The origins of diamonds
The first traces of use of this stone date back to -600 in Yemen, where the diamond was used to pierce other stones like pearls. Subsequently, in the time of the pharaohs, the diamond was used in the representation of the sign Ankh, an Egyptian hieroglyph meaning “life”.
The diamond was also a symbol of truth, strength and courage.
In ancient Greece, the diamond was a known stone and the Greeks attributed to it the virtue of being a poison control.
Several Greco-Roman texts also appear the term “adamas”, meaning “the invincible” or “the indomitable” also synonymous with diamond.
In Greek mythology, Chronos would have changed a young man called “Diamond” into a precious stone, thus giving strength and luck to the one who wears it.
It was at this time that certain connotations associated with diamonds appeared: it is thought to distance discord between spouses and to distance ghosts and other wild animals.
The diamond trade would have started in India around the year 400, which was the first producer of this stone.
Buddhist texts refer to this stone under the term of “vajra” revealing all the symbolism of the stone. Diamonds did not really arrive in the West until the Renaissance with the development of trade to Asia.
It was François I who made up the crown jewels, also called “crown diamonds” by importing several diamonds from India such as the Regent. Other stones were added thereafter, such as the Sancy and the blue crown diamond.
As the deposits in India ran out, production turned to other countries, Brazil and South Africa in particular. It was not until 1797 that Smithson Tennant discovered that diamonds were composed of pure carbon, an open path to the production of diamond synthesis that began in the mid-twentieth century.
A rough diamond can have different shapes. The main crystal forms are the octahedron (8 triangular faces, 12 edges and 6 vertices), the dodecahedron (12 pentagonal faces, 30 edges and 20 vertices) and the cube.
The most sought-after diamonds are those of strong color or colorless (pure white) because of their incomparable brilliance. A rough diamond can be of several colors: from white to champagne, passing through shades of yellow and dark orange or even purple, pink, green, red, blue.
A rough diamond will be found on several continents, but the most beautiful ones certainly come from South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Russia, Australia, India, Borneo and the USA. To assess the authenticity of a rough diamond, professionals refer to 4 criteria: its color, its purity, its size and its weight.
The tallest diamond mine in the world
Indeed, it is impossible to live below 1300 m above sea level in this enclave of South Africa. This country, with an area roughly equal to that of Belgium or the Netherlands, is also famous for its diamond mines, including the highest in the world: Letseng-la-Terae.
At an altitude of around 3000 m, the famous Letseng-la-Terae mine is difficult to access.
It can be reached by helicopter, by plane or for the bravest, by road. If diamond production is low enough, it turns out that the diamonds recovered have a very high market value.
The Letseng-la-Terae mine is the one where the most diamonds over 10 carats are obtained.
In order for carbon to become diamond, the pressure and temperature conditions must be very high. Between 45 and 60 kilobar, and between 900 ° C and 1300 ° Celsius. The process also requires great underground depths, between 150 and 200 kilometers on average. However, analysis of certain inclusions has shown that sometimes the depths can reach 400 km, and in exceptional cases, almost 3000 km. It therefore takes multiple combinations of circumstances for the delivery of diamonds to the Earth’s surface. This explains why diamond deposits are found on the surface of the oldest continents.
From then on they begin to exert their fascination. Since ancient Greece, diamonds have been regarded as indestructible and as powerful poisons. European kings therefore obtain them for their rarity but also for this ultimate panacea. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the diamond was worn on top of crowns or as a pendant. It then symbolizes the third eye of the maharajas or European kings who wear it. Then, the mines of India running out, the discovery and exploration of America opens up new horizons. The same goes for the discovery of deposits in Brazil from the 18th century. They supplied the western market until the end of the 19th century, when the South African deposits were discovered.
