A natural diamond’s journey begins a very long time ago in the mantle about 100 miles below the Earth’s surface. It is an highly unusual mineral being an allotrope of carbon, in the purest crystalline form of the element.
Diamonds are unquestionably the hardest naturally occurring substance known to man and their unique chemical and atomic structure enables them to last forever. Their extreme hardness gives them a characteristic, perpetual lustre appropriately termed 'adamantine"
Diamond bearing kimberlite is brought to the surface during a volcanic eruption
Formed under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure as a result of the constant movement and activity of material deep within the Earth, a serendipitous chain of events then transports these diamond bearing fragments contained within this uncommon rock known as Kimberlite, via a funnel of volcanic magma to the surface. Weather and erosion with the help of rivers and coastal seas spread these beautiful crystals over wide areas showering a blessing of bounty on the regions where they are ultimately found.
Diamonds are the oldest thing you will ever touch. Nothing else comes close!
The Krishna river basin in Southern India where the first diamonds were discovered in the 4th century BC. Also the site of the famous Kohinoor diamond.
Some historians estimate that India was trading in diamonds as early as the fourth century BC. That output yielded limited quantities for an equally limited market of India’s very wealthy classes.
As a result of these early diamond finds and folklore, the history of the diamond is inextricably linked to the history of early India.
A traditional hand-held diamond weighing scale used in the early trade of diamonds.
Gradually though, this changed. Diamonds from India and the eastern territories of Asia found their way, along with other exotic merchandise and spices to Western Europe in the caravans that travelled to Venice’s medieval markets. By the 1400s, diamonds had become essential fashion and status accessories for Europe’s elite.
It was a little-known fact at that time and through till the 1700s, that the Indian mined supply was quickly depleting, and Indian traders were supplementing their supply via Chinese and Arab middlemen operating from the eastern territories of Asia, supplying diamonds of Borneo * /Sumatra and Myanmar/Thai origins. Large quantities of diamonds were being excavated along the alluvial riverbeds of the western and central Kalimantan province of Borneo. The Indian traders were practicing their trade even as traders do now - supplementing supplies from wherever they are available but keeping their sources secret.
Diamonds are a symbol of love and life's significant moments
The diamond engagement ring. A symbol of everlasting love and commitment
The name "diamond" stems from the Greek word "adamas", meaning "unbreakable". In 1477, Archduke Maximilian of Austria wanted to propose to his love, Mary of Burgundy. To ensure she knew how he felt, he commissioned a ring to be made with a diamond - a resilient stone as precious and enduring as his love.
That day, a symbol of everlasting love, the diamond engagement ring was born. A natural diamond never goes out of style. If you have had a piece of classic diamond jewellery passed down through generations in your family, you would know. Your grandma’s diamond can retain its magical aura, and still be all of you - whether through a different setting, style or metal, you name it! With a natural diamond, old is always new.
Diamonds boast of a rich anecdotal history spanning more than 2000 years, but its journey of the last 800 years has been well documented. The fame of Indian diamonds spread far and wide in Europe beginning in the 1300s and this popularity from the European (and Indian) elite continued unabated right though till the 1800s. The market was being met by supply originating from India and east Asia but could not keep up with demand until diamonds from Brazil entered the market beginning in the 1700s. Brazilian diamonds had a good run for 150 years. Up until 1866, when the first mines began producing in South Africa, diamonds remained the purview of only the wealthy nobles and royalty of Europe and parts of Asia who had developed the fondness for diamonds as a measure of wealth and power.
The story of the modern diamond market really begins on the African continent, with the 1866* discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, South Africa. Entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes established De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd 22 years later, in 1888. By the early 1980s, De Beers, through its mines in South Africa and marketing arrangements with producing countries, controlled an estimated 80% of the world’s distribution of rough diamonds.
