For those of you with an April birthday, you’re probably already aware of your dazzling birthstone, the diamond. Lucky you! Diamonds are not only a girl’s best friend, they’re a remarkable material, synonymous with luxury and wealth since the 1950s. These brilliant stones have existed for billions of years deep in the Earth’s crust, formed when carbon molecules are exposed to intense heat and pressure. While most people associate diamonds with engagement rings and impressive bling, they also have unique characteristics and a complex history, making them a truly fascinating gem.
Diamonds are the hardest naturally occurring material on Earth. It’s impressive strength comes from the molecular structure of the diamond itself, where the valence electrons of the carbon atoms are interlocked in bonds with each other, forming a strong lattice-like structure. This structure also makes diamonds incredibly resistant to impurities, resulting in ultimate clarity, brilliance and colorlessness.
Diamonds were first discovered in the rivers and waterways of India during the 4th century BC – a time that marked the height of Classical Greek civilization and the fall of the Persian Empire. These diamonds were valued for their ability to refract light and engrave metal, making them a valuable trade item on the Silk Road. India was long thought to be the only source of diamonds until around the 18th century when their supply began to dwindle and the world sought a new source of the precious gem. While smaller supplies in Brazil were discovered in 1725, it wasn’t until 1870s that the wealth of diamonds was discovered in the Northern cape region of South Africa.
The uncovering of the massive diamond deposits in South Africa led to a surplus of the gem in trade exchange, leading Western markets to devalue the diamond and choose colored gemstones like rubies, sapphires and emeralds for jewelry and luxury items. In an attempt to manage the international diamond supply, Cecil Rhodes formed the De Beers Consolidated Mines in 1888. To this day, the De Beers Group of Companies leads almost every segment of the diamond market, including discovery, mining, retail, and trade.
The diamond regained popularity as the gemstone of choice for luxury jewelry, particularly engagement rings, in the early 1950s. The phrase “A Diamond is Forever,” coined by De Beers, established the diamond as the symbol of everlasting love and strongly contributed to the sweeping acceptance of “traditional” diamond engagement rings.
Currently, the majority of the World’s diamonds are sourced from Russia, Botswana, and Canada. The United States is the largest consumer of gem quality diamonds in the World, almost all of which are imported due to the lack of diamond producing mines within the US. The World’s deposits of gem quality diamonds has dwindled in recent years; that means for every newly discovered 1-carat gem quality diamond, 250 tons of raw ore has to be mined. The majority of diamonds mined are not gem quality and are used for industrial purposes.
The rarity, brilliance and beauty of diamonds make them a prized material in the jewelry industry. In addition to adorning engagement rings, diamonds are also the birthstone associated with April and the traditional gift to commemorate the 60th anniversary.
Happy birthday to all you April babies, and happy 60th anniversary. Shine on, you strong and splendid diamonds!