The diamond is the traditional birthstone for April
For many, April’s gemstone is the gem.
Diamonds are the first precious stone that most people think of, it’s the gem with all the superlatives, the hardest, the most sought after, the most famous, the most valuable, and the one with all the memorable quotes. Diamonds are forever, they are a girl’s best friend and Zsa Zsa Gabor never hated a man enough to give him his diamonds back. So why do we hold diamonds in such esteem?
Are they really the ultimate gem?
Where do diamonds come from?
Let’s start at the beginning.
The very, very beginning.
Which, most science believes today, was when the universe began 13 to 14 billion years ago with the big bang.
After the big bang
At that point, only lighter elements like hydrogen and helium existed.
But as the universe expanded, over billions of years, gravity created stars, many times larger than our own sun.
Inside these stars, a process called nucleosynthesis took place which, very simplistically, is the making of elements. And as the hydrogen in the star’s core was exhausted, the star fused progressively heavier elements including carbon.
We are all stardust
All the carbon (as well as the oxygen) that’s in living things were made in the nuclear fusion reactors that we call stars.
That’s why you sometimes hear people say that we are all made of stardust. When these stars die and explode in a supernova, they spread carbon and oxygen millions of miles outward, until gravity eventually pulls them together again.
8 billion years later (give or take a billion years)
Eight or nine billion years into the history of the universe and around 4.5 to 5 billion years ago our own sun and solar system were formed. Much of the carbon that is on earth today, is also believed to have come when earth collided with another small planet, over 4 billion years ago. And today, there’s plenty of it around.
Carbon in abundance
Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the observable universe by mass after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen. It is the second most abundant element in the human body by mass (about 18.5%) after oxygen. And it’s the 15th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. A recent survey says the earth contains 1.85 billion, billion tonnes of carbon. If it were all combined into a single sphere, it would be larger than many asteroids.
Yes, but what has all this go to do with diamonds?
Carbon is an element that’s in your body, without which life on earth could not exist. But it comes in many other different forms too, known as allotropes depending on the type of chemical bond that holds it together.
In its pure form it can come as graphite, for example, soft enough to form a streak on paper. Or diamond, one of the hardest naturally occurring materials on Earth, with a Mohs scale of 10 – the highest – many times harder than the next substance, corundum, at 9. Even its name taken from the ancient Greek word αδάμας (adámas) meaning ‘unbreakable’. And it’s so hard – with hardness determined by scratch resistance – that only a diamond can scratch another diamond.
It’s the atom formation that does it – plus heat and pressure
The difference is the formation its atoms take, which in diamonds, is in a solid form in a lattice – an arrangement that is responsible for the stone’s amazing properties. To turn carbon into diamonds takes an enormous amount of pressure and heat.
The sort of conditions that can be found about 90 miles (150 kilometres) or deeper beneath the surface of the earth where temperatures are at least 2000 degrees Fahrenheit (1050 degrees Celsius).
Not found everywhere
However, the critical temperature and pressure environment for diamond formation isn’t uniform around the globe. Instead, it is thought to be present primarily in the mantle beneath the stable interiors of continental plates.
Here carbon-containing fluids dissolved various minerals and replaced them with diamonds. Much more recently, in geological terms, just tens to hundreds of million years ago, they were carried to the surface through a specific kind of volcanic eruption, called a kimberlite eruption and deposited in igneous rocks. The last such eruption is said to have occurred over 100 million years ago.
Diamonds in human history
If diamonds were formed billions of years ago in the earth’s mantle, how far do they go back in human history?
The earliest diamonds were found in India around 2,500 years ago in the Golconda region, between the Godavari and Krishna Rivers. And diamond mining extends back into antiquity, originating as an industry between 700 and 500 BCE in India.
Made in India
For thousands of years, India was then thought to be the only source of diamonds, and it wasn’t until Indian diamond mines were depleted, that a quest for alternate sources began – with the discovery of diamonds many hundreds of years later in Brazil.
Rough diamonds to begin with
Prized as divine objects by Indian rulers of the time, cutting and polishing didn’t exist so diamonds retained their natural outer skin. So rough diamonds were kept as talismans to ward off evil, and only later incorporated into jewellery, which to start with, only men were allowed to wear.
Although mined in India, diamonds appeared in other civilisations too. In the time of the Pharaohs, a diamond was placed in the middle of the ankh – a cross with a loop on top. This was the Egyptian hieroglyph meaning life, and it’s said that to the ancient Egyptians diamonds represented the sun, a symbol of power, courage and truth.
