“She who from April dates her years,
diamonds shall wear,
lest bitter tears
for vain repentance flows”
Diamonds are the rich cousins of graphite. Both are crystalline forms of pure carbon. The enormous differences in their properties are a result of the way the carbon atoms are bonded together. In graphite, carbon atoms are arranged in sheets that easily slide past each other, which makes graphite ideal as a lubricant and, of course, pencil lead. Diamond crystals, on the other hand, are a tight-fisted network of carbon atoms securely held in four directions, making it the hardest naturally-occurring substance in the world.
Diamonds’ cold, sparkling fire has held us spell-bound for centuries, inspiring rich, passionate myths of romance, intrigue, power, greed, and magic. Ancient Hindus, finding diamonds washed out of the ground after thunderstorms, believed they were created by bolts of lightning. In our place and time, the diamond is a symbol of enduring love, and often graces engagement rings.
The name diamond is derived from the ancient Greek αδάμας (adámas), “proper”, “unalterable”, “unbreakable”, “untamed”, from ἀ-(a-), “un-” + δαμάω (damáō), “I overpower”, “I tame”. Diamonds are thought to have been first recognised and mined in India, where significant alluvial deposits of the stone could be found many centuries ago along the rivers Penner, Krishna and Godvari. Diamonds have been known in India for at least 3,000 years but most likely 6,000 years.
Some diamonds seem to have lived lives of their own. One legendary stone in the diamond hall of fame is the Koh-i-noor (“Mountain of Light”). The Koh-i-noor diamond’s early history is shrouded in time. It is believed to be 5,000 years old, and was featured in the great Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata. Originally owned by the Rajah of Malwa in India, the Koh-i-noor has since been a player in victories and defeats spanning India, Persia, and Afghanistan. It was in the possession of the great Mogul dynasty from 1526 to 1739. Its owners included Shah Jehan, who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his queen Mumtaz. The Persian invader Nadir Shah briefly possessed it until his assassination in 1747. The jewel then fell into the hands of Afghan rulers who eventually surrendered it to the Rajah of Punjab, Ranjit Singh.
Two years after Ranjit Singh’s death in 1839, Punjab became part of India under British rule. The stone was presented to Queen Victoria, who had it cut from its original 187 carats to 108 carats in an attempt to further enhance its beauty. After her death, the diamond became part of the British crown jewels. Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) wore it in her crown at her 1937 coronation.