Over the last 70 years, as the world economy grew after the war, diamonds popularity grew in tandem and so did DeBeers' grip over the marketing of diamonds. With the discovery of diamonds in Australia and Canada and the breakup of the USSR, the power centres of diamond mining shifted away from Africa. This brought about change in how diamonds were marketed. As one of the trade’s major participants, De Beers had to change, too.
The De Beers of today bears little resemblance to the De Beers of 1998. After that year, the company greatly reduced its role as the custodian of diamond supply. Instead of flowing into the market in a single-channel from De Beers, diamonds now flow into the market through multiple channels. Not everything changed, though. Regardless of the path they take, diamonds still flow from mines through to cutting centres, and then to the trading/jewellery manufacturing centres and ultimately to retail customers.
A diamond’s splendour has been recognised for centuries, but there wasn’t much scientific knowledge available about a diamond before the twentieth century. Since then, diamond knowledge has grown steadily, with research by chemists, physicists, geologists and mineralogists.
The 8-sided Octahedron shape of a typical diamond crystal
Unique Physical Properties: A diamond’s characteristic chemical composition and crystal structure make it a unique member of the mineral kingdom. It is the only gem made up of a single element, namely pure Carbon. Its atoms are arranged in a cubic structure giving it the properties of extreme hardness and exceptional transparency.
Typical Crystal Shapes: Natural diamond crystals grow in typical shapes of an octahedron (8 faces), dodecahedron (12 faces) and less frequently a tetra hexahedron (24 faces). One look by an expert can immediately identify them as diamond crystals. A typical diamond may contain trace elements in very minute quantities (less than 0.05%), and it is these trace elements that influence its colour and crystal shape. And highly prized!
Diamonds are eternal: Natural diamonds don’t just exude an aura, they are also known for their versatility and timelessness. These beauties are for every generation, occasion and setting—as heirlooms or memory makers, as style statements or friends of the Earth.
Sustainability: When the world asks you to stop, slow down and reflect on Environment Day, look no further - especially when it comes to conscious luxury. There is no better showstopper than a natural diamond, naturally!
Natural diamonds are not only one of Mother Earth's most wonderous creations, they are also precious for the people and the economies of the countries where they are found. When mining is carried out in an orderly manner, diamonds are nature’s benevolent gift to a country’s development.
After the discovery of the first diamonds in South Africa in 1866, mechanised mining enabled a large increase in mining output and diamonds have since become affordable and accessible to the masses.
There are two main methods of diamond mining. Alluvial or riverbed mining is typically pan-mining similar to gold dust mining and the more capital intensive kimberlite mining which is essentially open-pit mining.
Alluvial mining has been the traditional mining method for the last 1000 or more years and generally yields better quality gems and larger stones as compared to kimberlite mines.
Only 15-20% of diamonds found in Nature are of gem quality. Out of close to 125 million carats mined annually today, only about 15 million are gem quality and 10 million are smaller sized near-industrial qualities used in commercial jewellery.
The five largest producer countries in order of production volume are Russia, Botswana, Australia, Angola and Canada. Four other countries DR Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia have substantial and important productions followed to a lesser degree by Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Venezuela.
It was only in 1982 that a highly productive new mine in Botswana added to world production. A prolific source of high-quality diamonds, the Jwaneng open pit mine boosted Botswana’s production so much that the country rose to third place in the world in total diamond recovery, and second in diamond value.
De Beers contracted with the Botswana government to buy the mine’s production and Botswana set out to build its own diamond-cutting industry. World diamond mining expanded dramatically with the coming on stream of an exceptionally large mine in western Australia in 1985 and the discovery of important new deposits in northern Canada in the year 2000. The Argyle* mine in Australia is famous for it's production of rare fancy pink and red diamonds and some exceptional blues, which in the last 20 years have become an investor's favourite.
Diamond mining ends up doing a lot of good for the communities in whichever countries diamonds are mined, if done in an orderly and regulated manner. The figures speak for themselves. Consider this - together, the world’s leading diamond producers create *$16 billion worth of positive socioeconomic and environmental benefits annually in countries where they operate – almost 80% of which stays within the local communities. Diamond mining can sometimes also transform the fortunes of a whole nation. (*2019 figures)
Take Botswana, for instance. From being one of the poorest countries in the world, Botswana harnessed the power of its diamond resources and today has become one of the globe’s great development success stories. An African success story.
