The song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” is famous from the Broadway Musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1949), written by Jule Styne and Leo Rubin.
And so it remains today, although diamond gemstone popularity waxes and wanes and is now waning.
Diamonds are extremely hard, beautiful when properly cut to reflect clear radiance, rare and usually valuable.
The common perception is that a diamond is formed from coal (previous plant and animal matter) compressed under extreme heat and pressure, but that probably is wrong. Diamonds were typically formed long before plants or animals occupied earth, and many are too deep, usually more than 100 miles below the earth’s surface, thrown upward by volcanoes. But occasionally some are formed near the earth’s surface by meteor crashes.
Diamonds are carbon complexes arranged in cubes and often clear, but they can be colored brown, yellow, red, blue, green, pink, orange or purple. Synthetic diamonds are made from coal or its gas and imitation diamonds can be created from zirconia or silicon carbide. So truly, natural diamonds are God’s gift to mankind, in place long before man, plants or animals.
Ancient rabbis seemed to know the history and for centuries the diamond trade and manufacture has typically been an Israeli/Jewish business approved by the rabbis; in addition, diamonds are valuable, durable and easily portable, all features important to Jews since the Roman Diaspora.
But the earliest diamonds were found in India and were an Indian business. Diamonds were first found along northern Indian water ways in about 600 BC, and by 400 BC diamond cutting (“manufacturing”) was a thriving Indian business driven by the money of the ruling classes and their love for diamonds and rubies (often very big ones). Eventually, along the Silk Road during the Middle Ages and Renascence, Indian gemstones found their way to China and Europe and thus wider markets, but Surat, India, remains today an important diamond center.
By the Middle Ages Jewish merchants in Venice, Italy, moved into the business, exporting directly to their factories from India; and have been involved ever since, though now the Jewish diamond merchants are concentrated in Antwerp (now the world’s rough-diamond manufacturing capital), Amsterdam, London, Tel Aviv, and New York City (now the world’s diamond sales capital).
Diamonds were, of course, eventually found and mined outside India with rich deposits discovered in Malaysia, Brazil, Africa, particularly South Africa, Congo and Botswana, Canada and Russia. Today, approximately 26 tons (130 million carats; the carat is 200 milligrams) of diamonds are mined each year. Only a few are gemstone quality; most are industrial diamonds used in cutting, grinding, drilling and polishing. Mass numbers of diamonds are also crushed for industrial grinding and polishing.
Most of us think of Africa and the De Beers company when we think of diamonds. De Beers marketing continues to be effective today (think the slogan “Diamonds are Forever”), although it now works off of stockpiles or diamonds that it purchases from Russia and Canada. It no longer is active in the mining business. However, at one time DeBeers controlled 90% of the world’s diamond mining.
There is no doubt diamonds are beautiful when properly cut and polished. The mathematics of diamond cutting was worked out in 1919 by Marcel Tolkowsky, to maximize radiance when viewed from above. Rough diamonds can be quite dull; the four Cs of cut gemstone diamond grading remain in widespread use: Carat weight, Cut, Color and Clarity.
Although Indian gemstones remain movie favorites, several diamonds outside India are also famous. To Americans, the Hope Diamond reigns supreme. It, too, is originally from India, mined in about 1650 and brought to France by Jean-Baptiste Tavernier as a beautiful blue diamond he called the Tavernier Blue, weighing approximately 115 carats and sold to King Louis XIV. King Louis later had it cut to roughly 67 carats, renaming it the French Blue (the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France). King Louis XV had the diamond reset into an elaborate diamond piece with multiple colors.
It was stolen during the French Revolution and finally resurfaced in England in 1812, now reduced to about 45 carats. Eventually it was sold by the Royal British family to wealthy banker Thomas Hope, and so its new name. The diamond remained in the Hope family until 1902, when, with divorce and bankruptcy, it was sold to to Adolph Weil, who in turn sold it to Simon Frankel of New York. But under financial duress, Frankel sold the diamond in 1908 to a Turkish collector, who when also facing financial trouble sold it in turn to Simon Rosenau, back to Paris. In 1910, it was sold to the famous jeweler Pierre Cartier of Paris. It was then sold in 1911 back to the United States to the McLeans of Washington, D.C. (heirs of the Washington Post and mining interests). The diamond was sold to another famous jeweler in 1947, Harry Winston, who in turn donated it in 1958 to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Naturall History, where it is now housed in a special exhibit with a setting designed by Winston Jewelers.
There are a number of diamond merchants in Florence, including but not limited to Gallowa y and Mosely, Kay, Sarmiento, Fisher, Reeds and Venables. Remember, despite what our culture says, people still love and cannot resist a gorgeous and radiant diamond. Buy yours today. Invest in your future and add love to your life.