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    

18ct/18k Gold 80 Point Diamond & 6.5ct Sapphire Art Deco Large Cluster Ring, 75018ct/ 18k White Gold 1.20ct Diamond Art Deco Design Drop Earrings, 750.85 Ct G Vs2 Round Old European Diamond Stud Earrings Solid 14k Gold $6,750.00Gia 13.80 Ct Flawless Natural Aquamarine Diamond 14k White Gold Estate Ring Gem18k Gold 1.5ct Diamond & 1.3/4ct Sapphire Large Art Deco Design Cluster Ring,750Fine 17th Century 1ct Old Rose Cut Diamond 3ct Emerald Silver 14ct Gold Pendant18ct/ 18k Gold 1ct Diamond Art Deco Design Full Eternity Ring, 75018k Gold Arthur King School Fine Translucent Jade Diamond Signed Freeform Ring18ct/ 18k Gold 80 Point Diamond Five Stone Art Deco Design Ring, 75018ct/18k Gold Diamond & Emerald Five Stone Art Deco Ring, 75018ct/ 18k White Gold 1.20ct Diamond & Cultured Pearl Art Deco Drop Earrings, 750Cartier Maillon Panthere Ideal Diamond Solid 18k White Gold Link Wide Band RingSuperb C1915 Deco 18ct Gold & Plat Diamond & Ceylon Sapphire Daisy Cluster Ring Antique Pearl & Diamond 18ct Gold Grape & Vine Stick Pin Superb Art Deco C1920 Solid 18ct Gold, Natural Diamond Set Daisy Cluster RingFinest Gia 9.90ct Natural No Heat Sapphire Diamond 18k Estate Ring Weve OfferedAntique 1920s $7000 2ct Old Euro Diamond French Cut Blue Sapphire Platinum Ring18ct Gold 90 Point Diamond & 2ct Sapphire Art Deco Design Heavy Cluster Ring,750 Beautiful 1.25 Ctw Fancy Yellow & White Diamonds Ring 10k Size 7 No ReserveStunning Color Natural Emerald 2.40ctw Diamond Vintage 1960s Ballerina RingGia 9.63 Mm Natural Silver Akoya Pearl Diamond Platinum Estate Pendant Necklace**beautiful Antique 18ct Gold Five Stone Old Cut 0.70ct Diamond Ring C1910*Antique Estate 14k Yellow Gold Diamond Cluster Halo Etched Engagement RingGia Certified 9.48 Mm Natural Silver Akoya Pearl Diamond Platinum Estate Ring14k White Gold Vintage 2.30ct Diamond Cocktail Ring Size 7.25 W/ 0.80ct CenterAntique Victorian 18k Solid Gold Almandine Garnet Diamond BraceletVintage Ruby Diamond Halo Ring 14k Two-tone Retro Art Deco Estate Antique Fine Victorian Emerald Diamond Marquise 18ct Gold Ring 18k 750Vintage 14k White Yellow Gold Genuine Diamond Natural Sapphire Tennis BraceletEstate 1.95ct Natural Colombian Emerald & Diamond 14k Solid White Gold RingMappin And Webb Platinum, Diamond And Emerald BroochArt Deco Platinum Diamond And Synthetic Blue Sapphire Ring - Size 6 3/4Victorian 18k Yellow Gold And European Cut Diamond Ring - Size 6 3/4Vintage 14k White Gold 3.60ct Vs1/g Diamond & 8.5mm Pearl Cocktail Ring Size 7Vintage Cartier Platinum Diamond And Ruby Bracelet W/ A Tcw Of 26 Carats!!!! Tiffany & Co. Art Deco Natural 1.75ctw Semi Black Opal & Diamond 18k Gold RingOld Chunky 18ct Gold Ring With White Sparkling Diamonds Antique Style MountedFine Large Fiery Opal And Diamond Art Deco Design 18ct Gold Ring 18k 75018ct/ 18k Gold Diamond & Sapphire Victorian Cluster Ring, 750Tiffany & Co. Fancy Intense Yellow Diamond Platinum Halo Pendant Necklace Nr18ct/ 18k Gold 45 Point Diamond Five Stone Art Deco Ring, 750Beautiful Antique Art Deco 18ct Gold; 1ct Blue Sapphire&sparkling Diamonds RingArt Deco Vintage Natural Untreated 3.60ct Turquoise & Diamond Halo 14k Gold RingAntique Vintage Nouveau 14k Gold Silver Diamond Ruby Sapphire Butterfly Brooch!18k Diamond Sapphire Ring Victorian Vintage Antique .75 Ct Solitaire 1 Carat!No Reserve! Gorgeous Petite Art Deco Platinum European Cut Diamond RingBeautiful Antique 14k Gold Fiery Diamond Women's Engagement RingEstate 2.50ctw Natural Diamond Eternity Band Ring In 14k White Gold Effy 2.00ctw Colorless Pave Set Diamond 14k Yellow Gold 20mm Large RingEstate 14k Yellow Gold Two Row 1.0ctw Natural Diamond Ladies Ring 4.5gAntique Vintage Victorian 18k Gold & Silver Colombian Emerald Diamond Necklace!Fine Victorian Sapphire And Diamond 18ct Gold Cluster Ring 18k 750Estate $6000 3ct Natural Diamond 14k Yellow Gold Stud Screwback EarringsHuge 14k Gold Ultra Fine Green Jadeite Jade Diamond Unique Freeform Vintage RingEstate White Gold Diamond Halo Cluster Engagement Cocktail Statement RingFine Art Deco Design 3 Stone Sapphire And Diamond 18ct Gold Ring 18k 750Vintage Solid 14k White Gold 1.00 Cttw Genuine Diamond Stud Earrings - Quality!.60 Ct Round Diamond Engagement Ring 14k White Gold Vintage Rose Cut Mounting18ct/ 18k White Gold Diamond & Emerald Art Deco Design Seven Stone Ring, 750Stunning, Art Deco Solid 18ct Gold & Platinum Natural Diamond & Ruby Ring!