According to James Bond author Ian Fleming, diamonds are forever. For Marilyn Monroe in the film version of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” they were a girl’s best friend. But for collectors of fine jewelry, diamonds are the sparkling pinnacles of desirability. Indeed, the diamond’s role as the stone of choice to crown an engagement ring is a testament to both the appeal of diamonds in the eyes of newlyweds, as well as the brilliant marketing of De Beers, the cartel that tightly controls their distribution.

All things being equal, diamonds should not be so expensive. They are, after all, found in numerous parts of the world and are mined on an industrial scale. Their manipulated marketplace, though, has kept their value high, which has unfortunately made them perfect vehicles for abuse, such as in African countries like Angola, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where so-called blood diamonds have been used to fund civil and cross-border wars.

Still, diamonds have not attracted all this attention for no reason. They are the world’s hardest mineral, a perfect 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness that goes no higher. Jewelers have long admired them for their crystalline clarity and brilliance, which is a technical term for the cut stone’s ability to reflect light from its myriad facets. Jewelers will also speak of a stone’s dispersion, or fire, which refers to the glints of color that are produced as light passes through the gem.

While most diamonds are colorless, rare impurities in these carbon crystals can produce “fancy” gems in shades of red (the rarest variant, caused by the introduction of hydrogen atoms), blues and grays (boron), and yellows and pinks (nitrogen produces the most common of the colored-diamond rarities).

Though diamonds have been mined and fashioned into necklaces, bracelets, earrings, pins, and other pieces of fine jewelery by numerous cultures for thousands of years (some of the earliest references to the gem come from India), the art of cutting diamonds is relatively new. Until about the 13th, diamonds were minimally cut. Jewelers essentially polished their diamonds to shape the gems and make their surfaces sparkle.

The earliest cut appeared around this time. This was the table cut, which consisted of a cleaved facet at the top of the gem, a smaller one called the culet at the stone’s base, plus a ring of eight more cuts around the gem’s sides. In this example, the crown of a table-cut gem would include the table plus the four facets that slope down from the table to the edge of the gem, or girdle. The gem’s pavilion are the four bottom facets that slope up from the culet.

Table cuts were the state of the art until the beginning of the 17th century, when jewelers devised the rose cut. Unlike table cuts, which gave diamonds a great deal of depth, ro...

The precursor to the brilliant cut, the Mazarin, had been around since the 1600s, but it wasn’t until 1919 that the modern brilliant cut was devised. Its inventor was a Belgian diamond cutter named Marcel Tolkowsky, who changed the shapes and locations of the old cut’s 58 facets to bring out a stone’s brilliance as well as its fire.

Victorian and Edwardian jewelers used diamonds with rose cuts and old cuts with equal enthusiasm, depending, of course, on the market for their jewelry—rings with rose-cut diamonds were especially popular among the growing middle classes. The demand for diamond jewelry in the late 19th century coincided with imports of diamonds from South Africa. Until then, India had been England’s largest supplier, and was famous for stones such as the Hope Diamond (now in the collection of the Smithsonian) and the Koh-i-Noor. At last report, that legendary, some say cursed, diamond was still anchored in Queen Elizabeth’s crown.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

All About Jewels Dictionary

All About Jewels Dictionary

This incredible reference dictionary on jewelry, from Enchantedlearning.com, is both beautiful and comprehensive. S… [read review or visit site]

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry

Jewelry collectors, feast your eyes on this internet gem! It's a goldmine of jewelry information featuring all styl… [read review or visit site]

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

Cathy Gordon's Jewelry Gallery

With its vast galleries featuring clear images of jewelry and style, this site really covers it all! Divided up by … [read review or visit site]

