Diamonds are among the most rare and beautiful gemstones found on earth. These dazzling stones have remained attractive and enticing to humans throughout history, from the time of their discovery in India in 4th century BC, right up to present day. Over the course of history, the diamond has taken on many significant roles in human society. In ancient and medieval periods, diamonds were believed to hold magical properties that could heal sickness and ward off bad spirits. There have also been many practical uses for diamonds such as cutting and engraving, and the ability to refract light. Scientifically speaking, a diamond is simply carbon molecules not unlike a piece of coal that have been converted and rearranged by pressure into a dazzling stone. Throughout history however, the diamond has been a major source of value and a symbol of beauty and longevity, while at the same time it has been a cause of violence and social conflict.
Table of Contents: Timeline of Diamond History
- 1-3 Billion Years Ago
- 800 BC
- 100 BC
- 5th – 10th C. AD
- 1215 AD
- 1330 AD
- 1477 AD
- 1499 AD
- 1550 AD
- 18th C. AD
- 1729 AD
- 1789 AD
- 19th C. AD
- 1866 AD
- 1870 AD
- 1900 AD
- 1931 AD
- 1980s AD
- 1990s-Present Day
- Infographic: History of Diamonds
1-3 Billion Years Ago
Diamonds begin to form underground as carbon is placed under extreme pressure approximately 90-240 miles below the Earth’s surface in a subterranean layer known as the lithosphere. Some of the youngest diamonds on Earth are still about 900 million years old.
Roman scholar and historian Pliny the Elder confirms the presence of diamonds in the Roman world approximately 60 years before the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Emperors and their Empresses who would one day be adorned with diamonds.
5th – 10th C. AD
Trade and communication throughout the world deteriorates after the decline of the Western Roman Empire. Diamonds remain rare and are valued highly among the Western elite and the Church, but few diamonds are traded during this period.
Pope Innocent III makes a declaration which creates an ‘engagement period’ between a formal betrothal and legal wedding recognized by the Catholic Church. This can be viewed as the formal establishment of the modern engagement period that often follows the presentation of a diamond engagement ring.
At the beginning of the Age of Discovery, Vasco da Gama of Portugal maps accessible trade routes from Europe to India, giving European diamond traders direct access to the only known source of diamonds in the world. Europe’s wealthy and elite class begins to see diamonds as fashionable and highly desirable accessories.
Due to its unique location on the western coast of continental Europe, Belgium becomes a major centre for the cutting and exchanging of diamonds. This leads to more popularity and innovations associated with the diamond trade. Claw or prong settings are soon invented to better secure diamonds in expensive jewelry and rings.
18th C. AD
Due to the massive increase in global trade and the popularity of diamonds, the mines of India are exhausted, and the price of diamonds on the global market rises for a short period, until new sources are discovered thanks to increased global exploration and innovations in ocean travel and navigation.
The French Revolution rocks the world as the Bourbon monarchy is overthrown and the status of the elite class of Europe is called into question and wealth is more evenly distributed. This rise of a newer, wealthy class led to a shift in the kind of people who could gain access to and afford expensive diamond jewelry.
19th C. AD
Wealth continues to reach more pockets of European and North American populations, and the demand for fine diamond jewelry increases exponentially. New sources of diamonds are sought after around the world in order to capitalize on this demand.
Diamonds are now a well established market in which one company, De Beers, owns almost 90% of the total diamonds mined on Earth. New, brilliant cuts of diamonds are introduced by innovators like Joseph Asscher and Marcel Tolkowsky to meet the demand for more dazzling and brilliant jewelry designs.
The exclusive hold De Beers once had on the diamond market is no longer a reality, as more sources of diamonds begin to come in from all over the world thanks to the improvements in mining and discovery practices. Today, diamonds are researched in all fields of science, making it easier to track the subterranean development of diamonds and predict where new sources can be found.