Ever wondered how we all started lusting after diamonds? Here is a short history about how diamonds became so popular.
Diamonds were once a very rare commodity. Until the middle of the 18th century, India was thought to be the only source of diamonds.
A majority of these early stones were transported along the Silk Road, the trade route that connected India and China. Valued because of their strength and brilliance, diamonds were exclusively for kings and nobles. Mainly worn as adornments, they also served as a talisman to ward off evil and provide protection in battle as well as a ingested as they were thought as a help to cure illness and heal wounds.
But in the 18th the Indian mines were depleted and the small deposit found in Brazil in 1725 was not enough to meet the demand.
Until 1867, when Erasmus Jacobs a fifteen year-old discovered a 21.25cts diamond on his father’s farm on the south bank of the Orange River in South Africa. In 1871, a colossal 83.50-carat deposit was unearthed on a shallow hill called Colesberg Kopje. These findings sparked a rush of thousands of diamond prospectors to the region and led to the opening of the first large-scale mining operation which came to be known as the Kimberly Mine. By 1882, African diamond mines produced more stones than both India and Brazil had in the previous 2,000 years. Suddenly, the market was flooded with diamonds, a problem for British financiers who controlled the mines because the price of the stones depends entirely upon their scarcity.
Enter Cecil B. Rhodes, an eighteen-year-old asthmatic sent by his family to South Africa in 1871 for his health. Together with his business partner Charles Rudd, they formed the De Beers Mining Company in 1880, and by 1888 had built a monopoly of South African diamond mines.
But Rhodes knew that controlling the diamond supply wasn’t enough, he had to control demand too. In 1947, a young Ayer copywriter named Franck Gerety wrote the caption “A Diamond Is Forever” for a magazine ad depicting two newlyweds on their honeymoon. Within a year, the phrase became De Beers’ official slogan.
In the early 1950s, the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) introduces the universal diamond grading system, known as the Four C’s : colour, cut, carat, clarity which ultimately determine the price of diamonds. Previously other diamonds grading systems existed, but the creation of an universal system enabled diamond quality to be communicated in an universal language and the diamond customer to know exactly what he was about to purchase, giving him more confidence in the value of the stone.
Attention and lure about diamonds keep increasing in the 1960s : on one early morning of 1963, a yellow taxi pulls on Fifth Avenue in New York City, from which elegantly dressed Audrey Hepburn emerges as Holly Golightly coming to have her Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Standing in front of the windows with a coffee and pastry she feels that “Nothing very bad could happen to you there. If I could find a real-life place that’d make me feel like Tiffany’s, then — then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name!”
In 1969 Richard Burton buy for Elisabeth Taylor the “Taylor-Burton” diamond. Disgruntled for having it lost at an auction against Cartier and negotiating from a pay phone at a hotel in England, Burton, his lawyer, and Cartier’s owners worked out a deal for Burton to own the diamond for $1.1 million —at the time, a staggering price that was declared the first million-dollar diamond. Burton was supposedly overheard telling his lawyer, “I don’t care how much it is; go and buy it.” In return for the ownership transfer, Burton would allow Cartier to display the diamond in Chicago and New York. These exhibits attracted over 6,000 people a day to view the storied stone, a display of excess which the New York Times looked down upon.
Meanwhile, the diamond supply kept increasing: in 1979 the Argyle pipe near Lake Argyle in Australia was discovered by geologists. Since that day, Argyle has become the absolute largest producer of diamonds in the world, and throughout diamond history, and produces over one third of the world’s diamond volume each year. In 1988 Diamond mining also began at the Ekati mine in Canada
Public attention on diamonds becomes more negative in the 2000s. Amid growing concern over human right violations associated with their trade the diamond industry creates the World Diamond Council and the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopt a resolution on conflict diamonds. Among the UN resolutions, the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was created, as an attempt at regulating rough diamond trade. And the 2006 film Blood Diamond brought the problem to mainstream audiences.Still with a rough-diamond output of 130 million carats, global annual sales of $150 billions – among which $81 billions of diamond jewellery in 2014*, the jewellery industry seems poised to a brilliant future.
* Sources : the Kimberly Process statistics & Industry insight data published in March 2015