The ancient Greeks regarded diamonds as the tears of god and the word for diamonds, ‘adamas’ meant invincible and the adjective ‘adamas’ translates as ‘the hardest substance’.
It had its admirers among the Romans too. In the first century AD, the Roman naturalist Pliny stated: “Diamond is the most valuable, not only of precious stones but of all things in this world.”
Diamonds as medicine!
From around 500 AD diamonds began to be used as a medical aid. One anecdote, written during the Dark Ages by St Hildegarde, a learned German Benedictine abbess in the 12th century, relates how a diamond held in the hand while making a sign of the cross would heal wounds and cure illnesses. Diamonds were also eaten in the hope of curing sickness, and in the 15th century, Pope Clement unsuccessfully used this treatment hoping it would help him recover from a major illness. It didn’t work, and sadly the Pope died.
Too valuable to eat
However, the value of diamonds began to outweigh their supposed medicinal powers.
Rather than eat them to cure ailments, mine owners spread myths that they were poisonous, in an attempt to deter mine workers from swallowing them and then retrieving them at home!
Diamonds come to Europe
During the thirteenth century, small quantities of diamonds began to show up in Europe where they were first associated with royalty. At the same time, they also began to be cut in order to improve their appearance.
Making the cut
The earliest diamond-cutting industry is believed to have been positioned in Venice somewhere around the 1330’s. It is estimated that diamond cutting found its way to Paris and Bruges around late 14th century and later to Antwerp.
In the fifteenth century the cutting wheel was invented to give diamonds their first rounded outlines. And by the sixteenth century, diamond cutting was perfected to enhance the gem’s brilliance and fire, was performed in earnest.
South America diamonds in the 18th century
In the 18th century the substantial quantities of diamonds were being mined in South America and bought to Europe, where they proved particularly popular with women. Although they tended to be worn in the evening, as it was thought vulgar to parade them during the day. Matching sets of diamonds were worn at important social events.
South African diamonds in the 19th century
Two events propelled their popularity a century later.
First, in the 1870s, the discovery of diamonds in such large quantities in South Africa, that it changed from a rare gem purely associated with the aristocracy to one that, potentially, many more people could afford. And in 1871 world annual production, exceeded one million carats for the first time. From then on, diamonds would be produced at a prodigious rate.
Ooh la la – they sold the French Crown jewels
Secondly, the selling of the French crown jewels, bought precious gemstones in general and diamonds in particular to the centre of public attention. The fall of Napoleon III in 1871 left the Third Republic of France with a problematic symbol of monarchy: the French crown jewels. It was decided to auction the bulk, retaining a few key objects for the State. Tiffany & Co. of New York bought the major share.
The 20th century – and mass appeal
The invention of gas and electric lighting enhanced diamonds popularity too. Under this artificial lighting, diamonds sparkled more brilliantly than any coloured stone. However, it was De Beers, and 20th century marketing that gave diamonds the massive appeal that they continue to enjoy until this day.
One South African farm where diamonds were discovered was owned by Diederik and Johannes de Beer. This farm was forcefully bought by Cecil Rhodes who founded the De Beers commercial mining company in 1871.
They began to control the production and distribution of the gem, to such an extent that by 1902, De Beers accounted for 90 per cent of the world’s rough diamond production and distribution. Its monopoly was so great, De Beers was able to stabilize the price of diamonds.
Fast forward to 1947, and marketing and advertising
A Philadelphia based American advertising agency called N.W.Ayer, came up with a line that’s still famous today – A Diamond is Forever. They also associated the diamond in the engagement rings with true love, and marketed the stone as romantic, socially valuable, and eternal.
A girl’s best friend
The jazz song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1949 Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes further enhanced the jewel’s mass appeal. Although the song is most famously performed by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film version.
So are diamonds as precious and rare as people seem to believe?
Yes, and no.
Diamonds certainly aren’t the rarest gems in the world.
There are numerous gemstones that occur less frequently in nature, including high-quality emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.
The world’s rarest gemstone – never heard of it
And the world’s rarest gemstone is so scarce that, perhaps unsurprisingly, you’re unlikely to ever heard of it, far less to have come across one. It’s called Painite and was first discovered by a British gemologist in 1951, then recognized as a new mineral in 1957. For many years the only specimen of the dark red crystal in existence was housed at the British Museum in London.
Are diamonds the most precious gem in the world?
