All kinds of gemstones and metals have been used since the earliest days to create objects of significance, whether to be worn by individuals or used in religious or medicinal ceremonies.
But when did people start using diamonds as jewelry?
Diamonds are one of the rarest gemstones, and they are also the most difficult ones to mine and shape, giving them larger importance compared to other stones.
We now know that diamonds are an essential part of any jewelry collection and a part of any jeweler’s offering, but was it always like that?
How did people in the middle ages manage to mine and cut diamonds?
How did the discovery of the world’s most prominent gemstone lead to the forming of one of the most profitable industries in the modern world?
If you are ready to set sail in exploring the history of diamond jewelry let’s dive right in.
Origins Of Jewelry
It’s no secret that jewelry has existed for as long as mankind. Gemstones and jewelry reach as far back as the first written traces of human civilization.
Of course, the jewelry made as early as 10,000 BC was in no way near modern things. The ancient people usually wore jewelry made of bones, shells, or feathers, sometimes even colored pebbles. Those pebbles were considered gems, and they were admired for their beauty and durability.
Especially rings or pendants were used as seals, often carrying the family’s crest, as a sign of identification and authority.
Today, archeologists believe that the earliest proof of man-made jewelry traces back to 23,000 BC, a simple necklace made of fish bones that was found in a cave in Monaco.
There is also another perspective to consider. Ancient hunters believed that carrying trophies would bring them luck on their next hunt, while soldiers often wore amulets to protect them in battle.
At later times, jewelry was sometimes used to denote human connection and commitment. In ancient Rome, slaves had to wear specific bracelets, making it easy to identify their master.
As the civilizations became richer, their need to show their wealth also grew. All prominent monarchs had their crowns decorated with the most valuable gems and stones they had, especially diamonds.
As the ability of people to mine gemstones and forge prestigious metals grew, so did the availability of less and less expensive jewelry and their popularity.
Today it is rare to find a person that doesn’t have at least one piece of jewelry, whether it’s bought or given as a gift, jewelry still stays prominent in all cultures.
When did people start using diamonds as jewelry? We invite you to find the answer to that question and more in the rest of the article.
First Diamonds Used As Jewelry
As far as we know, the first diamonds were mined in India. There are archeological and written pieces of evidence of the first diamonds mined as early as 3000 years ago.
They were extremely expensive and difficult to mine due to their rarity, which led them to become objects of great desire. Because of the stone’s ability to refract light, Buddhists believed that diamond-containing talismans were able to ward off evil.
Sometime later, it was believed that diamonds have medicinal purposes. Some early doctors had their patients hold the diamond while making the sign of the cross, believing that would heal them.
People even ingested small diamonds in the belief that they would render them immune to illness.
The first known example of diamond jewelry in Europe was the Hungarian queen’s crown in 1074.
The first documentation of diamond cutting also dates to Europe, 1407 in Paris. The documentation of the jewel-cutters guild involves references to the diamond cutter named Herman. In 1458 Belgium, it was discovered that diamonds could be cut using their own dust.
At the same time, an unnamed jeweler in Brussels discovered the diamond polishing wheel and proposed symmetrically aligning the facets when cutting a diamond.
The first record of a known engagement ring that contained a diamond, was gifted to Mary of Burgundy in 1477 by Archduke Maximilian of Austria, marking the beginning of a tradition that will last for half a millennia.
In 1866 the first diamond mines were discovered in South Africa. The first stone was found by a child playing near the river that collected different colored stones. One of them turned out to be a diamond.
The gem that was cut from the rough stone, was named the “Eureka” diamond.
Most Prominent Diamond Jewels
Now that we know the origins of jewels and the special place that diamonds hold in that trade, let’s explore some of the most famous diamonds in history.
The Cullinan is considered to be the largest rough diamond ever to be found. Discovered in the Premier Mine in South Africa in 1905, its weight was 3106.75 carats before it was cut. The Asscher Brothers, prominent jewelers from Amsterdam, were tasked with cutting the large stone into 105 separate gems.
Some of the diamonds that were created by cutting the Cullinan are as famous as this gigantic stone. One of the more popular ones is the Cullinan I, also known as The Great Star of Africa.
The Great Star of Africa
Also known as Cullinan I, The Great Star of Africa is without a doubt the most famous of all diamonds that were the result of cutting the big rock. It is a part of the British Crown Jewels, as the topping piece for the Sceptre with the cross.
