Diamonds are the most prized and highly valued of gemstones. Throughout history
they have been admired by royalty and worn as a symbol of strength, courage and
invincibility. Over the centuries the diamond acquired unique status as the ultimate gift of
love, in myth and reality. It is the hardest known substance yet has the simplest chemical
composition, consisting of crystallized carbon, the chemical element that is fundamental
to all life. Diamonds come in many colors and their optical properties are stunning. They
disperse light into the colors of the rainbow, and sparkle far more than any other gemstone.
First mined in India over 4000 years ago, diamonds were used to decorate religious
objects, serve as a talisman against evil and a protector in battle. Buddhists also recognized
the deep symbolic significance accorded to diamonds in ancient Buddhist scriptures,
including the ‘Diamond Sutra’ which states that truth is eternal, just like the diamond.
Diamonds are also found in the culture and mysticism of Hinduism, Jainism and Tibetan
Lamaism. The Sanskrit word ‘vajra’ – meaning both thunderbolt and diamond – was the
name for a small metal weapon having the symbolic nature both of a diamond (able to
cut any substance but not be cut itself) and of the thunderbolt (irrepressible force). The
Buddhist equivalent, ‘dorje’, was a talisman in the shape of a four-faceted diamond which
represented the sacred Mount Meru, believed to be at the center of the universe. The
highly valued Tibetan diamond dzi bead represents the dorje/vajra symbol and bestows
diamond-like qualities on its wearer: it can help bring to light the many beautiful or
dormant facets within the self, and its brilliance shines on the wearer to illuminate beauty
and repel all that is ugly.
In ancient times India was the world’s only source of diamonds until the beginning
of the 18th century, except for minor deposits found in Kalimantan, Borneo. Most were
mined from alluvial deposits along riverbanks. Today the most prized historical diamonds
are still known as the ‘diamonds of Golconda,’ a region located between the lower reaches
of the Godavari and Krishna rivers. Golconda diamonds are believed to be the finest
and purest of any gemstones. They have a perfect internal crystal structure, exceptional
transparency and are without any trace of color.
It is believed that Alexander the Great brought the first diamonds to Europe from
India in 327 BC, instigating the expansion of trade routes between Europe and the East.
Ancient Greeks believed diamonds to be ‘tears of the gods’ and splinters of falling
stars. The word ‘diamond’ is derived from the Greek word ‘adamas’, meaning invincible,
indestructible, and later translated into Latin as ‘diamas’.
During the Greco-Roman era, diamonds became a valuable commodity in trade and
gradually became a symbol of luxury. Romans were also known to use diamond fragments
set in iron as tools which were traded with China and used for carving jade or drilling