Across time and cultures diamonds are a consistent expression of luxury. Diamonds symbolize wealth, durability, and status. Conversely, they have the rich history of being associated with invulnerability, lightning, magic, healing, protection, and poisoning. In unraveling the history and associations of diamonds, we need to look through time and at their very origins to gain a historical perspective of their tremendous value.
“Diamond” comes from the Greek adamao, transliterated as “adamao,” “I tame” or “I subdue.” The adjective “adamas” was used to describe the hardest substance known, and eventually became synonymous with diamond. It is difficult to determine at what point in history the hardest known substance became diamond.
Diamonds began to appear in European regalia and jewelry in the 13th century. By the 16th century the diamonds become larger and more prominent, as a result of the development of diamond faceting – a technique that enhances the diamonds brilliance.
By the 17th Century, Diamonds dominated the small jewels and large ones became adornments by the 18th century.
Kings rule – the act of Saint Louis (Louis IX of France, 1214-70) established a sumptuary law reserving diamonds for the king. This bespeaks the rarity of diamonds and the value conferred upon them.
Over the next century diamonds appeared in royal jewelry, then among the greater European aristocracy, with the wealthy merchant class showing the occasional diamond by the 17th century.
The earliest European ornamental and regal applications feature diamond points that resemble the Roman style of natural points in rings. Unlike the Roman examples, the European points may have been polished, if only to remove surface irregularities and coatings of any foreign mineral.
The taboo on modifying a diamond crystal into a gem, which originated in India, ends around this time in both Europe and India. There is no recorded explanation, but the implications of the rise of diamond’s popularity in ornamentation are nothing short of revolutionary — as more diamonds reach Europe, demand for the brilliant gem increases.
The earliest diamond-cutting industry is believed to have been in Venice, a trade capital, starting sometime after 1330. Diamond cutting may have arrived in Paris by the late 14th century; for Bruges — on the diamond trade route — there is documentation for the technique in 1465.