Diamond is one of the best-known and most sought-after Gemstons Diamonds have been known to mankind and used as decorative items since ancient times; some of the earliest references can be traced to India.
The diamond is more than just aesthetically beautiful—it’s an enduring symbol of love, romance, and commitment. The stone’s name is derived from the Greek word adamas, which translates to “unconquerable.” This symbolic meaning lends itself well to the diamond’s historic commemoration of eternal love.
History of Diamonds
The earliest diamonds were found in India in 4th century BC, although the youngest of these deposits were formed 900 million years ago. A majority of these early stones were transported along the network of trade routes that connected India and China, commonly known as the Silk Road. At the time of their discovery, diamonds were valued because of their strength and brilliance, and for their ability to refract light and engrave metal. Diamonds were worn as adornments, used as cutting tools, served as a talisman to ward off evil, and were believed to provide protection in battle. In the Dark Ages, diamonds were also used as a medical aid and were thought to cure illness and heal wounds when ingested.
Surprisingly, diamonds share some common characteristics with coal. Both are composed of the most common substance on earth: carbon. What makes diamonds different from coal is the way the carbon atoms are arranged and how the carbon is formed. Diamonds are created when carbon is subjected to the extremely high pressures and temperatures found at the earth’s lithosphere, which lies approximately 90-240 miles below the earth’s surface.
Until the 18th century, India was thought to be the only source of diamonds. When the Indian diamond mines were depleted, the quest for alternate sources began. Although a small deposit was found in Brazil in 1725, the supply was not enough to meet world demands.
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 pebble, but turned out to be a 21.25-carat diamond. In 1871, a colossal 83.50-carat deposit was unearthed on a shallow hill called Colesberg Kopje. These findings sparked a rush of thousands of diamond prospectors to the region and led to the opening of the first large-scale mining operation which came to be known as the Kimberly Mine. This newly discovered diamond source increased the world’s diamond supply substantially, resulting in a significant decrease in their value. The elite no longer considered the diamond a rarity, and began to replace this “common” stone with colored gemstones. Emeralds, rubies, and sapphires became more popular choices for engagement ring stones among the upper class.
Diamond forms under high temperature and pressure conditions that exist only about 100 miles beneath the earth’s surface. Diamond’s carbon atoms are bonded in essentially the same way in all directions. Another mineral, graphite, also contains only carbon, but its formation process and crystal structure are very different. Graphite is so soft that you can write with it, while diamond is so hard that you can only scratch it with another diamond.
Diamonds are such a highly traded commodity that multiple organizations have been created for grading and certifying them based on the four Cs, which are color, cut, clarity, and carat. Other characteristics, such as presence or lack of fluorescence, also affect the desirability and thus the value of a diamond used for jewelry.
It was over 4,000 years ago that the first diamonds were mined in India, in alluvial deposits of the stone along the rivers Krishna, Penner and Godavari
Making of Diamonds
Diamond’s characteristic chemical composition and crystal structure make it a unique member of the mineral kingdom.
Diamond is the only gem made of a single element: It is typically about 99.95 percent carbon. The other 0.05 percent can include one or more trace elements, which are atoms that aren’t part of the diamond’s essential chemistry. Some trace elements can influence its color or crystal shape.
The way a mineral forms helps determine its identity. Diamond forms under high temperature and pressure conditions that exist only within a specific depth range (about 100 miles) beneath the earth’s surface. Diamond’s crystal structure is isometric, which means the carbon atoms are bonded in essentially the same way in all directions. Another mineral, graphite, also contains only carbon, but its formation process and crystal structure are very different. The result is that graphite is so soft that you can write with it, while diamond is so hard that you can only scratch it with another diamond.
Without any one of these factors, diamond might be just another mineral. Fortunately, though, this special combination of chemical composition, crystal structure, and formation process gives diamonds the qualities that make them extraordinary.
On almost all modern birthstone lists, diamond is recognized today as the birthstone for April. Diamond is also the gem that marks the 60th and 75th wedding anniversaries.
4 C s of Dimond Quality
- Clarity is a measure of the number and size of the tiny imperfections that occur in almost all diamonds.
- Many of these imperfections are microscopic, and do not affect a diamond’s beauty in any discernible way.
Much is made of a diamond’s clarity, but of the Four Cs, it is the easiest to understand, and, according to many experts, generally has the least impact on a diamond’s appearance. Clarity simply refers to the tiny, natural imperfections that occur in all but the finest diamonds. Gemologists refer to these imperfections by a variety of technical names, including blemishes and inclusions, among others. Diamonds with the least and smallest imperfections receive the highest clarity grades. Because these imperfections tend to be microscopic, they do not generally affect a diamond’s beauty in any discernible way.