80% of diamonds found in nature are classified as 'industrial' and due to their extreme hardness find use in critical industrial applications and numerous cutting and abrasive tools
Diamond's industrial uses take advantage of its overwhelming strength and wear resistance properties as well as its unequalled heat conducting* ability. Some of the better known applications are for specialised deep sea drill bits for the oil and mining industry, diamond encrusted saws and abrasives in the tool and die industry, medical scalpels and bio-medical implants in surgery, including many recent uses in high technology applications.
The lesser known but critical applications being in high energy optical lasers, diamond lenses and windows for space use and now, increasingly in heat management of ever faster quantum speed computer chips and literally thousands of other uses in daily life. Industrial diamonds are in fact on the list of the top five strategic industrial materials.
Thankfully, the ever-expanding use for industrial diamonds is being supplemented in the less critical areas by synthetic lab-grown production. Mined output of diamonds has been unable to satisfy the demand for industrial diamonds ever since the end of the Second World War.
The market probably changed as much in the period after 1990 as it did in all the years since the 1866 discovery of diamonds in South Africa and the establishment of De Beers. The 1990s brought exciting new mines on stream and encouraged the dramatic growth of some newer cutting centres in China, Thailand, Sri Lanka etc while cutting and polishing (diamond manufacturing) continued to expand rapidly in India. All this was happening as the world economy fluctuated wildly.
This conversion of rough into polished diamonds today happens mainly in India, Russia & Botswana and to a lesser degree in China, Belgium and Israel. Very little polishing takes place today in South Africa or Thailand.
Sawing of a diamond crystal into two parts was a time consuming process -nowadays done with a high-tech laser saw
India today polishes 85-90% by volume and about 75% by value of the gem diamonds in the world using state of the art technology riding on the skills of traditional manual cutting methods. These days it doesn’t really matter where a diamond is polished. The final product is pretty much standardised and uniformly cut.
'Belgium Cut' today refers to a diamond cut by a Belgian owned company located in India using Israeli technology
Aside from the much touted 4Cs, the story of a natural diamond is a story a billion years in the making. It is essential to appreciate the unique qualities of a diamond and the billions of years it has taken to form deep in the Earth in order to understand why it commands the awe, respect and the value that it truly deserves. The price of diamonds rises exponentially with increase in size and improving colour and clarity. And is explained in some detail in the next section.
Discovering diamonds around the world is getting ever more difficult and costly
The Earth no longer actively creates diamonds (those that exist have already been formed but not discovered), making them a finite natural resource. Diamond recovery peaked in 2005 and there have been no significant diamond discoveries in the last 30 years after the last Canadian
discovery in the North Western provinces of the country. There are such few one carat diamonds being recovered each year, that the total number would fill only one exercise ball. As these diamonds grow rarer by the day, they become increasingly valuable.
Rarity (of a naturally mined diamond) is by far the single most important factor influencing the price of a natural diamond. Rarity is also the primary factor that has supported the value of a diamond over the centuries. Likewise, over the centuries, many a tulip rush have come and gone but the value of a diamond has endured.
It is still the most expensive material (by weight) known to man
The only human contribution to a diamond’s beauty is a well-executed Cut. Hence the importance of the Cut to a diamond’s value.
Diamonds need to be polished and thoroughly cleaned before they are ready to be set in jewellery
Historical: Jewellery is a universal form of personal adornment. Its use dates back to as far back as the earliest discovered excavations of prehistoric man, weaving its way through every culture in recorded history. This common thread amongst all ancient cultures, spread over time and
geography confirms beyond doubt that the use of jewellery was an essential part of social behaviour. The knowledge gathered through these observations also provide useful insights on how ancient societies interacted and how jewellery with gemstones, pearls and other precious metals have evolved.