From monopoly to globalization
For most of the twentieth century, a single global firm, “De Beers”, has attempted to monopolize the supply of rough diamonds to all diamond cutters and all diamond cutters around the world. It was the ambition of its founders to control the market, fix prices and avoid their fluctuations by keeping them at a high level. Almost all diamonds in the world were mined or purchased by De Beers. Then, at the end of the 20th century, under the impulse of transformations in the evolving society, African conflicts which tarnished reputations and the emergence of new centers like Tel Aviv, the De Beers monopoly faltered. Gradually, it collects little more than half of the world’s rough diamonds and less than 30% of those it does not produce itself. In 2002 De Beers officially renounced monopoly and systematic purchasing. At the same time, Russia and the North-West of Canada create numerous workshops of size. Diamond dealers in Antwerp, Tel Aviv and Bombay are increasingly dealing with Chinese workshops, which are increasing. Dubai insists and increases its place. Only the Japanese buy without producing, but they are more and more demanding. This is the end of the Antwerp-Johannesburg axis and the opening of the market. The mining process is very diverse, depending on the region in which the deposit is located. But the operations are broken down into three parts: the elimination of the earth and stone elements which cover the diamondiferous sand, extraction and washing. On average, ten tonnes of ore extracts about one carat of diamond, which explains the cost of the diamond and the fact that, unlike gold, there is no independent diamond researcher. There are only companies that invest in areas guaranteeing significant production. Even today, more than half of the diamonds come from Africa. This situation was, unfortunately, the source of several conflicts.
The treatment of the rough diamond
Like many other gems, diamond intended to be subsequently cut by the hand of man can undergo some improvements in order to change the appearance of the stone. These treatments have two goals: to improve the purity and to change the color of the stone. To improve its purity, the rough diamond can receive two treatments: Laser treatment: if the diamond contains significant penalizing inclusions, the laser can disintegrate them. The rock becomes white or lighter. fracture-filling treatment: also known as “treatment Yehuda”, named after its inventor Zvi Yehuda. It is particularly aimed at diamonds with cracks or splits on the surface of the stone. Is introduced within these divisions a material that has the effect of mitigating the visibility. To change the color of diamonds, irradiation, sometimes followed by controlled heating, is a common practice that gives the diamond a permanent color. It is important to know that the “coating” that covers the diamond of a colored layer is a fraudulent process that must always be specified.
We then speak of Archean cratons: chimneys, opened under certain rivers by volcanic eruptions, were filled with kimberlite (a paste thus named in the 19th century after the name of the city of Kimberley). Erosion then does its slow work and between Antiquity, which attests to the first diamonds discovered in India, and the 18th century in Brazil, diamonds rise to the surface of the ground, mixed with alluvium. Kimberlite and lamproite, which are rocks of igneous origin, are called “lift rocks.” They are not responsible for the formation of the diamond, but allow its transport to the surface. The first diamonds are therefore discovered in India, in river beds. They are then seen as the fruit of the stars or a good coming from sacred sources. They then travel to the princely courts of Europe through Phoenician, Jewish and Arab merchants.
The discovery of kimberlite rocks, which dates back just over a century, has launched a new and more profitable type of mining: mining, mainly in South Africa. The currently known cratons are found between Canada and the Arctic, South America, Africa, Northern Europe, Siberia, India, China and Australia. There are therefore two types of deposits from which diamonds are extracted: primary deposits formed by kimberlitic or lamproitic rocks which carry diamonds and secondary deposits formed by the erosion of volcanic chimneys and the alteration of kimberlitic rock, making it more tender
The presence of large diamond mines in Africa (the African continent supplies half of the world’s diamonds) led to several wars, with their share of atrocities. These diamonds have been nicknamed “blood diamonds”. These diamond mines are owned by governments against the exchange of weapons and finance and their struggles. They returned to center stage with the conviction for “war crimes and crimes against humanity” of former Liberian president Charles Taylor. The Special Court for Sierra Leone was therefore found to have favored the development of a civil war in Sierra Leone to control its diamond mines, exchanging these diamonds with rebels against weapons. As he pleaded “not guilty” and argued he never had those diamonds in his possession, the Court called for Naomi Campbell bar who confirmed having received a gift from Charles Taylor. Other personalities, like Mia Farrow, have been cited but strangely one of his supporters, Muammar Gaddafi has not been. Unfortunately, the case of Sierra Leone is not an isolated case in Africa. Moreover, by comparing the diamond production map and the map of ethnic and political conflicts, concordances are striking. We can thus cite among these countries at war because of the blood diamond: Angola, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo or even Ivory Coast which stopped the exploitation of its mines to avoid living a war longer civil. In order to fight against these dirty diamonds, the international community lobbied and the signing of the Kimberley process bringing together producer and industrial diamond countries took place on January 1, 2003. The signatory countries undertake to market only so-called diamonds ” own ”, ie not used to finance coups. In 2009, it was pronounced a ban on sales of diamonds from Zimbabwe following testimonies of violations of human rights. A film retraces the history of these diamonds and the war in Sierra Leone that they financed: its title is “Blood Diamond” with Leonardo Dicaprio as main actor.
