In the case of jewellery, the larger the diamond, the better. But how did diamonds reach the current level of desirability?
Diamonds are formed under the earth under extreme heat and pressure. It then gets pushed up near the earth’s surface, where it is extracted and processed for use. The earliest recorded use of diamonds began in India, where people collected diamonds from rivers and streams. It is estimated that diamonds were used in India for trade way back in the fourth century BC. These diamonds eventually reached Europe through rapidly growing trade routes and gained popularity in the 1400s.
The use of diamonds in engagement rings comes from the Romans. They used to give rings made from copper and wore it on the third finger of the left hand. They believed a vein on that finger ran directly to the heart. However, these rings were not always a precursor to marriage as they were also gifted to friends. After the declaration of Pope Innocent III, which stated that a waiting period was necessary between a betrothal and marriage, these rings were used to signify the couple’s commitment during that time.
By the 1700s, the diamond availability in India declined to a point where it was no longer a prominent source. This was when Brazil emerged as a source, catering to the rising global demand. Even though it started out with miners panning out diamonds from gravel, Brazil continued to dominate the diamond market for a little more than the next 100 years.
The 1700s saw great redistribution in wealth as the ruling classes saw its decline through events like the french revolution. This influenced a change in the diamond market. The discovery of diamonds in Africa in the 1800s is probably the most important event influencing the diamond market.
In 1866, diamonds were discovered in Kimberley, South Africa, where mines were set up in 1888. This was the De beers consolidated mines set up by the entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes. The African sources had a significant role in the improvement of mining techniques. This was because these sources were deeper into the earth’s surface. This meant the costs were more and output was less, which demanded better mining techniques. Cutting and polishing techniques were also improved, enhancing the look of the finished diamonds.
The production of diamonds per year saw a rapid increase from only 3 million carats per year in the 1920s to more than 100 million carats per year in the 1990s.
This rise in production was aided by the discovery of other diamond hotspots in Africa. The Jwaneng mine in Botswana was a major contributor to this effect.
By the 2000s, the industry saw many changes, with newer sources being discovered in Australia and Canada. De Beers was no longer the sole controller of diamond flow in the market. Diamonds now come from sources around the world through multiple channels until it reaches the final consumer. Regardless of the channel, the demand and appreciation of diamonds are ever-growing and newer production methods have made it possible to cater to these demands.