The name diamond is derived from the ancient Greek αδάμας (adámas), "proper", "unalterable", "unbreakable", "untamed".
Diamonds have a long history as beautiful objects of desire.
Diamonds are thought to have been first recognized in India, where diamonds were gathered from the country’s rivers and streams. Some historians estimate that India was trading in diamonds as early as the fourth century BC. Diamonds have been treasured as gemstones since their use as religious icons in ancient India. Thus diamonds have been known in India for at least 3,000 years but most likely 6,000 years.
Indian diamonds found their way to Western Europe in the caravans that traveled to Venice’s medieval markets. By the 1400s, diamonds were becoming fashionable accessories for Europe’s elite.
In the early 1700s, as India’s diamond supplies began to decline, Brazil emerged as an important source. Once it reached its full potential, Brazil dominated the diamond market for more than 150 years.
In 1772, the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier used a lens to concentrate the rays of the sun on a diamond in an atmosphere of oxygen, and showed that the only product of the combustion was carbon dioxide, proving that diamond is composed of carbon.
Later in 1797, the English chemist Smithson Tennant repeated and expanded that experiment. By demonstrating that burning diamond and graphite releases the same amount of gas, he established the chemical equivalence of these substances.
While sources changed, the diamond market experienced its own evolution. The old ruling classes—diamonds’ biggest consumers—were in decline by the late 1700s. Political upheavals like the French Revolution led to changes in the distribution of wealth.
The 1800s brought increasing affluence to western Europe and the United States. Explorers unearthed the first great South African diamond deposits in the late 1800s just as diamond demand broadened.
The story of the modern diamond market really begins on the African continent, with the 1866 discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, South Africa. Entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes established De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited 22 years later, in 1888. By 1900, De Beers, through its mines in South Africa, controlled an estimated 90 percent of the world’s production of rough diamonds.
The South African sources affected many segments of the diamond industry. This was especially true as diamond mining moved from the surface to farther underground. Because of the huge costs and comparatively low yields involved, the new sources forced the development of more efficient mining techniques. They created the need for better marketing. They also led to advances in cutting and polishing—advances that increased efficiency, reduced costs, and enhanced the appearance of finished stones.
At the end of the 1970s, the world’s most important rough diamond producers were South Africa, Zaire (now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo), and the former Soviet Union. In the 1980s, output of higher-quality diamonds from Russia and South Africa remained relatively constant, but Zaire’s production of lower-quality diamonds more than doubled.
In 1982, a highly productive new mine in Botswana added to world production. A prolific source of high-quality diamonds, the Jwaneng mine boosted Botswana’s production so much that the country rose to third in the world in total diamond recovery, and second in diamond value. De Beers contracted with Botswana’s government to buy the mine’s production and Botswana set out to build its own diamond-cutting industry.
World diamond mining expanded dramatically with the discovery of sources in Australia in 1985 and important new deposits in northern Canada in 2000.
The market probably changed as much after 1990 as it did in the years after the 1866 discovery of diamonds in South Africa and the establishment of De Beers. The 1990s brought exciting new sources and encouraged the dramatic growth of some cutting centers. All this was happening as the world economy fluctuated wildly.
As one of the trade’s major participants, De Beers had to change, too. The De Beers of today bears little resemblance to the De Beers of 1989. The company greatly reduced its role as the custodian of diamond supply. Instead of flowing into the market in a single-channel path from De Beers, diamonds now flow into the market through multiple channels.
The formation of natural diamond requires very specific conditions—exposure of carbon-bearing materials to high pressure, ranging approximately between 45 and 60 kilobars (4.5 and 6 GPa), but at a comparatively low temperature range between approximately 900 and 1,300 °C (1,650 and 2,370 °F). These conditions are met in two places on Earth; in the lithospheric mantle below relatively stable continental plates, and at the site of a meteorite strike.
The dispersion of white light into spectral color is the primary gemological characteristic of gem diamonds. In the 20th century, experts in gemology developed methods of grading diamonds and other gemstones based on the characteristics most important to their value as a gem.
Four characteristics, known informally as the four Cs, are now commonly used as the basic descriptors of diamonds, these are:
A large, flawless diamond is known as a Paragon.