The size of the diamond
Today, diamonds are mainly cut in Antwerp in Belgium, in Tel Aviv in Israel and in Gujarat in India. If the factors of purity and color are important, the proportions of size are just as important. They directly condition the brilliance and “fire” of the diamond. Cutting, then polishing, are therefore the two most determining acts in the degree of beauty of dispersion of a diamond. The long-awaited rainbow effect largely depends on the experience of the diamond cutter executing the cut. There are many ways to cut the diamond. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, the diamond was cut at the tip and at the table. In the 17th century, the so-called “brilliant” size appeared, today by far the best known. This constantly improved technique transforms the rough stones into real showcases of light. It reveals 58 facets – 57 for purists, if one does not take the collar into account – or 33 facets on the crown and 24 on the cylinder head. They must all be regular and of precisely defined sizes, on the surface of the diamond. At identical color, a good diamond proportions will be much brighter than a less well cut pure diamond. This is why diamond cutters are constantly trying to optimize the diamond’s gloss rendering. Nowadays, apprentice diamond cutters are increasingly rare, cutting is most often carried out by computer-assisted lasers. Several operations are necessary to transform a rough diamond into a cut diamond.
Diamonds of exception
Between the beginning of the 18th century and the end of the 20th, the annual world production of diamonds officially increased from nearly 50,000 carats, or around 10 kg to… more than 100 million carats, or almost 20 tonnes! Since 1870, more than 3,000 diamonds over 100 carats, including around fifty over 400 carats, have been extracted from the depths of the earth. Here is a description of some of these exceptional diamonds.
The biggest: Cullinan
Discovered in 1905 in a mine near Pretoria in South Africa. It is named after the owner of the mine in which it was discovered, Sir Thomas Cullinan. Weighing 3,106 carats, this larger diamond than a fist alone weighed 621 grams. Two years after its discovery, the Cullinan is sold to the Transvaal government for $ 150,000, triple the amount Cullinan bought the mine. The Transvaal, after a lost war against England, offers the rough diamond to King Edward VII of England, as a birthday present and for healing. A question of importance for the time then appears: how to send it to its recipient? The history of this transport is mythical: the stone is simply deposited in the post office, like a vulgar postcard.
At the time, who would want to steal an anonymous package? Especially since the government of the Transvaal spreads the rumor that the stone was entrusted to a detective charged to convey it to England on board a steamer. The man is actually carrying a false stone intended to lure potential thieves. On November 9, 1907, for his 66th birthday, Edward VII finally received his gift. The ultimate question then arises: what to do with it? The decision is made to cut several stones which will join the jewels of the royal family at the Tower of London. One of Amsterdam’s most famous stonemasons, Joseph Asscher, is in charge.