The point at which adoption of diamonds for use in jewellery began is unclear but in the early Middle Ages, diamonds were believed to have healing properties and were used as good luck charms. This belief evolved with time and diamonds became objects of value - primarily as gemstones used in jewellery for the priviledged of society.
The first recorded use of a diamond in jewellery was on the crown of a Hungarian queen in 1074 AD. From then on, diamonds were used in many royal crowns and jewels, deepening their perception as a symbol of status and power. This lasted for a few centuries till Archduke Maximillian of Austria commissioned the first diamond engagement ring in 1477. This event started an unstoppable desire for diamond rings amongst European aristocracy, kings and queens and the maharajahs and sultans of the East.
Recent Past: From Medieval times through to the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery right till the late 19th century, to the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods of the early 20th century, jewellery has always had a purpose and a message. And through this long period, the significance of diamonds in jewellery has only grown.
With the De Beers takeover of diamond production and distribution in the early 20th century, diamonds were presented as affordable luxury to the American middle class. The age of the diamond truly arrived with the launch of the iconic 'A Diamond is Forever' campaign by De Beers in 1947. The famous slogan implied the durability of a diamond (specifically the round brilliant) and symbolized the commitment of marriage. The belief, that a diamond's purity and brilliance signified a man's true love for a woman spread all over the world. The opening of more De Beers mines in Southern Africa enabled a massive expansion of the market for diamonds.
Contemporary: Today, the diamond engagement ring is universally known to represent love, commitment and a 'forever union', with couples opting to choose other fancy diamond cuts and modern ring styles. Natural diamonds are now used not only for jewellery, but also on jewelled watches and objects d'art.
Celebrities, sports persons, Hollywood and Bollywood film stars have further popularised the use of diamond jewellery making diamonds an aspirational product amongst the wealthy and the middle class. With the wide range of diamond cuts produced today, and the range of fancy colours and styles available, contemporary jewellery design options are endless!
In the last 20 years, D flawless and fancy colour diamonds have been a much sought after category for investment purposes and asset diversification. Fancy pinks, blues and violets are fetching record breaking prices reaching millions of dollars per carat at the important auction houses.
After all, the true value of a diamond is in effect a measure of its brilliance
Future: Diamond jewellery demand is expected to rise once the turmoil from the COVID pandemic settles, as countries with major population centres such as China, India, Brazil, the Middle East and Indonesia continue to expand their middle class. There is the common belief that Gen Y and Z is not interested in materialistic possessions, and diamonds in particular don't excite them. However a 2019 report by Bain and Co. came to the opposite conclusion. Younger shoppers will play a major role in the rise of the luxury industry, Bain stressed, with Generations Y and Z contributing a significant portion of the future market growth. Diamond jewellery is one of the three luxury products identified.
A diamond is the most concentrated form of wealth (extreme weight to value ratio) and is relatively easier to price and evaluate compared to many other gemstones. Accurate cutting and polishing helped by modern technology and better grading standards has greatly reduced subjectivity.
It is a great form of personal adornment and an important symbol of family legacy and a coveted asset in wealth inheritance
In times of strife, it is a highly mobile form of convertible currency - just ask the European survivors of Nazi Germany, the Vietnamese boat people of the 70’s, the Kuwaitis who were driven out of their homes overnight in 1992 and the countless Indonesians who escaped the riots in Indonesia in May 1998.
Many who fled these troubled areas survived and rebuilt their lives because the elders in their families had the foresight to diversify some of their hard-earned cash into diamonds. Indeed, many refugees took their gold ornaments and ingots too - but one cannot beat diamonds for portability.
Synthetic diamonds for industrial use were first produced in the laboratory almost 70 years ago by General Electric. Since then, many large industrial giants in Japan, the US, Russia and China have produced diamonds in large quantities to satisfy purely industrial needs. It has taken almost 60 years for gem quality diamonds to be produced in larger sizes and sufficient quantities, to be of any value as gems. With the new CVD technology that eliminates the need for crucibles using high pressures and temperatures, size is no longer a restricting factor and costs are quickly coming down and material quality getting better.