To this day, it remains the second largest cut diamond, weighed at 530.4 carats. Only the Golden Jubilee Diamond discovered in 1985 is heavier with 545.67 carats.
Koh-I-Noor in Persian means “The Mountain of Light”, and it’s the name of one of the most famous diamonds from India. It is at least 700 years old and has a total weight of 105.6 carats. This stone passed through many hands of the Persian, Indian, and Afgan monarchs including Shah Jehan, the emperor who constructed the Taj Mahal.
After the death of Maharaja Ranjit Sing, the British Empire forced the surrender of the stone, and it was presented to Queen Victoria. Today the Koh-I-Noor is set in the crown of the female consort to the monarch of the United Kingdom.
The Great Mogul
Another prominent diamond of Indian origin, discovered around 1650, it is believed that the Great Mogul was part of the Taj Mahal and that it had a rough weight of 793 carats. Unfortunately, today the diamond is lost, leaving us only to speculate about its fate.
Some historians believe that the Orloff was cut from the Great Mogul, while others believe that it was stolen and cut into many small rocks in an attempt to disguise its origin.
The Hope Diamond
Although there is no direct evidence, it is believed that this diamond was mined in India in the 17th century. A French gem merchant sold this rough stone to Louis XIV, who had it cut from the original 112 carats to 67.5 carats and named it the Blue Diamond of the Crown of France.
Unfortunately, during the French Revolution, the stone went missing but resurfaced with its current name 20 years later.
There were rumors of the disaster for the owners of Hope Diamond circulating in the early 1900s. Though largely discounted, the legend of the curse stuck with the stone, and it was donated to the Smithsonian Institute by its last owner, Harry Winston.
When Did Diamond Jewelry Become Mainstream
As we learned, diamonds were always sought after, but when did they become mainstream? It’s no secret that today almost everyone wants the shiny rock on their finger, but when did that start?
It took centuries since the first engagement ring in 1477 for them to become truly popular. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the diamond engagement ring became mainstream.
It all began with De Beers, a British corporation that specializes in mining diamonds. They launched an ad campaign that featured Hollywood stars, with the now well known slogan “Diamonds are forever”.
They also invented the concept of the “eternity ring” a type of ring that is popular even today.
Since they kick-started the diamond ring craze, traditions involving engagement rings have only kept evolving. Modern brides expanded their preferences and included a lot more exotic diamond ring options.
At the approximately same time, a lot of new options were created for the diamond mining companies. New mines were opened all across Central Africa, Russia, Australia, and Canada.
With technological improvements, we now see a lot of diversity in engagement rings, colored gemstones, and unusual metals used in crafting unique pieces.
Even today, the traditions keep on morphing, nowadays a lot of men choose to wear “man-gagement” rings alongside their brides.
If you would like to know more about the diamond industry and how the diamond business works, we invite you to check out this article here: The Diamond Industry: How Does Diamond Business Work?
The Future Of Diamonds In Jewelry
As we saw in the text above, diamonds have been a part of human history and jewelry for more than 3000 years. And there is a question of whether it’s going to stay that way.
With De Beers Group, one of the world’s leading diamond mining and retail companies moving more and more toward lab-grown diamonds, a question arises: Will man-made diamonds overtake their natural counterpart?
While they are identical in their structure and there is no visual difference between them, some people still prefer the naturally mined stones to the synthetic ones.
There is no clear answer to what the future will bring to the table, for now, all we can say is that demand for diamonds, lab-grown or mined is rising without the intention to slow down.
So, when did people start using diamonds as jewelry?
In reality, people started using diamonds for all kinds of purposes as soon as they discovered their existence. Earliest recorded point was in India, around 1000 BC.
Diamonds didn’t come to Europe until middle age, and since then they have only risen in popularity. Since the Hungarian queen placed a diamond in her crown in the 11th century, every European monarch wanted at least one for themself.
With the technological advances came the resources to mine diamonds faster and more efficiently, hitting the peak of the industry in the mid-20th century, when mining company De Beers launched one of the largest marketing campaigns.
Since then, every bride has wanted a ring with a shining rock, creating a huge demand for diamonds in the western markets.
Today it’s estimated that more than 100 million carats of diamonds are produced every year.
Related Read: What Are Diamonds Used For Other Than Jewelry?