The cultural history of diamonds is unrivaled. Natural diamonds are considered to be nearly old as the Earth itself. They are estimated to be aged between 1 billion and 3.5 billion years old. Diamonds form deep within the earth under extreme heat and pressure. Eventually, they are ejected towards the earth’s surface where they are mined, cut and polished.
There are many styles of diamond cut. These have been established over the years as jewellers experiment with innovative ways to enhance the diamond’s visual appeal and presentation. Several prominent shapes that have remained popular throughout the years are round, marquise, princess, emerald and oval.
The first surviving accounts of diamonds appear between 400 and 300BC. These are based in India, where the first diamonds were discovered and traded. Even in their earliest history, diamonds were considered a luxury item due to their general scarcity.
The first diamond export is alleged to have taken place in 327BC. It is said that Alexander the Great discovered a great valley of diamonds upon invading India. After successfully evading the guards of the valley (vultures and snakes) he claimed the jewels and returned to Europe, one of many legends surrounding diamonds.
Ancient civilizations attached many symbols to diamonds. They were utilised as a talisman to ward off evil, and were believed to offer protection in battle. It was also thought that diamonds had the ability to cure illness and heal wounds if they were ingested.
Diamond popularity began to rise as multiple applications for the stone emerged. Although they were initially traded among the elite of society, eventually diamonds became a popular stone in jewellery designs. The first known instance of a diamond being set into jewellery occurred in 1074. The Queen of Hungary ordered a royal crown inset with diamonds.
More recent history includes that of the first diamond to be discovered in South Africa. 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 stone. However, it was in fact a 21.25 carat diamond, now known as the ‘Eureka diamond’.
From then, diamonds have only grown in popularity. This is partially due to their status as an iconic engagement ring stone. In 1477, Archduke Maximillian of Austria ordered the first ever diamond engagement ring for Mary of Burgundy. This was the beginning of a jewellery trend that persists to this day. The diamond’s rarity, strength and beauty make it a fitting symbol of the longevity and resilience of marriage. Additionally, clever marketing campaigns contributed to the status of the diamond as the ideal engagement ring stone. DeBeers launched a campaign in 1947 that coined the phrase ‘a diamond is forever’. They suggested that diamonds were the only sensible choice for engagement rings, a campaign that was widely successful, then and now. Now, more than 78% of engagement rings sold contain diamonds.