Diamonds Really are Forever

A symbol of romance, a talisman against evil and a recognition of power, diamonds have endured throughout history as something a bit special. What’s behind our lasting love of this gemstone?

The word ‘diamond’ comes from the Greek word ‘adamas’, which translates to ‘unconquerable’. Initially, this referred to a diamond’s hardness and ability to cut everything from metal to other priceless gemstones, but it soon meant much more – wearing a diamond came to symbolise protection, helping one to be ‘unconquered’ in battle. At one point, diamonds were even thought to cure illness and heal wounds when digested. Not something anyone would recommend today.

Unconquerable love

The idea of a diamond as symbolising ‘unconquerable’ love and commitment can first be seen in Roman times, when the gemstones were used to decorate betrothal (truth) rings. When, in the 13th century Pope Innocent III declared that a couple must undergo a waiting period between a betrothal and a marriage ceremony, diamond rings were used to signify the couple’s commitment during this time. They also became a symbol of power in European courts with their unconquerability linked to the idea of being divine.

European monarchs battled it out for the biggest and most exquisite diamonds for their adornments. In 1530, the first Crown Jewels were established by King François I of France and contained 14 diamonds, 11 of which were set in Queen Claude’s necklace. Across the Channel, in 1589, Elizabeth I of England acquired the famous ‘Mirror of Portugal’ for herself.

India, where diamonds were first discovered over 2,000 years ago, dominated the market until the 1700s when their supplies began to decline. Brazil took over the trade for the next 150 years, until Englishman Cecil Rhodes discovered them in South Africa in 1866 and established the De Beers mining company 22 years later. By 1900, De Beers controlled a staggering 90% of the world’s production of rough diamonds and in 1947, the company’s marketing campaign coined the famous phrase ‘A diamond is forever’.

Fabulously Famous Diamonds

The Taylor–Burton Diamond

As the name suggests, this 68-carat diamond was bought by actor Richard Burton for his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor in 1968. The Hollywood star paid $1,050,000, which set a new record for a public auction of a jewel. Following the couple’s second divorce in 1978, she sold the stone for an estimated $3-5million to a New York jeweller, with part of the proceeds going to fund a hospital in Botswana.

In 1968 actor Richard Burton paid $1,050,000 for a 68-carat diamond for his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor

The Tiffany Diamond

This 128.51-carat diamond was discovered in South Africa, in 1878, and originally cut from a rough stone of 287.42 carats by Tiffany the Jeweller. The 90-facet faced gemstone is worth $30 million and has impressive Hollywood appeal. It was worn by Audrey Hepburn to promote Breakfast At Tiffany’s in the 1950s and appeared on the 2019 Oscars red carpet around Lady Gaga’s neck. Most recently, it was worn by Beyoncé Knowles in Tiffany’s 2021 About Love campaign.

Cullinan I, ‘Star of Africa’

Even if you haven’t heard of this diamond, you’ve almost certainly seen it. The Star of Africa is the main stone on the English Sovereign’s Spectre and currently resides in the Tower of London. It consists of a whopping 530.20 carats and was cut from the largest rough diamond ever to be found at 3,106 carats.

The World’s Most Expensive Diamond

The most expensive diamond ever sold is the 59.6-carat CTF Pink Star Diamond. It was discovered in a South African mine in 1999 by De Beers and weighed 132.5 carat in the rough. The Gemological Institute of America rated its colour as ‘Fancy Vivid Pink’ and, as a result of its rarity, The Pink Star took 20 months to cut into a Mixed Oval Brilliant Shape. According to Sothebys, it was sold to a privately owned conglomerate in 2017 for a staggering $71.2 million.