Jewel History

Jewel History

Since March of 2007, readers of Lori Ettlinger Gross’s Jewel History blog have been treated to her weekly (someti… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Egl 4.36ct Asscher Diamond Platinum Engagement Ring 6.5 Grams NrVintage Heavy 18k Gold 13.45ct Vs Diamond/ruby/emerald/sapphire Butterfly BroochEstate Yellow Sapphire 4.27ct Diamond 18k White Gold Engagement Ring NrDiamond 41.57ct Aquamarine Moonstone 18k Gold Chain Necklace 27.7 Grams NrVintage 1950s Heavy Platinum 6.62ct Vs1/g-h Diamond Eternity Band Ring Size 6.25Antique 1.80ct Diamond 18k White Gold Floral Cocktail Ring 9.0 Grams NrEstate Diamond 3.74ct Emerald 18k White Gold Drop Dangle Earrings 6.0 Grams NrDiamond 9.27ct Natural Sapphire 18k White Gold Ballerina Ring 8.9 Grams NrEstate 5.08ct Diamond Platinum 3 Rows Eternity Band Ring 14.3 Grams NrEstate 2.43ct Diamond 18k White Gold Butterfly Wide Band Ring 16.7 Grams Nr18ct/ 18k White Gold Diamond & Sapphire Art Deco Design, 750Cartier Diamond 1.70ct Sapphire Emerald Ruby 18k Gold Band Ring 5.2 Grams NrFine 1.1/4ct Diamond Solitaire 18ct Gold Art Deco Ring 18k 750Fine 3/4ct Baguette And Marquise Cut Diamond Art Deco Design 18ct Gold Ring 750Vintage Diamond Pearl 14k White Gold Double Strand Bracelet 50.7 Grams NrEstate 2.05ct Diamond 14k White Gold 3 Row Band Ring NrVintage Heavy 18k Gold Amazing 6.50ct Vs1/f Diamond Filigree Ribbon BroochGia 7.48 Ct Unheated Natural Flawless Purple Red Spinel Diamond 14k Gold RingVintage 1.98ct Diamond Platinum Cluster Ring 7.0 Grams Nr18ct/ 18k Gold & Platinum Diamond & 10 Carat Gem Stone Art Deco Ring, Hs, 750Modern 2.60ct Diamond 18k White Gold Large Bypass Cocktail Ring 16.4 Grams NrFabulous Art Deco Ruby And Diamond 18ct White Gold Solitaire Target Ring18ct/18k White Gold 1.1/2 Carat Diamond Full Eternity Ring 750Vintage 18k White Gold Heavy Diamond Pegasus Coin EarringsVintage 1950s Platinum 5.72ctw Vs1/g Diamond/blue Sapphire Cocktail Ring Size 7Estate Diamond 2.40ct Sapphire 18k White Gold Flower Ring 9.7 Grams NrEstate Diamond 40.60ct Citrine 14k Yellow Gold Necklace 13.1 Grams NrVictorian Krementz 14k Gold Enamel Rose Cut Diamond Knot Flower Bracelet 14gFine 18k Gold 3/4 Carat Diamond Solitaire RingCherny Vintage Heavy 18k Gold 5.50ctw Diamond/colombian Emerald Free Form BroochPlatinum Antique Elegant 2.80ctw Vs1/g Diamond/blue Sapphire Tennis BraceletRhonda Faber Diamond 18k White Gold Circular Pendant 18" Necklace 6.3 Grams NrEstate 10.00ct Diamond 18k White Gold Wide Large Cockail Ring 20.3 Grams NrEstate 3.00ct Diamond 18k Yellow Gold Flexible Band Ring 8.3 Grams NrAntique Diamond 14k White Gold Wreath Circle Brooch Pin 7.6 Grams NrEstate 10.60ct Diamond Pearl 18k Gold Paisley Motif Link Bracelet 71.4gramsd NrVintage 14k White Gold 0.88ct Diamond Cluster Pendant With 0.40ct Diamond CenterCartier Diamond 18k Yellow Gold Rotating Band Ring 13.3 Grams NrAntique Diamond Sapphire 14k Yellow Gold Cocktail Filigree Ring 12.5 Grams Nr14ct/ 14k Gold Diamond & Ruby Studded Fox Head Ring, 58515ct/ 15k Gold Diamond, Ruby & Pearl Victorian Art Nouveau Brooch, Boxed, 625Fine Art Deco 33 Point Diamond Solitaire 18ct Gold Ring 18k 750Gia Certified 2.16 Ct Vvs Natural Paraiba Tourmaline Diamond 14k White Gold Ring1.20 Ctw Full Rose Cut Diamonds 18k Gold Victorian Cluster Earrings. Estate. NrGia 14.35 Ct Flawless Natural Aquamarine Diamond 14k White Gold Cocktail RingEstate 1.80ct Diamond Platinum Eternity Stack Band Ring 5.1 Grams NrEstate 0.50ct Diamond 14k White Gold Drop Pendant NrTiffany & Co. Estate Natural Ceylon Blue Sapphire Asscher Diamond 18k Gold RingSuperb Rare Antique Victorian 18ct Gold & Old Cut Diamond Ring Approx 1/2ctAntique Diamond Interchangeable 17.50ct Jade Coral 18k Gold Pin 55.2 Grams Nr$19,000~vintage Massive Old European Multi Diamond 7.05ctw Brooch~must C $99Michael Beaudry 4.30ct Pink Yellow Diamond Platinum Gold Bracelet 19.8 Grams NrFine Pair Of 1 Carat Diamond 18k Gold Stud Earrings 18ct 75018ct/ 18k Rose & White Gold Diamond & Cultured Pearl Art Deco Earrings, 750Vintage Heavy Massive 18k Gold 26.0ctw Diamond/star Ruby Cocktail Ring Size 5.75Vintage Platinum Elegant 2.0ct Vs2-si1/g Diamond Floral Drop Dangle EarringsAntique 1.02ct Diamond 18k White Gold Ring NrAntique Diamond Pearl 18k White Gold Feather Earrings 7.0 Grams NrAntique Diamond 3.40ct Opal 14k White Gold Cocktail Ring 8.8 Grams Nr18ct/ 18k Gold 1ct Diamond & 1.1/4ct Ruby Cluster Art Deco Design Ring, 750