Today, there are many varieties of laboratory-grown synthetic diamonds on the market. These are all made of pure carbon and have the same physical properties as (mined) diamonds. Without the earthly origins of natural diamonds, they lack the unique colours and earthly inclusions infused by Nature.
To keep up with the demand for industrial and jewellery use, scientists have ramped up production efficiency. Costs are rapidly coming down, the crystals are getting larger and purer and while a laboratory-grown diamond has the same chemical makeup as a natural diamond, their mass-produced origins are just as easily detected with improved technology preventing them from being passed off as natural.
The natural industry players and the producers of lab grown diamonds themselves have developed sophisticated yet portable detection equipment to differentiate natural from lab grown diamonds.
This detection ability has kept ahead of the curve in improvements in the quality of lab grown diamonds helping to keep the two products distinctly separate.
Even though mass-produced lab-grown diamonds are sold at very attractive prices, they have little to no resale value because they can be endlessly replicated and have no history or emotional story to talk about. Besides, their prices have fallen sharply over the last few years and are continuing to fall.
Due to the immense amount of energy required to replicate a real diamond’s billion-year natural growth process in only a few weeks, laboratory-grown diamonds produce upto 3 times more carbon emissions per carat than natural diamonds. And of course these diamonds can be mass produced making them effectively worthless as a store of value or a sentimental possession. Lab-grown diamonds will never have the same allure of natural diamonds as the consumer recognises anything rare and valuable can only be Natural.
In the long term, synthetic diamonds will find greater value in high-end industrial applications with their prominence in jewellery use diminishing.
Diamonds were the first mined mineral to come under the NGO radar when the term ‘conflict’ was first coined and became an issue – the original definition of conflict was narrow and referred specifically to the diamonds origination from the conflict zones due to the civil wars that were ongoing in the four diamond producing countries in Central and West Africa. In 1999-2000, about 4% of all diamonds mined came from conflict areas but by 2001, when the diamond industry launched the Kimberly Process (KP) certification scheme for rough diamonds, this figure had come down to less than 2%.
Under the original definition of conflict, today less than half a percent of all mined diamonds could be termed as being from “conflict” origins, which is still a half percent too much. The KP certification scheme is functioning well and is monitored and regulated by the UN. It is probably the only industry run self-policing scheme that has been successful.
At present besides diamonds, there are four other legally designated 'industrially significant ' conflict minerals, namely gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten.
Lab-grown diamonds will drastically come down in price and find their own distinct market with their own set of value seeking customers while conflict diamonds will serve as a reminder of the industry's coming together to set right an injustice
The natural diamond industry is one with many facets. What brings us together as one is our love and appreciation of this rare gift from Nature - that allows us to share the beauty of billion-year-old natural diamonds with the people of the world.
Another priority for the diamond industry, of course, is the absolute need for sustainability and nature conservation in every stage of the diamond pipeline, with particular emphasis during the mining stage. Natural diamond miners and producers are committed to controlling and reducing their environmental impact on the Earth’s fragile ecosystems in the remote regions where diamonds are mined.
From the rural snow covered lands of Canada to the resource rich grasslands of Botswana all the way to deep within the Australian desert...the modern diamond mining industry has worked to leave a positive social impact in all the regions where it has been active. Along with this positive social impact, the natural diamond industry supports the livelihood of 10 million people globally and also brings happiness and security to many hundreds of millions more.
History tells us that the diamond's attractiveness has endured across the affluent and developed societies over the centuries. There have been compelling reasons for this. Now this desire for, combined with a better understanding of diamonds is spreading to many developing societies. The natural diamond's future is looking bright.
Every natural diamond is unique, like a fingerprint
Discover the world of diamonds with unique industry insights, ring selection & design tips, plus the latest in jewellery trends & more.