In 1908, Edward VII therefore sent the stone to the Asscher’s Diamond Co. The diamond dealer took three months to observe the Cullinan from every angle. In February 1908, after studying diamond for a long time and experimenting with replicas, Joseph Asscher, in charge of the stone, began to cut it: at the first strike, it was the steel knife that broke in two! Legend has it that before operating, he decided to call a doctor and a nurse by his side, if necessary. He ended up splitting the diamond into three parts: the two largest pieces gave Cullinan I and Cullinan II. He completed the cleavage in October 1908. He then entrusted the three pieces to lapidary Henri Koe. In total, the Cullinan, a colorless diamond of exceptional chemical purity, was split into 9 enormous main stones known as Cullinan I to IX and into 96 diamonds of smaller
cut. The largest stone weighs 530 carats and was mounted on the royal scepter. It will be called the Star of Africa (or Cullinan I). In order of size, there is then the Second Star of Africa (Cullinan II) of 317 carats which adorns the imperial crown. The Cullinan III (94 carats) and the Cullinan IV (63 carats) take place on the crown of Queen Mary, but can also be worn as a brooch. Another legend persists: the Cullinan is actually part of a rough diamond twice as big. The other half is still to be discovered somewhere in the “Big Hole” of the mine …
The most sulfurous: Hope
Named after its first owner, Henry Philip Hope, the Hope is a diamond cut from Bleu de France, a blue Crown diamond, 44.52 carats and stolen in 1792. It comes from the Indies and has the reputation of to be cursed. The history of diamonds begins when it is brought back to France by a traveler, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who sells it to Louis XIV. Hope is the only diamond to emit a blood red luminescence after exposure to ultraviolet light. According to urban legend, it would cause the violent death of all its owners. This legend, like many legends, is constructed from snippets of truths.
Louis XIV, who actually survived more than forty-five years after his purchase, is said to have died the first time after wearing it. Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s favorite, would also have carried him, which would have led him to the scaffold. Ditto for Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the Princess of Lamballe, whose heads will be walked at the end of a spade!
Hope’s wife would have died ruined. A Russian prince, who never really existed, would have shot his mistress the evening of the day he offered her the cursed diamond. He was then allegedly stabbed. Sultan Abdülhamid I, who actually died in 1918, nine years after being overthrown, is said to have perished at the fault of Hope in a revolution. And the list of unfounded rumors does not end there: the billionaire McLean would have perished in the sinking of the Titanic, his son would have been crushed in New York and his daughter would have committed suicide. Then the Hope disappears, not without having previously murdered the granddaughter McLean, herself an actress!
The most beautiful: the Regent, a 140.5-carat cushion that originally was a stone over 400 carats. This diamond was discovered in 1698 and its purchase for 19,200 pounds was negotiated in 1701 by Pitt, Governor of Madras, from an Indian merchant who had it more or less legally. Any diamond over 10 carats belonged by right at that time to the sovereign. Pitt sent his son to London in 1702 to have the diamond cut by jeweler Harris, who spent two years doing this work. He then proposed it to the different sovereigns of Europe, who all refused it, frightened by its price. Driven by Saint-Simon, Philippe of Orleans, then regent of France, acquired it in 1717 for 135,000 pounds sterling.
Which, with the interest paid until the end of the settlement, would represent today close to 4.57 million euros! The Regent was robbed in September 1792, then found, then pawned in August 1797 from a Dutch banker, to equip the French cavalry.
Released on June 22, 1801 by the Consulate, the Regent was considered a talisman by Napoleon, who had it crimped on the hilt of his parade sword, then on that of the coronation sword of 1804. He finally took his place on the pommel of the imperial sword of 1812. Carried away by Marie-Louise on the run on March 29, 1814, it was returned to Louis XVIII on April 11, 1814. It was then set on the crown of the coronation of Charles X, then became a removable stone on a headband of the Empress Eugenie. The Regent is today kept at the Louvre Museum.
The most engraved: the Shah
The Shah is an 88 carat square prism, one of the most engraved diamonds in the world. Three of its faces bear the name of its successive owners: BourkhanNizam Chah II, the son of Djahanguir, Chahdjahan and Qadjar Fath Ali Chah. In 1828 the Russian ambassador to Persia was murdered during a riot.
As reparation, the Shah was offered to Tsar Nicholas I. Today it is kept at the Russian Diamond Fund in the Kremlin.