Diamond color is all about what you can’t see. Diamonds are valued by how closely they approach colorlessness – the less color, the higher their value. (The exception to this is fancy color diamonds, such as pinks and blues, which lie outside this color range.) Most diamonds found in jewelry stores run from colorless to near-colorless, with slight hints of yellow or brown.
GIA’s color-grading scale for diamonds is the industry standard. The scale begins with the letter D, representing colorless, and continues with increasing presence of color to the letter Z, or light yellow or brown. Each letter grade has a clearly defined range of color appearance. Diamonds are color-graded by comparing them to stones of known color under controlled lighting and precise viewing conditions.
Many of these color distinctions are so subtle as to be invisible to the untrained eye. But these slight differences make a very big difference in diamond quality and price.
Because diamonds formed deep within the earth, under extreme heat and pressure, they often contain unique birthmarks, either internal (inclusions) or external (blemishes).
Diamond clarity refers to the absence of these inclusions and blemishes. Diamonds without these birthmarks are rare, and rarity affects a diamond’s value. Using the GIA International Diamond Grading System™, diamonds are assigned a clarity grade that ranges from flawless (FL) to diamonds with obvious inclusions (I3).
Every diamond is unique. None is absolutely perfect under 10× magnification, though some come close. Known as Flawless diamonds, these are exceptionally rare. Most jewelers have never even seen one.
The GIA Clarity Scale contains 11 grades, with most diamonds falling into the VS (very slightly included) or SI (slightly included) categories. In determining a clarity grade, the GIA system considers the size, nature, position, color or relief, and quantity of clarity characteristics visible under 10× magnification.
Gem and mineral hardness is measured on the Mohs scale. The scale originated in 1812 when German mineralogist Friedrich Mohs chose ten minerals and assigned numbers to them, based on the relative ease or difficulty with which one could be scratched by another.
Only a diamond can scratch a diamond.
Something the Mohs scale doesn’t show, but that’s equally important to the diamond industry, is that diamond can also scratch any of the precious metals used for settings. That means a diamond that’s loose in its setting can wear through a prong over time.
If your diamond jewelry is the victim of a hard knock, take it to a jeweller or goldsmith immediately and ask to have it checked under magnification for loose stones.
If you wear your diamonds regularly, periodic checkups are important in order to make certain the stones continue to sit securely in their mountings.
The key to a diamond’s sparkle lies in its facets – which work like a series of many tiny mirrors reflecting light in and out of the stone. Regularly cleaning the facets will keep your diamond sparkling and your diamond jewelry in gleaming condition, ready to shine for your next special occasion.
Diamonds are natural magnets for grease, so they’re not easy to keep clean. When a diamond is handled, the oils from your fingers adhere to the diamond’s surface and affect its brilliance and fire.
Clean your diamond regularly. Diamonds can be cleaned safely with lint-free cloths, commercial jewelry cleaning solutions, and gentle household detergents. In order to keep your diamond jewelry looking beautiful, soak it in a gentle degreasing solution, such as water with a few drops of mild dish soap, once or twice a week. After you remove the diamond from the cleaning solution, use a soft, clean toothbrush to remove any remaining dirt. The toothbrush should be new, soft and reserved exclusively for cleaning your jewelry. Use it to clean hard-to-reach places like the back of the diamond, which tends to collect the most oil and dirt. Fragile settings, like older prongs in antique jewelry or a tension setting where the diamond is held in place by pressure from the shank, shouldn’t be carefully cleaned, so be gentle with the toothbrush or cloth. Then, just rinse your diamond jewelry with water and dry with a soft, lint-free cloth. If you’re working over a sink, make sure to close the drain.
Chlorine bleach or abrasives (such as household cleansers or toothpaste) should never be used when cleaning diamond jewelry. Chemicals like chlorine can damage some of the metals used to alloy gold for diamond settings and abrasives can scratch gold and other metals.
Sometimes an ultrasonic cleaner is necessary to remove encrusted dirt on diamonds. By sending low frequency sound waves through a solution, ultrasonic cleaners cause vibrating fluid to remove accumulated dirt and grime. But they can also shake loose stones from their mountings or chip the girdles of diamonds that are set next to each other.
Harsher cleaning methods are not recommended for home use.
It is best to have your jeweler clean your jewelry using these machines to avoid any damage.