In ancient Greek, the word for diamond meant unalterable or unbreakable. The diamond has achieved fame for its hardness, endurance, and brilliance. In terms of art, the diamond has been used in engraving tools for thousands of years. In ancient times, diamonds were also used for religious purposes and to adorn humans in the form of jewels just as they do today.
According to historians, diamonds were first mined in India where their religious significance influenced their position as an important gemstone. During the Middle Ages, diamonds were also revered as healing stones, but their value as gemstones truly blossomed during this period. During the thirteenth century, small amounts of diamonds began to show up in Europe where they were associated with royalty. It was also during this period that diamonds first began to be cut in order to improve their appearance.
The fifteenth century, however, witnessed the use of the cutting wheel—a device that gave diamonds their first rounded outlines. By the sixteenth century, diamond cutting, to enhance the gem’s brilliance and fire, was performed in earnest. Faceting was also developing at this point. The rose cut was popular at this time, but it was replaced in popularity by the “old cut,” as it is now termed, which was created by a Venetian diamond cutter. At this point, jewelry design began to change dramatically as gemstones, especially large and showy gemstones, took center stage over settings and metalwork.
By the eighteenth century, diamond jewelry became ever more popular. As diamond sources in India began to dwindle, new mines opened in South Africa. Jewelry designs featured diamonds in elegant settings—the best jewels, of course, featured large, flawless stones. During the nineteenth century, the market for diamonds exploded as rich sources allowed anyone who could afford them to have diamond jewels. In 1919, the brilliant cut was invented; its fifty-eight facets allowed diamonds to show brilliance and fire as never before.
For jewelers, crafting with diamonds means attention to the four Cs—cut, clarity, color, and carat. While Tiffany and Cartier are two contemporary companies with close association to diamonds, historic designers created some of the world’s most memorable diamond jewels. One of the earliest-known diamond jewels dates back to a Hungarian queen’s crown in 1074. In 1382, Queen Anne of Bohemia wore a crown featuring a center diamond flanked by sapphires and pearls. In 1477, Mary of Burgundy was presented with the first documented diamond engagement ring. The infamous Hope Diamond was purchased by King Louis the XIII of France in 1631. In 1762, Catherine the Great wore her Great Imperial Crown that featured the Shah Diamond.
Today, diamonds reign supreme as the most popular gemstones. Diamond jewelry is a major world industry. Diamonds are also the most minutely classified and tightly controlled of all the gemstone industries. As the hardest natural substance on earth, diamonds are likely to continue this reign for centuries to come.