Diamonds have been known as gems for centuries and are held in high esteem in many cultures. Around 800 B.C. they were first discovered in India, which remained the sole diamond locality for a very long time. It was not until the 18th century A.D. before these gems were also discovered in other places in the world.
Diamonds in Indian history
At the beginning of the 20th century, in 1905, the “Arthasastra” was discovered. It was an old manuscript from which the name can be translated from Sanskrit as “The Lessons of Profit”. This fourth century (A.D.) manuscript revealed that in those days, diamonds already knew a lively trade.
In early Indian history diamonds were not only used as embellishment for jewellery or other luxury items, but they were also used as an offering to the gods. To the god Indra, colourless diamonds were sacrificed, whereas black diamonds were offered to Yama, the god of the dead.
Diamonds in Greek history
In the ancient Greek literature, the word “adamas” is used, which can be translated as “invincible” and “untameable”. In the earliest writings, “adamas” is not yet used as a word to indicate diamond as a gem. Only at the beginning of our era, the great philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus (better known as Pliny the Elder) started to use the word “adamas” when he referred to diamond as a mineral.
Diamonds “banned” during the rise of Christianity
A rough diamond can often be found as a perfectly shaped octahedron, the clarity, the brilliant reflection of light… Together with the extraordinary hardness and rarity of the material, these properties made the diamond in to a phenomenon which fascinated man endlessly. No wonder that it did not take long for people to attribute magical and mystical powers to diamonds.
In Christianity, magic and mysticism in all forms was considered reprehensible. So during the great rise of Christianity, the attribution of any powers to diamonds was strongly condemned. The diamond became discredited and the value of the gem dropped considerably.
In the 16th Century, after the the Dark Ages ended, diamonds regained their status as desirable gems. The development of new techniques in diamond cutting, diamonds as a gem had a great comeback.
18th century: the discovery of diamonds in Brazil
During the 18th century, slowly but surely the old diamond mines in India started to become exhausted. Around this period new diamond discoveries were done in Brazil. As a result of these findings, a new consistent diamond supply was added to the global diamond trade. This was also the time in which the city of Antwerp started to develop as one of the great diamond centers in the world.
Diamond mining in South Africa: the beginning of the De Beers empire
In 1866 the great diamond mining in South Africa started. The discovery of the well-known diamond mines in South Africa marked the beginning of the De Beers “era”. Only within years this mega enterprise dominated the entire diamond trade. De Beers maintained their monopoly right up until the end of the 20th century.