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A brief history of the diamond market

Cartier Inspired Platinum and Diamond Halo Engagement Ring

For centuries diamonds have been adorned on our clothes and jewellery like our own personal stars to show off to others in pride. These fabulous gemstones dazzle almost everybody with their gleaming brilliance and accompaniment to any outfit. Contradictory to the saying of ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’, diamonds are the people’s best friend, with the everyday person having desires to purchase their very own one day. From a very special engagement ring as a memento of love, to the large and grand stones displayed on royal crowns, these gorgeous stones are seen across the globe in bountiful supply – but where did this sparkling craze originate from?

The iconic brilliant cut diamond, image courtesy of GIA
(The iconic brilliant cut diamond, image courtesy of GIA)

Diamonds are formed at extremely high temperatures and pressures over a long period of time, with most diamonds aging between 1 – 3.5 billion years old. Their chemical composition is comprised of compressed carbon creating a ‘diamond cubic’ structure, which in turn makes it the hardest natural mineral in the world as well as possessing a very high thermal conductivity. With a high optical dispersion, the diamond has its characteristic sparkle with even the lowest of light and can be coloured into various hues from chemical impurities in its body such as boron and nitrogen, or from environmental aspects such as radiation exposure. It has a unique name for its type of lustre, known as ‘adamantine’, due to its unique shine and sparkle as well as always being transparent in body, making it hypnotising and desirable to its many admirers.

The discovery of the diamond dates back to as early as the fourth century in India, where these stones were gathered from rivers and streams (exposed and removed by erosion upstream) and traded amongst only the wealthiest of people. Over time these diamonds, amongst other luxuries, were transported to medieval markets within western Europe, where they were purchased and adorned by elites across the continent. With the demand for these stones increasing and India’s limited supply diminishing, Brazil discovered their first diamond reserves from gold panning in the country. Once they began their extraction and trade of these gemstones, Brazil dominated the diamond market for over 150 years at the start of the 1700s.

Diamond sieving in ancient India, image courtesy of GIA
(Diamond sieving in ancient India, image courtesy of GIA)

As wealth distributed down from the ruling classes, the demand for diamonds increased and became a common sight amongst the everyday person from a desire to purchase these stones with their hard earned money. In 1888, De Beers was established by entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes and homed in on Kimberley’s wealth of diamond deposits in South Africa. With this discovery, De Beers swiftly dominated around 90% of the world’s production of the diamond.

Over 50 years diamond production saw a massive boom in the market – increasing from three million carats worth of diamonds being produced in the 1920s to a whopping 50 million carats in the 1970s. Marketing campaigns evolved to target a wide range of audiences from all corners of the world, and new polishing and cutting techniques were implemented for unique designs and physical appearances.

Cartier Inspired Platinum and Diamond Halo Engagement Ring
(Cartier Inspired Platinum and Diamond Halo Engagement Ring, London DE)

Once the millennium was reached, new deposits were discovered across the world leading to rapid diamond mining expansion; including important reserves found in Russia, Botswana, Australia and Canada. Regardless of the world’s economy fluctuating constantly, diamond production and distribution was only increasing steadily and remained extremely stable.

It’s only in recent years that scientific knowledge into this remarkable material has been discovered and taken advantage of – such as implementing diamonds within drilling technologies, industry machinery and chemistry. We are now able to predict where new diamond deposits may be within our earth and are even able to synthetically produce them within the lab. With a wealth of these gems and our knowledge only growing, the diamond market is sure to keep prospering into the future, providing us with one of the most beautiful gemstones available to us from our planet.

By Victoria Fletcher

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