A K Agnihotri: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER

The diamond is more than just aesthetically beautiful—it’s an enduring symbol of love, romance, and commitment. The stone’s name is derived from the Greek word adamas, which translates to “unconquerable and indestructible.” Diamonds have been sought the world over, fought over, worshipped and used to cast love spells.

Diamond History

            The earliest diamonds were found in India in 4th century BC, although the youngest of these deposits were formed 900 million years ago. A majority of these early stones were transported along the network of trade routes that connected India and China, commonly known as the Silk Road. At the time of their discovery, diamonds were valued because of their strength and brilliance, and for their ability to refract light and engrave metal. Diamonds were worn as adornments, used as cutting tools, served as a talisman to ward off evil, and were believed to provide protection in battle. In the Dark Ages, diamonds were also used as a medical aid and were thought to cure illness and heal wounds when ingested.

            Surprisingly, diamonds share some common characteristics with coal. Both are composed of the most common substance on earth: carbon. What makes diamonds different from coal is the way the carbon atoms are arranged and how the carbon is formed. Diamonds are created when carbon is subjected to the extremely high pressures and temperatures found at the earth’s lithosphere, which lies approximately 90-240 miles below the earth’s surface.

            Until the 18th century, India was thought to be the only source of diamonds. When the Indian diamond mines were depleted, the quest for alternate sources began. Although a small deposit was found in Brazil in 1725, the supply was not enough to meet world demands.

 In 1866, 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs was exploring the banks of the Orange River when he came across what he thought was an ordinary pebble, but turned out to be a 21.25-carat diamond. In 1871, a colossal 83.50-carat deposit was unearthed on a shallow hill called Colesberg Kopje. These findings sparked a rush of thousands of diamond prospectors to the region and led to the opening of the first large-scale mining operation which came to be known as the Kimberly Mine. This newly discovered diamond source increased the world’s diamond supply substantially, resulting in a significant decrease in their value. The elite no longer considered the diamond a rarity, and began to replace this “common” stone with coloured gemstones. Emeralds, rubies, and sapphires became more popular choices for engagement ring stones among the upper class.

In 1880, Englishman Cecil John Rhodes formed De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd in an effort to control the diamond supply. Although DeBeers was successful in their efforts to control the supply of diamonds, demand for the stone was weak. By 1919, diamonds were devalued by nearly 50%.

The History Of The Engagement Ring

The use of rings as a symbol of commitment dates back to ancient history, specifically to the betrothal (truth) rings of the Romans. These early rings, often formed from twisted copper or braided hair, were worn on the third finger of the left hand. For Romans, betrothal rings were given as a sign of affection or friendship, and did not always represent the rite of marriage.

The history of the engagement ring began in 1215, when Pope Innocent III, one of the most powerful popes of the Middle Ages, declared a waiting period between a betrothal and the marriage ceremony. The rings were used to signify the couple’s commitment in the interim. It was around this same time that rings were introduced as a major component of the wedding ceremony, and it was mandated by the Roman government that all marriage ceremonies be held in a church. In addition to serving as symbols of an intention to marry, these early rings also represented social rank; only the elite were permitted to wear ornate rings or rings with jewels.

For the last 3000 to 4000 years, diamonds have held special magic for Kings, Queens and their subjects. Diamonds have stood for wealth, power, love, spirit and magical powers. Kings in olden days would wear into battle heavy leather breast plates studded with diamonds and other precious stones. It was believed that diamonds were fragments of stars and the teardrops of the Gods. The diamonds possessed magical qualities of the Gods and held powers far beyond the understanding of the common man. Because of these beliefs, the warriors stayed clear of the Kings and others who were fortunate to have the magical diamonds in their breast plates.

Until the 15thCentury only Kings wore diamonds as a symbol of strength, courage and invincibility. Over the centuries, the diamond acquired its unique status as the ultimate gift of love. It was said that cupids’ arrows were tipped with diamonds that have a magic that nothing else can equal.

Since the creation of diamonds they have been associated with romance and legend. The Greeks believed the fire in the diamond reflected the constant flame of love.

For millions of people around the world, the mystery and magic, the beauty and romance shining out from a simple solitaire says all the heart feels but words cannot express. It wasn’t until 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy, that the diamond engagement ring was introduced. Placing the ring on the third finger of the left hand, dates back to the early Egyptian belief that the Vena Amors, vein of love, runs directly from the heart to the tip of the third finger. This symbolic meaning lends itself well to the diamond’s historic commemoration of eternal love.

