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History of Diamonds and Diamond Jewelry

The root word for "diamond" is the Greek word adamas–which means "unconquerable." And no wonder–diamonds are the hardest minerals found in nature. The carbon atoms that make up a diamond are packed more tightly than any other material on earth. Luckily for us, however, if it's sharply struck at just the right angle, a diamond will split smoothly. Add this to diamonds' natural transparency, high refraction of light, and broad range of colors, and you can see why many experts call diamonds "the perfect gemstones."

The history of diamonds–including the ones in your fiancee's ring or favorite earrings–begins billions of years ago, hundreds of miles below the surface of the earth. Pipes of pure carbon deep inside the planet were under unimaginable heat and pressure from the weight of millions of tons of rock above. Over millions of years, this intense pressure crushed the carbon atoms to immense density, creating veins of diamonds. Scientists believe that the Earth produced diamonds only three or four times in its lifetime–from 3.3 billion years ago to 100 million years ago. So whenever you look at the brilliant diamond in an engagement ring, you're looking at something that's at least older than the dinosaurs–and at most, nearly the same age as the planet itself.

The earliest examples of diamonds in human hands were found 3,000 years ago, in India. There, diamonds were used primarily as talismans to ward off evil and protect the wearer in battle. Diamonds were also used by the early Chinese, Greeks, and Romans as an engraving tool. While there was some mystique surrounding diamonds because they were so rare and difficult to obtain–many early cultures believed they had magical properties–they were not always the most prized gemstones used in jewelry. As late as the 17th century, gold miners regularly threw away tons of raw diamonds as a byproduct of mining for gold.

Before the year 1000, diamonds were used as medicine in Europe. Healers believed that diamonds could cure sickness when held in the hand while making the sign of the cross. Diamonds were even swallowed as a medical aid–history relates how Pope Clement himself tried ingesting diamonds to cure himself of sickness, to no avail.

However, towards the middle ages, diamonds began to acquire value as gemstones. King Louis the IX of France established a law stating that diamonds could only be worn by royalty in the 13th century. For the next hundred years, however, the diamonds found in royal jewelry were uncut and plain-looking. The cutting process is believed to have started in Venice around the 14th century, and facet cutting was perfected in 1456 by Louis de Berquer. During this time, diamond jewelry started to look the way it does today–brilliant and sparkling.

After the cutting process was refined, diamonds grew in value until, in the 17th and 18th century, there was great public demand. At this time, diamonds began to acquire their modern reputation as one of the most precious stones on earth. Diamonds were mined in India and sent all over the world. The discovery of diamonds in South Africa in the late 19th century, however, saw the beginning of the modern diamond industry.

De Beers began buying South African diamond mines in the late 1800's. Towards the middle of the 20th century, De Beers began using its slogan "a diamond is forever" in its advertising. Their campaign was so successful that today, diamonds are strongly associated with engagement rings–and eternal love.

Despite the hype, a diamond truly is forever. It's billions of years old, and durable enough to withstand anything–including the intense pressure and heat inside the earth. Chances are, your diamond will last billions of years more–and there's no better symbol of eternal love.

Discover more about Diamonds: History, Diamond Jewelry, Engagement Rings, Quality, Carat, Color, Clarity, Cut and Shape.

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