Across time and cultures diamonds have historically been a consistent expression of luxury. They symbolize wealth, durability, and status. The most treasured of gems, diamonds were formed billions of years ago deep below the earth’s surface. Only a few survive the journey to the surface, and even less are deemed worthy of being made into an exquisite piece of jewelry. Conversely, they have the rich history of being associated with invulnerability, lightning, magic, healing, protection, and poisoning. In unraveling the history and associations of diamonds, we need to look through time and at their very origins to gain a historical perspective of their tremendous value.
"Diamond" comes from the Greek origin. The adjective "adamas" was used to describe the hardest substance known, and eventually became synonymous with diamond. It is difficult to determine at what point in history the hardest known substance became diamond.
Diamonds began to appear in European regalia and jewelry in the 13th century. By the 16th century, the diamonds became larger and more prominent, as a result of the development of diamond faceting – a technique that enhances a diamond’s brilliance.
By the 17th century, Diamonds dominated the small jewels and large ones became adornments by the 18th century.
Kings rule – the act of Saint Louis (Louis IX of France, 1214-70) enacted a law reserving diamonds for the king. This indicates the rarity of diamonds and the value conferred upon them.
Over the next century diamonds appeared in royal jewelry, then among the greater European aristocracy, with the wealthy merchant class showing the occasional diamond by the 17th century.
The earliest European ornamental and regal applications feature diamond points that resemble the Roman style of natural points in rings. Unlike the Roman examples, the European points may have been polished, if only to remove surface irregularities and coatings of any foreign mineral.
The taboo on modifying a diamond crystal into a gem, which originated in India, ended around this time in both Europe and India. There is no recorded explanation, but the implications of the rise of diamond's popularity in ornamentation are nothing short of revolutionary -- as more diamonds reached Europe, demand for the brilliant gem increased.
The earliest diamond-cutting industry is believed to have begun in Venice, a trade capital, starting sometime after 1330. Diamond cutting may have arrived in Paris by the late 14th century. There is documentation for the technique in Bruges, located on the diamond trade route, in 1465.
For the past 500 years or so, Antwerp, Belgium has been the on-again, off-again center of the diamond trade. However, it was usurped by Bruges and Amsterdam in the 1600’s through the 1700’s. Diamond cutting in Antwerp began in the early 16th century, but when the Spanish gained control of the city in 1585, many of the diamond cutters fled to Amsterdam, which halted production.
By the mid 1800’s, the diamond trade was growing quickly. And with the discovery of the South African Kimberley diamond fields in the 1870’s, Antwerp was able to restore its title as the center of the world’s diamond trade after an extended period.