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    

Estate 22.08ct Diamond 18k White Gold Double Strand Necklace 36.9 Grams Nr18ct/ 18k Gold 1 Carat Old Mined Rose Cut Diamond Fine 18th Century Ring, 750Gia 4.18ct Fancy Yellow Diamond 18k Gold Platinum Engagement Ring 5.5 Grams NrVintage 3.07ct Cushion Cut Diamond Platinum Engagement Ring NrFine Princess Cut 14.68ct Diamond Platinum Tennis Bracelet 25.4 Grams NrAntique Platinum Elegant 9.50ctw Diamond/sapphire Filigree Link BraceletEstate Diamond 2.48ct Ruby Platinum Halo Engagement Ring 7.2 Grams NrVintage Platinum High Fashion 2.57ctw Diamond/emerald Pendant On Chain Necklace18ct/ 18k White Gold 3.19 Carat Ceylon Sapphire & Diamond Ring, 750 With PapersEstate Diamond 10.75ct Sapphire 18k Gold Wide Link Bracelet 41.8 Grams NrEstate Diamond 17.78ct Carved Emerald 18k Gold Round Earrings 15.5 Grams NrAntique Deco 0.65ct Diamond Platinum Eternity Band Ring NrEstate Diamond 7.80ct Aquamarine 18k Gold Floral Halo Cocktail Ring 9.7 Grams Nr18ct/ 18k White Gold 3/4 Carat Diamond Exceptional Art Deco Solitaire Ring, 750Diamond 13.45ct Emerald Onyx 18k White Gold Cocktail Ring 8.0 Grams NrWebb Diamond 1.80ct Ruby 18k Gold Platinum Bangle Bracelet 26.2 Grams NrCarrera Carrera Diamond 3.50ct Tanzanite 18k Gold Peacock Pendant $13500 NrDiamond 9.34ct Carved Ruby 18k White Gold Drop Earrings 5.8 Grams NrVintage Heavy 18k Gold Fine Jadeite Jade Genuine Diamond Funky Link BraceletAntique 15ct Gold And Diamond Ring With Red Guilloche Enamel C 1800'sVintage Diamond 5.67ct Emerald 18k Gold Two Tone Earrings 7.6 Grams NrEstate High Quality Platinum Diamond Anniversary Ring Baguettes 4ct T.w F-g Vs1Antique Diamond 2.42ct Ruby Platinum Dome Cocktail Ring 12.3 Grams Nr**estate Carved Green Jade Pearl 4pts Diamond Pendant Brooch 11.6 Grams Estate Diamond 12.5mm Pearl 14k White Gold Bow Earrings 12.4 Grams NrEstate Fancy Yellow Diamond 14k White Gold Stud Earrings NrFine 18ct /18k Gold Art Deco Cultured Pearl And Diamond Necklace Estate Diamond Pearl 14k Yellow Gold Drop Pendant 5.1 Grams Nr18ct/18k Gold Victorian Art Nouveau Enamel Diamond & Seed/natural PendantSimon G 1.80ct Diamond 18k Gold Two Tone Floral Bracelet 27.8 Grams NrEstate Diamond 9.01ct Sapphire 18k White Gold Ring NrUnusual Vintage 18ct Yellow Gold 0.50ct (0.54ct) Diamond Halo Cluster RingVintage Platinum 0.66ct Diamond Eternity Band Ring Size 6Estate Turquoise 14.10ct Diamond 18k Gold Flower Earrings 17.5 Grams NrDiamond 6.40ct Opal 18k Yellow Gold Ring 5.2 Grams NrEstate 9.50 Mm Natural Japanese Salt Water Akoya Pearl Diamond Necklace 18k GoldAntique Diamond Pearl 18k Gold 6-strand Pendant 15.5" Necklace 52.9 Grams NrAntique Victorian .90 Ct. Vs2 Old European Cut Diamond & Platinum Cocktail RingAntique Diamond Ruby Pearl 18k Yellow Gold Swirl Pin 7.1 Grams NrEstate 1.37 Ct Natural Vvs Blue Sapphire Diamond 14k White Gold Stud EarringsEstate 3.45ct Diamond 18k White Gold Elongated Links Bracelet 17.6 Grams NrEstate 0.99ct Diamond 18k White Gold Wide Band Curved Ring 14.8 Grams NrEstate 0.50ct Diamond 14k White Gold Dangle Drop Earrings NrDesigner Gabriel & Co Diamond 14k Gold Leaf Vine Wide Band Ring 8.6 Grams NrAntique Edwardian Or Early Art Deco 14k Gold Chrysoprase Diamond RingEstate 2.04ct Diamond 18k Gold Flexible Crisscross Band Ring 12.9 Grams NrPlatinum/950 Pair Of Art Deco Diamond And Cultured Pearl Drop Earrings1/2 Carat Princes Cut Diamond 18ct/ 18k Gold, 750 Exceptional Solitaire RingEstate Diamond 18k Yellow Gold Buckle Bangle Bracelet 33.9 Grams NrExcellent Vintage Platinum And 3 Stone Diamond Ring, 40pts. - Size M18ct/ 18k Gold, Art Deco 9 Carat Amethyst, Diamond And Seed Pearl Drop EarringsEgl Usa Vintage Platinum 3.41ct Vs Diamond Cocktail Ring W/1.16ct Ctr. Size 6.75Vintage 14k White Gold Elegant 1.64ct Vs/g Diamond Pendant On Chain Necklace18ct/ 18k Gold Diamond & Opal Fine Victorian Cluster Ring, 750Antique 2ctw Fine Old Euro Diamond Sapphire Platinum Filigree Art Deco Ring 6.251953 Superb Vintage 18ct Solid Gold & Platinum Three Stone Diamond Ring9ct/ 9k Gold Diamond & Moonstone Victorian Drop Earrings, 37518ct/18k Gold Sapphire And Diamond Art Deco Cluster Ring, 750Estate Diamond Ruby Sapphire 18k Gold Rope Cable Band Ring 7.1 Grams Nr18ct/ 18k White Gold Diamond Designer Earrings, Jmw, 750