Discovery And Making

The first river-bed (alluvial) diamonds were probably discovered in India, in around 800 B.C. The volcanic source of these diamonds was never discovered, but the alluvial deposits were rich enough to supply most of the world’s diamonds until the eighteenth century, when dwindling Indian supplies probably spurred the exploration that led to the discovery of diamonds in Brazil, which became the next important diamond source. Beginning in l866, South Africa’s massive diamond deposits were discovered, and a world-wide diamond rush was on. The South African diamond output was unravelled until major deposits were found in Siberian permafrost in l954. And currently Western Canada is the site of the world’s newest diamond rush.

Throughout much of history, diamonds were mined from the sand and gravel surrounding rivers. But in South Africa in 1870 diamond was found in the earth far from a river source, and the practice of dry-digging for diamonds was born. More sophisticated mining techniques allowed deeper subterranean digging, as well as more efficient river (and, most recently, marine) mining, than ever before.

 Cutting

The cutting of diamonds into the complex faceted forms we now associate with these gems is actually a relatively recent practice. For centuries, rough diamonds were kept as talismans, and often not worn at all, though natural octahedral (eight-sided stones) were sometimes set in rings. A Hungarian queen’s crown set with uncut diamonds, dating from approximately l074, is perhaps the earliest example of diamond jewellery. The royalty of France and England wore diamonds by the 1300's. In sixteenth century England, fashionable lovers etched romantic pledges on window-panes with the points of their diamond rings, known as “scribbling rings”.

The earliest record of diamond-polishing (with diamond powder) is Indian, and probably dates from the fourteenth century. There are also contemporary references to the practice of diamond polishing in Venice. The earliest reference to diamond cutting is in l550 in Antwerp, the most important diamond centre of the period, where a diamond-cutters’ guild was soon to be established.

 Diamond Routes and Centres:

Indian diamonds reached Venice by two Mediterranean routes: the southern route was by way of Aden, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and the northern route was through Arabia, Persia, Armenia, and Turkey. Then, thanks to the Portuguese discovery of the direct sea route to India, Antwerp flourished as a diamond centre, as the city was well-situated to receive vast supplies of rough from Lisbon as well as from Venice.

After Spanish attacks on Antwerp in1585, many diamond cutters relocated to Amsterdam. And the Netherlands, with its liberal civil policies, attracted diamond craftsmen (including many Jews) who were fleeing religious persecution in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Poland.

In the late1600's, as the English fortified their interest in India, which was still the world’s central diamond source, London became an important cutting centre. Later, London became the primary world market of diamond rough.

Today, there are cutting centres all over the world, most notably in Belgium, India, Israel, South Africa, and the USA.

 

Diamond Magic

Diamonds were once believed to hold many magical, mystical and medicinal properties. The phosphorescence of certain diamonds (their ability to glow in the dark) was considered a proof of the stone’s extraordinary powers. Diamonds were thought to calm the mentally ill, and to ward off devils, phantoms and even nightmares. They were supposed to impart virtue, generosity and courage in battle, and to cause lawsuits to be determined in the wearer’s favour. A house or garden touched at each corner with a diamond was supposed to be protected from lightning, storms and blight.

The ancient Indians believed that the human soul could pass through various incarnations, animating gemstones as well as plants and animals. Plato, the Greek philosopher, shared the belief that gems were living beings, produced by a chemical reaction t o vivifying astral spirits. Later philosophers divided precious stones into male and female specimens, and even claimed that they could “marry” and reproduce!

Minerals were among the first medicinal ingredients. In the middle ages it was believed that a diamond could heal if the sick person took it bed and warmed it with his body, of breathed upon it while fasting or wore it next to the skin. A diamond held in t he mouth would correct the bad habits of liars and scolds. And diamonds were worn as a talisman against poisoning.

Diamond powder administered internally, however, was a legendary poison. The Turkish Sultan Bajazet (1447 – 1513) was perhaps murdered by his son, who slipped a large quantity of powdered diamond in his father’s food. In l532, his doctors dosed Pope Clement VII with fourteen spoonfuls of pulverized gems, including diamonds, which resulted in death for the patient, as well as a very high bill for his treatment. In the same century, Catherine de Medici was famous for dealing out death by diamond powder, and Benvenuto Cellini, the famous Italian goldsmith, described an attempt on his life by an enemy who ordered diamond powder to be mixed in his salad. But the lapidary responsible for grinding the diamond filched the stone, replacing it with powdered glass (thereby saving Cellini).

to be continued