Monday, November 06, 2006

The origin of "diamond"

The word 'diamond' conjures up a host of illusions - wealth, treasure, excitement, romance and marriage, to name a few. In fact diamonds are amongst the most fascinating objects in human perception; they go beyond the mere technical definition of gem or precious stone. They exude an inexplicable aura and hold out an exotic allure unmatched by anything else.

The word 'diamond' originates from the Greek word 'adamao', which translates roughly into 'I control' or 'I subdue'. The descriptive form of 'adamao' is 'adamas', which was a term used to indicate the unconquerable; over a period of time the word came to be used to describe the diamond, which is one of the hardest substances known to science. The earliest diamonds were uncut and were therefore considered to be symbols of purity and strength rather than beauty.

For all its exclusivity and sophistication, the diamond comes of very humble parentage indeed. The material that goes to make the diamond is actually the very common carbon. Very early in the earth's history, when the solid substance of the earth began to condense and form a sphere, the bowels of the earth were subjected to enormous pressure and temperature. These extreme conditions resulted in the crystallization of the carbon deposits in the center of the earth. Later, with the cooling of the earth's surface and volcanic activity, the rocks carrying the diamond crystals were thrown upwards, where diamonds were later discovered, encased in vertical volcanic tubes. Many diamond-bearing rocks were also washed away into oceans and rivers and subsequently discovered in these locations.

The lustrous phenomenon known as the diamond today was known in India long before its introduction in the European countries sometime around the twelfth century. The stone was originally the preserve of royalty; in fact history has a record of the royal order passed by King Louis IX banning the use of diamonds by anyone other than the royal family. Gradually with the expansion of the diamond trade these prized pellets came to adorn the aristocracy as well as the wealthy trading class.

The value-determining factors of the diamond are the four 'c's carat, color, cut and clarity. The carat is the weight of the stone and is also measured in points, with one carat being equal to a hundred points, or two hundred milligrams. Carat is very often mistaken for size and is sometimes confused with the 'karat', which is a measure of the purity of gold. Larger diamonds are fewer to find and therefore cost more than smaller ones, with other attributes remaining the same.

As regards color, a chemically pure, perfect diamond is colorless and one of the most sought-after qualities of a diamond is the fiery brilliance of light emanating from the colorless crystal. While diamonds come in a wide range of hues, color variations are very fine and can be discerned only by an expert. Naturally colored stones are called 'colored fancies' and are rare and highly priced.

The 'cut' of the diamond determines its angles and proportions and this is the aspect of the stone that is most dependent on human skill. An accomplished cutter can create a thing of unparalleled beauty and brilliance from the rough stone. Diamond cutting and polishing is a craft that calls for great skill and practice. The cutting of the diamond involves polishing tiny surfaces on the diamond known as facets, thereby creating the various attributes of the stone such as crown, culet, table, girdle and pavilion.

The clarity of the stone is in inverse proportion to its imperfections, or 'inclusions' as they are called. These imperfections may range from the presence of bits of carbon in the stone to cracks or 'feathers'. When light penetrates the diamond, the facets of the diamond reflect and refract the beams and this is what imbues the crystal with its extraordinary dazzle. If any substance comes in the way of this dispersion, the brilliance of the stone will be impacted. In the scale of clarity diamonds are graded from 'Flawless' to 'Included '; totally flawless stones are very rare to find and are considered priceless.

The first diamond mines were discovered in India and it took a millennium for diamond deposits to be discovered in other parts of the world such as South Africa, Brazil and Russia. The latest to join the diamond fraternity is Australia where the Argyle mines produce the exclusive and incomparable pink diamonds.

In the annals of time, diamonds have been considered synonymous with wealth, status, strength and longevity. Some cultures have also associated the crystal with protection, mystery, poisons and the occult sciences. The tradition of gifting a diamond engagement was commenced in the fifteenth century when Archduke Maxmillian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy. Gradually the practice percolated down to become a common custom and is now manifesting as the all-pervading solitaire without which no betrothal is considered complete.

Diamonds occupy a unique place in human history and culture and will continue to do so; they are truly eternal and forever.

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