Buckle up – it’s time for the big one! Like a doting mother, we would never – nay, could never – pick a favorite birthstone, but let’s be real: April scored a major coup by getting the diamond. It’s universally known and beloved: the star of legends and songs; the adornment of choice for royals and celebrities alike.
We’ve all probably heard some generic version of the diamond’s origin story. In fact, it might even be an inspirational poster on a coworker’s cubicle wall: “Diamonds are just pieces of coal that did well under pressure!” But the truth is, like people who hang inspirational posters, diamonds are still a bit of a mystery.
Here’s what we know: Formed 100 miles under the surface of the Earth’s upper mantle, an intense combination of pressure and heat push on carbon to create the sparkling gems we so adore. Though when we picture a diamond, we probably envision a glassy transparent jewel, the stone has actually been found in a rainbow of shades from pink to yellow to blue. (The well-known Hope Diamond is the largest natural blue diamond on record). This is a result of trace elements interacting with the carbon during the formation process.
Here’s what we don’t know: basically everything else. We don’t know where the carbon comes from exactly, or why it’s there. We’re also not precisely sure how the diamonds got from down there to up here, but scientists believe it must have been a series of violent, quick eruptions in the early days of ye olde Earth. Anything slower and the heat would have transformed the diamonds right back into plain carbon. We also don’t know how long it takes for natural diamonds to form, but we can narrow it down to anywhere from days to millions of years.
Despite all the uncertainty around the details, we do know that most natural diamonds are at least millions, if not billions of years old. We don’t talk about that enough, right? BILLIONS of years old! They existed through the rise and fall of the dinosaurs!! That longevity is owed in part to the diamond’s internal structure: The crystal composition of the carbon means that the gem is considered the hardest material on earth, and is also one of the strongest. How else could it make that arduous journey? In fact, the word diamond originates from the greek word adamas, which means indestructible. Though we’re used to seeing it in adornments, the glittering stone’s stoic structure means it’s also used in everything from tools to weapons to instruments.
But we’re not here to talk about using diamonds in tools, are we? Who cares! Let’s get to the important stuff. For millennia, diamonds were basically only found in India, only slowly making their way to the Middle East and Europe through trade routes. Thus began the diamond’s reputation for rarity that lingers to this day. This early inaccessibility fostered epic tales, including an absolutely astounding legend called The Valley of the Diamonds, which details a dangerous (you guessed it) valley that was littered with the precious stones. The catch? They’re unreachable by human hand. “What’s the workaround here?,” you may be asking. Simple: Throw chunks of fresh meat on top of the gems so the local eagles will pick them up, bring them out of the valley and toss off the diamonds since they’re only interested in said meat. Obviously.
Ack, we’ve spent so much time on the hungry eagle story and we still have much to cover!
Okay, so India had the advantage in terms of accessibility to the most precious stones, and were the frontiers in early diamond-shaping techniques, which was quite difficult because, again, the hardest material on earth. Jewelry from the era shows either uncut stones or rough simple cuts demonstrating the clear colorlessness of the stone. By the 14th century, European techniques further refined diamond shaping by using diamond dust on metal plates, but it was still considered an extremely difficult stone to work with and obtain. That, coupled with their extreme rarity, means that we don’t have many fun anecdotes about medieval folks rubbing them on their rashes or drinking them to avoid being poisoned.
Sorry! (But if that’s why you read these, you’ll love next month’s write-up.)
Moving along, by the 18th century, India’s diamond reserves were running low, but Brazil became a new resource for the scintillating stone. However, the continued limited supply meant only the aristocrats and royals could afford it. And then came the discovery of diamond mines in Africa in the 19th century, which, amongst many other things, meant that diamonds were newly accessible to classes other than the ultra-wealthy. This was a mixed blessing: a thing of beauty could be enjoyed by many, but that very accessibility affected it’s desirability. How to fix that? Well, did you know that before the early 20th century, people didn’t really give diamond engagement rings? Then a prominent diamond company worked its magic and convinced the public that the only way to show true love – eternal love– was with a hunk of rock from 100 miles under the Earth’s upper crust. Just because it’s a marketing campaign doesn’t mean it can’t be poetic too.
By the 20th century, the diamond was sitting pretty, best friends with Hollywood’s most iconic actress, adorning high-profile decolletage and gracing over 70% of the left ring fingers in the world. And that pretty much brings us to today.
But let’s take this last moment to talk about why the diamond is so special. Its scarcity and strength helped to make its reputation, sure, but ultimately it’s the stone itself that deserves the accolades. Even uncut, it’s a glorious riot of angles and glitter that can daze the eye. But then to add the facets! Once sharp planes are cleaved into diamond’s glassy surface, an infinite prism is unveiled: The light bends and dances through the infinite internal maze, unfurling rainbows and otherworldly radiance.
Born of fire and pressure, witness to the beginning of the world. Like the stone itself, the diamond’s origin story is part science and part magic; a meeting of light and atoms that create an earthbound star.
Fail JewelryAtol Diamond Necklace
The rose cut, so named due to the facets resembling the petals of a rose, was an early diamond cutting technique first used in the 16th century. Though it was invented to show the stone off best in the only light source at the time — candlelight — the style remained popular because it’s just really pretty. This Fail Jewelry necklace features a delicate rose cut diamond blossoming in a natural golden setting.