The only voluntarily destroyed: the Pigot
The Pigot, also known as the “broken diamond”, which is now extinct and sometimes identified as the “Spoonmaker”, was an 187.45-carat oval-cut diamond. It was in 1763 that it was offered by an Indian prince to George Pigot, English governor of Madras. On his death in 1777, the Pigot was sold, then, after a few wanderings, it would have been acquired in 1818 for 30,000 pounds sterling by Ali Pasha de Janina. Ali, nicknamed the lion of Janina, was in fact trying to escape the rule of the Sultan of Constantinople.
In 1822 and after two years of siege, Ali, mortally wounded, ordered his aide-de-camp to destroy his two most precious treasures: his wife and his diamond! He lived enough to see his diamond smash in front of him, but died before his wife be killed, which saved her. Was the diamond really destroyed? Legend has it that the aide-de-camp and the wife of Ali Pasha then had no financial problems! The diamond feeds the myths of the small and the great history throughout the generations. The legends attached to these exceptional diamonds are an integral part of the transmission of our cultures.
Most of the diamond trading remains in the hands of historic and traditional places like Tel Aviv and Antwerp. But over the past fifty years, India has become the world number one in diamond cutting and polishing: it concerns around 60% of the world’s diamonds by value and 95% by number of pieces. Anoop Mehta, president of the Bharat Diamond Bourse, bluntly announced in an interview with the newspaper “Les Echos” his goal: “To become the world number one. We are leaders in diamond cutting and polishing, why should we not be in transactions? “.
India’s diamond trading business has therefore moved to a new site: a huge building located north of the country’s financial capital, in a new area where business buildings are growing, surrounded by vacant lots. Inaugurated in October 2010, a complex of over 180,000 m2 comprising offices, banks, safe rooms, customs and other services completes the complex. 20,000 to 25,000 professionals are expected every day at the Bharat Diamond Bourse.
How is the diamond solitaire ring became the symbol of engagement?
It is becoming increasingly rare to see an engagement ceremony without diamonds on the ring. But how did we get there? The tradition of the ring is not new! Already in Roman times, the man put an iron or copper ring on the ring finger of the one he wanted to take for a woman. “It was already a kind of informal engagement,” said John V. Drendel, professor of Canadian history. The ring announced the dowry contract and therefore the promise of marriage and exchange of goods. At that time, the ring did not contain any precious stone, but most often represented the motif of two hands clasping each other. The ring then meant that the deal was concluded between the two families. Later, in the early Middle Ages, the tradition of the German Empire rivaled that of the Romans. “For the Germans, a marriage had to be consummated to be concluded. In other words, the woman had to give her body to be officially married, “says John Drendel: no need for a ring.
In the 13th century, the Catholic Church imposed itself and formalized the marriage ceremony by returning to Roman law. The donation of the body is not recognized by the Church to formalize marriage. Rather, the ceremony consists of consent by exchange of words and rings at the church.
Although it is informal, this Roman engagement tradition is therefore at the origin of the practice and traditions that we know today. The appearance of the diamond surmounting the engagement ring is recent: it appeared around the middle of the 20th century.
Previously, only the wealthiest families had begun to adorn the ring with precious stones (sapphire, ruby, emerald or diamond) to which virtues or magical powers were attributed. The ruby, red, symbolized the heart, devotion and passion, it protected against betrayal. The sapphire, blue, symbolized him, purity, confidence, fidelity, wisdom and truth. The emerald, green, was a sign of knowledge, justice, renewal, hope and decency. Finally, the indestructible diamond symbolized strength and the lasting bonds of marriage. Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg was the first noble to offer a diamond ring to his future wife, Marie de Bourgogne, in 1477. Since then, the tradition has spread widely. In the 19th century, following the discovery of numerous diamond mines in South Africa, the diamond finally gained popularity.
But it was in 1947 that the turning point was accomplished: the company De Beers, world leader in the diamond market, then launched an advertising campaign which for the first time combined diamonds with eternal love with the slogan “A diamond is forever “. It is following this campaign that today, it is natural and essential to offer a diamond ring engagement.