- No inclusions and no blemishes visible under 10x magnification
Internally Flawless (IF)
- No inclusions visible under 10x magnification
Very, Very Slightly Included (VVS1 and VVS2)
- Inclusions so slight they are difficult for a skilled grader to see under 10x magnification
Very Slightly Included (VS1 and VS2)
- Inclusions are observed with effort under 10x magnification, but can be characterized as minor
Slightly Included (SI1 and SI2)
- Inclusions are noticeable under 10x magnification
Included (I1, I2, and I3)
- Inclusions are obvious under 10x magnification which may affect transparency and brilliance
Cut refers not to a diamond’s shape (e.g. round, oval, pear, etc.) but to a diamond’s proportions, symmetry and polish. The beauty of a diamond depends more on cut than any other factor. Though extremely difficult to analyze and quantify, diamond cut has three primary effects on appearance: brilliance (the brightness created by the combination of all the white light reflections from the surface and the inside of a polished diamond), fire (the dispersion of light into the colors of the visible spectrum, seen as flashes of color), and scintillation (the flashes of light and dark, or sparkle, when a diamond or light source is moved)
When a diamond is fashioned from a rough stone, the cutter must balance optimal cut (and therefore appearance) against maximum yield (cutting the diamond to maintain as much carat weight from the rough stone as possible). Because many customers are willing to pay more for a larger, fair-cut cut diamond than for a slightly smaller, well-cut diamond, there is pressure on the cutter to sacrifice appearance for weight. This is why the Cut grade is so important; it allows the purchaser to identify those stones that were cut Fair to Poor in an effort to gain carat weight.
- At left, the same rough stone (shown in blue) can yield one of two potential diamonds:
- A too-deep cut diamond (orange) would yield a significantly larger diamond, earning the diamond cutter a larger profit on his investment.
- A smaller, well cut diamond (white) may sell for less in total than the larger diamond, but it will command a higher price-per-carat not only because of its superior appearance, but also due to decreased yield from the rough stone (which therefore makes the diamond more expensive to create.
- Color refers to a diamond’s lack of color, grading the whiteness of a diamond.
- A color grade of D is the highest possible, while Z is the lowest.
- Blue – Nile only sells diamonds with a color grade of J or higher.
Color manifests itself in a diamond as a pale yellow. This is why a diamond’s color grade is based on its lack of color. The less color a diamond has, the higher its color grade. After cut, color is generally considered the second most important characteristic when selecting a diamond. This is because the human eye tends to detect a diamond’s sparkle (light performance) first, and color second.
- D 100% Colorless. The highest color grade a diamond can receive. D graded diamonds are extremely rare and very highly priced.
- E,F Colorless. Exceptionally transparent. Extremely difficult to detect the traces of color in an E or F graded diamond. These diamonds are rare and highly priced.
- G,H Nearly Colorless. Unless these diamonds are compared next to a master stone of higher color grade, color is nearly indiscernible. When face up these diamond appear nearly colorless. These diamonds are still rare, but slightly less expensive and are considered a good value.
- I,J Nearly Colorless. Color in these diamonds is slightly detectable. The slight amount of color is imperceptible by the unaided eye once the diamond has been mounted. These diamonds are of superior value, and therefore compose the majority of diamonds that are used for engagement rings, earrings and pendants.
- K-M Faint Yellow. Noticeable color, although some diamonds in this range can still be fiery and beautiful.
- Carat is the term used to describe the weight of any gemstone, including diamonds. Although the definition of a carat has changed over time, since 1913 the international standard has been 200 milligrams, or 1/5 of a gram. Often, jewelers describe carats in 1/4 increments.
- In jewelry pieces with more than one diamond, the carats may be described in terms of total carat weight (TW). This is the combined total weight of all the stones in the piece.
- Diamonds can range in size from a fraction of a carat to several carats. Given the rarity of large stones, however, the price increases rapidly with size; therefore, a single 2-carat diamond will cost much more than two 1-carat diamonds. Very large diamonds with good color and clarity are very rare.
- Expect to pay a premium for stones that are above a full carat weight. For example, a .95 carat diamond will cost a bit more than a .90 carat stone.
- Because round brilliant cuts follow exact standards, you can make a good estimate of the carat weight of the stone based on the stone’s diameter. The following chart compares the relative sizes of stones and describes how much a round brilliant diamond of a certain size is likely to weigh. This chart is for educational purposes and represents a guideline for diameter and carat weights. It is not representative of other cuts or shapes. It is also not applicable to colored gemstones which have a different density from diamonds.
- N-Z Very Light or Light Yellow. Noticeable color. These diamonds are not fit to be sold as gemstones, unless you specifically would like to have a diamond with an amber color.
