there were enough diamonds for anybody who wanted them. Diamond settings changed again with the introduction of platinum.