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Diamond History

 
For the last 3000 to 4000 years, diamonds have held special magic for Kings, Queens and their subjects. Diamonds have stood for wealth, power, love, spirit and magical powers. Kings in olden days would wear into battle heavy leather breast plates studded with diamonds and other precious stones. It was believed that diamonds were fragments of stars and the teardrops of the Gods. The diamonds possessed magical qualities of the Gods and held powers far beyond the understanding of the common man. Because of these beliefs, the warriors stayed clear of the Kings and others who were fortunate to have the magical diamonds in their breast plates.

Until the 15th Century only Kings wore diamonds as a symbol of strength, courage and invincibility. Over the centuries, the diamond acquired its unique status as the ultimate gift of love. It was said that cupids' arrows were tipped with diamonds that have a magic that nothing else can equal.

Since the creation of diamonds they have been associated with romance and legend. The Greeks believed the fire in the diamond reflected the constant flame of love.

For millions of people around the world, the mystery and magic, the beauty and romance shining out from a simple solitaire says all the heart feels but words can not express. It wasn't until 1477 when Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy, that the diamond engagement ring was introduced. Placing the ring on the third finger of the left hand, dates back to the early Egyptian belief that the Vena Amors, vein of love, runs directly from the heart to the tip of the third finger.

The first river-bed (alluvial) diamonds were probably discovered in India, in around 800 B.C. The volcanic source of these diamonds was never discovered, but the alluvial deposits were rich enough to supply most of the world's diamonds until the eighteenth century, when dwindling Indian supplies probably spurred the exploration that led to the discovery of diamonds in Brazil, which became the next important diamond source. Beginning in l866, South Africa's massive diamond deposits were discovered, and a world-wide diamond rush was on. The South African diamond output was unraveled until major deposits were found in Siberian permafrost in l954. And currently Western Canada is the site of the world's newest diamond rush.

Throughout much of history, diamonds were mined from the sand and gravel surrounding rivers. But in South Africa in 1870 diamond was found in the earth far from a river source, and the practice of dry-digging for diamonds was born. More sophisticated mining techniques allowed deeper subterranean digging, as well as more efficient river (and, most recently, marine) mining, than ever before.


The cutting of diamonds into the complex faceted forms we now associate with these gems is actually a relatively recent practice. For centuries, rough diamonds were kept as talismans, and often not worn at all, though natural octahedral (eight-sided stones) were sometimes set in rings. A Hungarian queen's crown set with uncut diamonds, dating from approximately l074, is perhaps the earliest example of diamond jewelry. We know that the royalty of France and England wore diamonds by the 1300's. In sixteenth century England, fashionable lovers etched romantic pledges on window-panes with the points of their diamond rings, known as "scribbling rings".

The earliest record of diamond-polishing (with diamond powder) is Indian, and probably dates from the fourteenth century. There are also contemporary references to the practice of diamond polishing in Venice. The earliest reference to diamond cutting is in l550 in Antwerp, the most important diamond center of the period, where a diamond-cutters' guild was soon to be established.

The first "improvements" on nature's design involved a simple polishing of the octahedral crystal faces to create even and unblemished facets, or to fashion the desired octahedral shape out of an otherwise unappealing piece of rough. This was called the point cut and dates from the mid 14th century; by 1375 there was a guild of diamond polishers at Nürnberg. By the mid 15th century, the point cut began to be improved upon: a little less than one half of the octahedron would be sawn off, creating the table cut. The importance of a culet was also realised, and some table-cut stones may possess one. The addition of four corner facets created the old single cut (or old eight cut). Neither of these early cuts would reveal what diamond is prized for today; its strong dispersion or fire. At the time, diamond was valued chiefly for its adamantine lustre and superlative hardness; a table-cut diamond would appear black to the eye, as they do in paintings of the era. For this reason, colored gemstones such as ruby and sapphire were far more popular in jewelry of the era.

In or around 1476, Lodewyk (Louis) van Berquem, a Flemish polisher of Bruges, introduced absolute symmetry in the disposition of facets. He cut stones in the shape known as pendeloque or briolette; these were pear-shaped with triangular facets on both sides. About the middle of the 16th century, the rose or rosette was introduced in Antwerp: it also consisted of triangular facets arranged in a symmetrical radiating pattern, but with the bottom of the stone left flat—essentially a crown without a pavilion. Many large, famous Indian diamonds of old (such as the Orloff and Sancy) also feature a rose-like cut; there is some suggestion that Western cutters were influenced by Indian stones, because some of these diamonds may predate the Western adoption of the rose cut. However, Indian "rose cuts" were far less symmetrical as their cutters had the primary interest of conserving carat weight, due to the divine status of diamond in India. In either event, the rose cut continued to evolve, with its depth, number and arrangements of facets being tweaked.

The first brilliant cuts were introduced in the middle of the 17th century. Known as Mazarins, they had 17 facets on the crown (upper half). They are also called double-cut brilliants as they are seen as a step up from old single cuts. Vincent Peruzzi, a Venetian polisher, later increased the number of crown facets from 17 to 33 (triple-cut or Peruzzi brilliants), thereby significantly increasing the fire and brilliance of the cut gem, properties which in the Mazarin were already incomparably better than in the rose. Yet Peruzzi-cut diamonds, when seen nowadays, seem exceedingly dull compared to modern-cut brilliants. Because the practice of bruting had not yet been developed, these early brilliants were all rounded squares or rectangles in cross-section (rather than circular). Given the general name of cushion—what are known today as old mine cuts—these were common by the early 18th century. Sometime later the old European cut was developed, which had a shallower pavilion, more rounded shape, and different arrangement of facets. The old European cut was the forerunner of modern brilliants and was the most advanced in use during the 19th century.

Around 1900, the development of diamond saws and good jewelry lathes enabled the development of modern diamond cutting and diamond cuts, chief among them the round brilliant cut. In 1919, Marcel Tolkowsky analyzed this cut: his calculations took both brilliance (the amount of white light reflected) and fire into consideration, creating a delicate balance between the two. His geometric calculations can be found in his book on Diamond Design. Tolkowsky's calculations would serve as the basis for all future brilliant cut modifications and standards.


Indian diamonds reached Venice by two Mediterranean routes: the southern route was by way of Aden, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and the northern route was through Arabia, Persia, Armenia, and Turkey. Then, thanks to the Portuguese discovery of the direct sea route to India, Antwerp flourished as a diamond center, as the city was well-situated to receive vast supplies of rough from Lisbon as well as from Venice.

After Spanish attacks on Antwerp in 1585, many diamond cutters relocated to Amsterdam. And the Netherlands, with its liberal civil policies, attracted diamond craftsmen (including many Jews) who were fleeing religious persecution in Spain, Portugal, Germany and Poland.

In the late 1600's, as the English fortified their interest in India, which was still the world's central diamond source, London became an important cutting center. Later, London became the primary world market of diamond rough.

Today, there are cutting centers all over the world, most notably in Belgium, India, Israel, South Africa, and the USA.

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