The top seven diamond-producing countries, accounting for 80 percent of the world’s rough diamond supply, are Botswana, Russia, South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Australia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The World’s Most Famous Diamonds
Diamonds can be found all around the world – in jewelry stores, on Red Carpets, in magazines and advertisements, and maybe even on you or the person sitting next to you. But what are some of the world’s most famous diamonds? Here are six of our favorite noteworthy sparklers!
- The Cullinan Diamond
- The Centenary Diamond
- The Hope Diamond
- The Regent Diamond
- The Orlov (Orloff) Diamond
- The Koh-I -Nur Diamond
- The Cullinan, 3,106.75 carats (about 1.4 pounds), is the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever discovered. The Cullinan was found by miner Thomas Evan Powell on January 26, 1905 in a mine in South Africa and was named after Sir Thomas Cullinan, the owner of the mine.
- The massive diamond was bought by the South African government and presented to British King Edward VII on his birthday; however, a security problem was posed when the Cullinan was to be transported from South Africa to England. Detectives from London were placed on a steamboat headed for Europe with a fake stone, which was rumored to be the Cullinan. This was a divisionary tactic, intended to attract thieves who might be interested in stealing the massive diamond. The actual Cullinan diamond was safely shipped to England in the standard mailing system via parcel post.
- The Cullinan has since been cut into nine smaller stones, with the biggest of them known as the Great Star of Africa.
- The Centenary Diamond, which was discovered at the Premier Mine in South Africa in 1986, was 599 carats (almost 1/3 of a pound!) and was considered internally and externally flawless with its rating of color grade D, the highest grade of colorless diamond.
- This diamond was to be cut into a smaller stone; however, the cutting of such an immense and valuable diamond was a significant process. Once an expert was selected to lead a team of diamond cutters, a group of engineers, electricians, and security guards were specially picked to assist in the process. Thirteen different potential designs were presented to the diamond company that owned the Centenary diamond, with a strong recommendation for what would become the eventual modified heart-shaped design.
- The final cutting of the Centenary diamond was completed in February of 1991, five years after its discovery, and the diamond was then insured for $100 million USD.
- Hope Diamond, formed within the Earth approximately 1.1 billion years ago, is notorious for supposedly being cursed. The diamond was purportedly stolen from the eye of a sculpted statue of the goddess Sita in India and has been cursed ever since, bringing misfortune to those who have owned or worn it.
- A few of those who have fallen victim to the tragic curse of the Hope Diamond include: Jacques Colet, who bought the diamond and then committed suicide; Prince Ivan Kanitovski, who bought the diamond from Colet and was then killed by Russian revolutionists; Mlle Ladue, who was loaned the diamond from Kanitovski and was then murdered by her sweetheart; Abu Sabir, who was imprisoned and tortured after being given the task of polishing the diamond, Kulub Bey, a guardian for the diamond who was hanged by a mob in Turkey; Tavernier, the man who transported the diamond from India to Paris and was then killed by wild dogs; and, Princess de Lamballe, who wore the diamond and was then killed by a mob in Paris.
- The Regent diamond, a 410 carat stone (about 1/5 of a pound), was discovered in 1698 by a slave in the Golkonda mine in India. The slave, who recognized the potential value of the Regent diamond, stole the precious stone and hid it inside of a large wound in his leg; however, an English sea captain witnessed this and subsequently stole the diamond from the slave. The Englishman then sold the diamond to an Indian merchant, who in turn sold it to Governor Thomas Pitt for what today would be almost $6 million USD.
- The Regent diamond, sometimes referred to as the Pitt diamond, belonged to French royalty for many years, even serving as an adornment in the hat of Marie Antoinette. This diamond is now on display in the French Royal Treasury at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
- The Orlov diamond is part of the collection of the Diamond Fund of the Moscow Kremlin and can be traced back to the 18th century Sri Ranganathaswamy Hindu temple, in Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India where it once served as the eye of the presiding deity.
- Described as having the shape and proportions of half a hen’s egg, the Orlov is a rarity among historic diamonds, for it retains its original Indian rose-style cut. Its color is widely stated as white with a faint bluish-green tinge and is estimated to weigh 189.62 carats.
- This diamond should not be confused with the “Black Orlov diamond”, called the Eye of Brahma, which according to legend was stolen from a Temple near Pondicherry.
Koh-I -Nur Diamond
- The Koh-I -Nur Diamond, meaning “Mountain of Light” in Persian language, was once the largest known diamond in the world. It is believed to have originated in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India together with its double, the Darya-ye Noor (meaning the “Sea of Light”) and is rumored to have belonged to various rulers who fought bitterly over it during times of war.
- In 1850, this large diamond was confiscated and became part of the British Crown Jewels when Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877.