The History of Diamonds

Posted by JewelryKind

Today, diamonds are synonymous with romance, weddings, and love, and while they have always been a precious stone perfect for sparkly jewellery, they have an interesting past.

Where Diamonds Come From

Those perfect little gemstones that add something extra to rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets actually start out as rough pieces of rock. Diamonds are born deep under the earth’s surface, where they are exposed to extremely high temperatures and lots of pressure.

Over the period of 1 billion to 3.3 billion years, the gem grows and forms as it is provided with carbon from different kinds of minerals. Volcanic eruptions under the earth push the gemstones closer to the surface, where they are mined and then cut into beautiful shapes.

Beginnings in India, Western Europe and Brazil

Most believe that diamonds were first recognised and prized in India where they were found along the Penner, Krishna, and Godavari rivers, and were seen as religious icons and used in trading in the fourth century B.C.

In fact, a manuscript dating from 320 to 296 B.C. and written in Sanskrit by a minister in India is believed to contain the earliest reference to diamonds.

The diamonds you see today, cut into fancy shapes and faceted to reflect light and sparkle, had their start in Venice in the early 14th century, where it’s thought that diamond cutting began.

In the 1400s, diamonds first began appearing in Western Europe as they were shipped from India. Louis IX of France actually passed a law that held that only the King could wear diamonds. But, within the next 100 years, some of the wealthiest people, like royals, aristocrats and merchants began wearing them.

At first, diamonds were used to accent other types of gems and precious materials, like pearls, other stones, gold, and silver. But as the art of faceting was perfected, people began wearing much larger diamonds because their sparkle and light reflections could be highlighted.

However, beginning in the 1700s, India’s diamond supply began to run dry but gold miners began to find diamonds near rivers in Brazil. It turned out that Brazil’s diamond resources were so plentiful that the country became a major diamond provider and led the world in diamond exports for 150 years.

It was around this time that it was only fashionable to wear diamonds at night and to wear matching sets of jewellery, instead of pieces studded with a variety of colourful gemstones.

Not Just for the Wealthy Anymore

As diamonds became scarcer in India, so did upper ruling classes. The demographic that claimed most diamond buyers was changing, and distribution of wealth had begun.

Europe and the United States experienced larger wealthy classes in the 1800s, so more people could afford to adorn themselves with diamond jewellery. In fact, by this time, diamonds were no longer just for the extremely wealthy.

As more and more people could afford diamonds, a major diamond source in South Africa was discovered, adding to the market and making diamonds even more accessible. The combination of having more diamonds available and the opportunity for more people to afford them led to a diamond boom. Interest was high and people were buying the gemstones.

The African Discovery that Changed the Market

In 1866, diamonds were found in Kimberly, South Africa. Although it was unknown at the time, this discovery would have a major impact on the diamond industry. Cecil Rhodes founded De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited in 1888, sparking a change that has led to the way we think of diamonds today. In fact, De Beers controlled about 90 percent of the world’s production of diamonds.

By this time, miners were finding they had to dig deeper into the earth to extract diamonds, which meant that mining costs went up while the number of available diamonds went down. This problem was one that posed a real threat to the diamond industry, but when new mining technology was developed, diamonds continued to be mined.

Professionals also recognised the need to market diamonds in order to keep the business alive and ensure that it became more and more lucrative. As part of this push, experts created new ways to cut and polish diamonds, which made it easier and cheaper to produce diamonds that looked better than ever.

The First Diamond Engagement Ring and the Birth of a Tradition

The first diamond engagement ring was commissioned in 1477 by Archduke Maximillian of Austria. After this engagement, royals, nobles, and aristocrats across Europe wanted to do the same, so diamond engagement rings grew in popularity.

Victorians added their own twist to this idea when engagement rings studded with diamonds that were accented with other jewels became popular.

In the 1930s, De Beers saw a decline in diamond sales in the United States because of a lagging economy. So, it launched a marketing campaign that highlighted various movie stars covered in diamond-encrusted jewellery. The campaign paid off, as the company’s diamond sales increased by 50 percent in just three years.

Again drawing on its marketing power, De Beers started a new marketing campaign with the slogan “A Diamond is Forever” in 1947. The phrase played on the idea of romance and forever-marriages to push diamond ring sales. The tradition of diamond engagement and wedding rings is attributed to this campaign.

Drastic Diamond Production Growth

It’s estimated that in the 1870s, less than a million carats of rough diamonds were produced. In the 1920s, about three million carats were produced each year and in the 1970s, annual production was almost 50 million carats. In the 1990s, businesses were producing more than 100 million carats each year.

This huge and very rapid growth can be attributed to advances in mining technology and stone cutting, and an increase in marketing, that have made diamonds even more desirable and affordable.

From the 1970s through the year 2000, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the former Soviet Union, Russia, Botswana, Australia, and Canada all discovered diamond deposits and added to the industry.

Now, diamonds are actually mined on every continent except Europe and Antarctica, and in about 25 countries around the world. Modern technology has nearly perfected gemstone cutting and faceting, making the jewels as attractive and even more splendid than when they were first discovered in ancient India.

For more information about diamonds please visit the Avanti Jewellers website –


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