From the ancient Greeks to the modern day, diamonds have been considered to be magical, powerful and potent symbols. Here we take inspiration from jeweller Ernest Jones for a short history of diamonds.

The ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were splinters of stars fallen to earth, while it was said by others that they were the tears of the gods.  Another legend has it that there was an inaccessible valley in Central Asia carpeted with diamonds.  It was said to be protected by birds of prey and snakes.

The earliest diamonds were found in India in 4th century BC, although the earliest of these deposits were formed 900 million years ago. A majority of these early stones were transported along the Silk Route network of trade routes that connected India and China.

At the time of their discovery, diamonds were valued because of their strength and brilliance, and for their ability to refract light and engrave metal. They were worn as adornments, used as cutting tools and were believed to provide protection in battle.

In the Middle Ages, diamonds were also used as a medical aid and were thought to cure illness and heal wounds when ingested. It was also in the Middle Ages that the history of the engagement ring began. In 1215, Pope Innocent III declared a waiting period between a betrothal and the marriage ceremony. Rings were used to signify the couple’s commitment in the interim. These rings also represented social rank – only the elite were permitted to wear ornate rings or rings with jewels. The first recorded presentation of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed marriage to Mary of Burgundy.

Until the 18th century, India was thought to be the only source of diamonds. When the Indian diamond mines were depleted, the quest for alternate sources began. In 1866, 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs was exploring the banks of the Orange River when he came across what turned out to be a 21.25-carat diamond, sparking a rush of thousands of diamond prospectors to the region, which resulted in a significant decrease in their value.

Diamonds were no longer considered a rarity, and began to be replaced with colored gemstones such as emeralds, rubies, and sapphires.

In 1880, Englishman Cecil John Rhodes formed De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd in an effort to control the diamond supply. Although DeBeers was successful in their efforts to control the supply of diamonds, demand for the stone was weak. By 1919, diamonds were devalued by nearly 50%.

In 1947, DeBeers commissioned the services of leading advertising agency N.W. Ayer, and the slogan “A diamond is forever” was coined. The premise of this large-scale marketing campaign was the suggestion that diamonds should be the only choice for engagement rings. The DeBeers advertising campaign was wildly successful, and was a contributing factor to today’s widespread embracing of the tradition of diamond engagement rings.

 

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