Diamonds have been part of human culture, as tools as well as decoration, for thousands of years. There has been some evidence, discovered in China, which suggest they may have been used for engraving and polishing as far back as 4,500 years ago, during the late Neolithic, at the very end of the Stone Age. However, based on what we currently know, it is widely accepted that diamonds were first gathered and mined in India around 500 BC, along the banks of the rivers Pennar, Krishna and Godavari. They were though to have special, magic powers and were sometimes placed in warriors’ armor to protect them from harm. It wasn’t until Alexander the Great’s conquest during the 4th century that the stones made their way to Europe. The Ancient Greeks believed that they were made from the tears of the gods or that they were splinters, broken off of falling stars. The word itself comes from Ancient Greek and means unbreakable, unalterable, untamed. Later, The Ancient Romans adopted these beliefs. Because the gems were actual parts of the gods, they were valued more than anything and carrying or wearing a diamond became common practice. They became a kind of charm, meant to keep the wearer from harm, and similar to the Indians, solders would often carry them into battle, to help them survive. However, those stones were in their raw, natural form, as cutting them was seen as injuring the gods themselves and was thought to strip them of their powers. According to another Roman myth, the tips of the Cupid’s arrows were made out of diamonds, which is probably the first time the stones were associated with romance.
After the decline of the Roman Empire, for the next thousand years diamonds saw relatively little use. It wasn’t until the 15th century that diamonds from India began to be sold again, first in Venice and then throughout Europe. Around the 18th century however, the supplies in India diminished and Brazil rose as the main source for the next two centuries. At the end of the 1800s a major reserve was discovered in South Africa and the firs large scale mine there was opened by the De Beers corporation. They are the family, responsible for the popularity of diamonds today. It was their advertisement campaign, which established the idea that every engagement ring must have a diamond and introduced the slogan “A diamond is forever”. Serious donations to the movie industry meant, that soon every Hollywood actress was wearing diamonds, making them a symbol of the rich and famous. The best example of this is probably Marilyn Monroe’s performance of the song “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” in 1953. De Beer soon opened further mines throughout Africa and South America, as well as striking a deal to buy all the diamonds, discovered in the Soviet Union. Thus, they gained control over most, if not all the rough diamond supply in the world. Many of the diamonds found in Africa by various regimes were sold to them, financing the wars in those unstable regions. Their mines were producing much more than they sold, releasing just enough to satisfy the demand, keeping the prices high and creating the perception, that the gems were indeed rare. Although today there are many more sight around the world, they still hold about 75-80% of all rough diamond supply.
The biggest diamond ever found was the Cullinan diamond, discovered in 1905 in South Africa. It weighed the incredible 3,106 carats, or around 621.35 grams. After unsuccessful efforts to sell it for two years, it was finally presented to King Edward VII. The stone was then cut into 9 big and 100 smaller ones, which are today part of the Crown Jewels of Queen Elizabeth II.