The History of Diamonds


In a previous post I looked at the use of diamonds in engagement rings and discovered what we think of as an age old tradition is actually a relatively recent trend. If you want to read this click here.

The first documented use of diamonds in engagement rings wasn’t until 1477. I wanted to find out why it took so long to get diamonds on womens fingers and what were they doing with the diamonds instead?!

The name diamond is derived from the ancient Greek word adámas meaning unbreakable or unalterable, suggesting that diamonds were used more for their strength than their beauty.

It is believed that diamonds have been around for the past three billion years but the first use of diamonds was in China as early as 4000BC. Scientists discovered diamond fragments with tools which were found at the tombs of wealthy individuals. Theses axes were made from the same material as rubies and sapphires, a mineral called corundum. It is believed the diamonds found with these tools were used to cut the stones and fashion them into workable tools.

These diamonds would have been sourced locally as diamond deposits exist 150 miles from where the burial axes were found. I wondered how in 4000Bc they would mine and sort these diamonds so I did a bit more research. It turns out they were able to sort the diamonds from the gravel by running wet gravel over a greased surface like an animal hide. As the diamond bearing gravel ran down the hide only the diamond fragments would stick to the grease. So they could pick out this sought after hard substance from the gravel.

Corundum, diamond polished axe found in China
Corundum, diamond polished axe found in China

It wasn’t until approximately 300BC that they began to be used for decorative purposes. India was the first country to use diamonds as adornement for both themselves and their works of art. Rulers would wear diamond rings as a symbol of their rank and power. There was also a Hindu tradition of placing diamonds as the eyes in statues of their gods. Today some of the oldest known diamonds we have like the Hope and Regent diamond are from India.

As diamonds were intorduced into Europe the strength and indestructibility of diamonds began to increase the belief that they had magical powers. It is said Alexander the Great brought the first diamonds from India to Europe in 327BC. It was thought that if you carried a diamond neither illness or memory loss could affect you.  One of the greatest advocates of this was St Hildegarde who wrote about the healing properties of diamonds and their power to ward off evil.

God has endowed precious stones with miraculous powers. They succour man in body and soul, banish Satan and protect all living beings from his malice. Therefore the devil shuns precious stones. They cause him to shudder by day and night

St Hildegard von Bingen, (The Healing Powers of Nature)


As diamonds began to be mined in greater quantities and more attention was being paid to their value, mine owners spread the myth that diamonds were poisonous. They did this so their mine workers wouldn’t attempt to smuggle diamonds out of the mines by swallowing them. While this was a lie I did find many cases of poisoning by diamonds.

Apparently Pope Clement in an attempt to cure illness dosed himself with fourteen spoons of crushed gemstones and diamonds, the doseagee actually resulted in his death. While Catherine de Medici was fond of diamond powder as a means of doing away with her enemies. With stories like this cropping up throughout history, I think I can safely conclude that diamonds are far more beneficial on our fingers!


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