Yes – depending on what type of diamond. Blue diamonds belong to a subcategory called fancy colour diamonds, the generic name for diamonds displaying intense colour, and arguably the world’s most expensive stone. One, named “The Oppenheimer Blue” in honour of its previous owner, sold for a final price of $57.5 million, so boasts the most valuable price per carat at $3.93 million. Although red diamonds get a worthy mention too, with a price tag of over $1 million per carat. There are less than 30 of these stones exist, with most less than half a carat. Although the typical diamond is around $15,000 per carat.
There are many famous diamonds too
The Koh-i-Noor, or “Mountain of light” is one of the most fascinating. Possibly mined in the Kollur Mine, India, somewhere between the 12th and 14th centuries and one of the world’s largest cut diamonds in the world, weighing 105.6 carats, and part of the British Crown jewels.
Welcome to London
But after the British annexation of the Punjab in 1849, it was ceded to Queen Victoria and was on display at the Great Exhibition in London, but the lacklustre cut failed to impress viewers, so Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, ordered it to be re-cut as an oval brilliant by Coster Diamonds, the Royal diamond polishing factory in Amsterdam, that still operates today.
Because its history involves a great deal of fighting between men, the gem acquired a reputation within the Royal family for bringing bad luck to any man who wears it. So it’s only been worn by female members of the family – Queen Victoria, then Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward V11, then Queen Mary in 1911, and lastly to the Queen Mother in 1937 for her coronation as Queen consort.
We all want it back!
Today, the diamond is on public display in the Jewel House at the Tower of London, although the governments of India, Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan have all claimed ownership since India gained independence from the UK in 1947. The British government insisting the gem was obtained legally has rejected all the claims.
The Cullinan Diamond
The Cullinan Diamond is the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found, weighing over 3,100 carats and discovered in a South African mine in the Transvaal on 26 January 1905. It was named after the mine’s chairman, Thomas Cullinan.
A gift to the King
It was then shipped to England, complete with a decoy package and detectives, to ensure it was not stolen, and presented to King Edward VII, who sent it to Amsterdam to be made into two diamonds. The largest stone, Cullinan I or the Great Star of Africa, at 530.4 carats is the largest clear-cut diamond in the world. The smaller, Cullinan II, is in the Imperial State Crown and both are part of the Crown Jewels.
The most popular gem in the 21st century
Today diamonds are probably the most popular gem of all, and as well as being April’s birthstone, they are traditionally used in engagement rings and other jewellery across the globe.
How do we value a diamond?
Until the middle of the 20th century, there was no standard by which diamonds could be evaluated, until the Gemological Institute of America created the first and now globally accepted standard for describing diamonds: colour, clarity, cut and carat weight.
Carat weight is the most objective of all the 4Cs, whereby a calibrated digital scale measures a diamond’s carat weight. Because of their rarity, larger diamonds are worth exponentially more than smaller ones, with the larger the diamond, the more per carat it costs. So for example, the difference in price between a 4-ct and a 3-ct diamond will greatly exceed the difference between a 3-ct and a 2-ct diamond.
Colour quality impacts a diamond’s value too. The perfect diamond is colourless, with even a hint of colour such as yellow and brown causing a big fall in value. The big exception is ‘fancy colours’, like a canary yellow or the ultimate in rarity, a red or blue diamond, which can lead to a significant increase in the price of a diamond.
Clarity rating of your diamond is another essential element. A flawless diamond will have no inclusions or surface imperfections, while a poor clarity quality will have inclusions that can be spotted by the unaided eye.
Not only is clarity an important characteristic in the rarity of a stone, but a diamond with poor clarity grade will be less brilliant and may have a cloudy appearance too. It will also be prone to chipping, cracking, or even shattering, especially if inclusions are located around the edges of the diamond.
The cut of is of aesthetic importance, with well-cut diamonds designed to dazzle. Every angle and facet of the diamond should interact spectacularly with light.
The perfect cut enhances three things:
1: Brightness, or the white light reflection of the diamond.
2: Its fire, which are the flashes of colour displayed as light refracts due to a prismatic effect.
3: And scintillation, which refers to the flashes of light you can see when you hold a diamond in your hand and move it.
Don’t forget certification
Lastly, there is a 5th C: a certificate.
It’s important to consider verifying the diamond’s grades by taking a look at its official certification. Simply taking a jeweller’s word for it is not best practice. Instead, verify the diamond’s grades by taking a look at its official certification.
It’s a documentation of a diamond’s quality by a third party, not a certification by the diamond buyer or seller, and increasingly important due to diamond scams.
Turn to a traditional jeweller
Whether you’re interested in diamonds or any kind of gem or attractive stone, it’s always safer to seek the advice of a traditional jeweller like John Lloyd Morgan for guidance.