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The Allure and the Mystique of Diamonds

By  Judith Anderson  GG, CGA

In 1477 the Archduke Maximillian of Austria gave Mary of Burgundy a diamond ring,  thus beginning the tradition of diamond engagement rings.  But the wearing of diamonds dates even earlier than the fifteenth century.  Diamonds were long worn by kings as a symbol of strength,  courage and invincibility.   Even the Greek word "Adamas,"  from which the name diamond is derived,  means unconquerable and hence suggests the eternity of love.

But why does tradition emphasize wearing an engagement diamond on the third finger of the left hand?  The answer dates back to an early Eqyptian belief that the vein of love ("Vena Amoris") runs directly from the top of the third finger of the left hand to the heart.

Another question you might ask is why diamonds are so valuable?  Anything extremely rare is also precious.  Diamonds are rare in that only a few survived the hazardous journey from the great depths within the earth to the surface.

Although diamonds are the hardest of gemstones,  they are the simplest in composition,  being made primarily of carbon molecules.  Billions of years ago,  the natural forces of high pressure and intense heat transformed these carbon particles into diamonds,  within a cauldron of burning magma deep below the earth's surface.  After crystallizing into specific forms,  these diamond crystals were forced upwards with volcanic-like pressure and broke through the earth's surface to cool in Kimberlite (rock-like material) pipes.  It is in these pipes that diamonds are mined today.

With respect to our question on rarity and value,  approximately 250 tons of ore must be mined and processed from a kimberlite pipe in order to produce a one carat polished diamond of "gem quality."  Another interesting fact to consider is that only 20% of the diamonds mined are gem quality;  the rest are suited for industrial purposes only.

Diamonds are certainly the most international of all gems  -  a diamond will probably touch at least four continents before reaching a retail jewelry store.  The top four diamond producing countries (Australia,  Zaire,  Botswana,  and the former Soviet Union) account for approximately 80% of the world's supply.

Though diamonds were first mined in India,  over 2800 years ago,  it was not until the discovery of the Brazilian diamond pipes in the early 18th century that diamond mining became an important industry.  During the late 19th century,  the discovery of extensive diamond deposits in South Africa triggered our modern diamond industry and resulted in better cutting methods.

Today,  diamonds are evaluated by four factors that affect price:  cut,  color,  clarity,  and carat weight,  known as "The Four C's".  In the next article,  Beauty Revealed,  we discuss the important matter of a diamond's cut.

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