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Romancing the Stone...the Myth, Legend and Background of Diamonds

From the earliest days, stories and myths about diamonds have been filled with tales of mystical power, beauty and love. Some of the legends associated with diamonds include a city of diamonds protected by snakes, and diamonds that were impervious to the hottest fires.

Throughout history, the need to possess the glittering stones caused people to lie, cheat, steal and even kill.

The word diamond comes from the Greek word “adamas” meaning invincible. Diamonds were first used about 3,000 years ago in India and probably valued for their ability to refract light, although they were also said to be a strong talisman that protected the wearer in battle and warded off evil.

During the Dark Ages, St. Hildegard wrote that a diamond, held while making the sign of the cross, healed wounds and cured the sick. Hoping to cure sickness, people even tried eating them, although this practice was largely unsuccessful and had stopped by the Middle Ages, when diamonds became valued for their worth, rather than their healing properties.

It was during this time that diamonds acquired the reputation for being poisonous. The owners of diamond mines perpetrated this myth, in an attempt to stop workers from swallowing diamonds and thus smuggling them out of the mines.

Two of the world’s largest and most beautiful diamonds were discovered in India during the Middle Ages – the Blue Hope and the Koor-I-Noor. In fact, India still provides the foremost diamond polishing industry in the world today.

Smaller diamond finds continued, in Borneo, Brazil and a few isolated locations in North America, but even those finds weren’t enough to keep up with the demand, as India’s diamond supply dwindled. It was in the mid-19th century that the biggest diamond rush occurred, with the discovery of diamonds near the Orange River in South Africa. Diamonds were also discovered in Australia, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Australia’s potential as a diamond producer became proven. In 1979, the Argyle pipe was discovered near Lake Argyle. It is the richest diamond deposit in the world, and now produces over a third of the world’s diamonds every year.

The most sought-after diamonds used to be white diamonds, until pink diamonds were discovered in the Argyle. Diamonds come in white, pink, yellow, blue and green. Green is probably the rarest because it has the least penetration of color and often the color is disappears when the stone is cut.

How to Pick a Winner

1. CUT. Not the shape of the stone, but the quality of its facets.

2. CLARITY. Clarity levels start at Flawless and descend from Very Very Slight (VVS) to Very Slight (VS) and Slightly Included (SI). Clarity measures the number of flaws or inclusions in a diamond.

3. CARAT. The weight of a diamond. One carat equals about 200 milligrams.

4. COLOR. Transparent diamonds (those created from 100 percent carbon) are rated on a scale from D (clear) through Z (light yellow). Grade D is the most prestigious, but, because they are so rare, natural diamonds with tints of pink, blue or purple have a cachet all their own.

How Hard is It?

No matter how it’s made, a diamond scores a 10 on the Mohs scale.
1. Easily scratched by a fingernail. 2. Just scratched by a fingernail. 3. Scratches and is scratched by a copper coin. 4. Not scratched by a copper coin and doesn’t scratch. 5. Just scratches glass and is easily scratched by a knife. 6. Easily scratches glass and is just scratched by a file. 7. Not scratched by a file. 8. Scratched only by corundum and diamond. 9. Will scratch anything but a diamond. 10.Scratched only by another diamond.

Ten of the Most Famous Diamonds and who owns Them:
There are more than 350 named diamonds that are famous for their histories.

The Cullinan is the largest cut diamond in the world. It was found in South Africa and was named for the owner of the mining company. The Cullinan diamond was 3106 carats, and was cut into 105 stunning diamonds. The largest was named the “Star of Africa” and is 530 carats. In 1907 this diamond was given to King Edward VII of England, and set into the Royal Scepter. It is kept, along with the other Crown Jewels, in the Tower of London.

The Cullinan II is 317.40 carats. The color is white and is the cushion-shaped diamond that is in the center-front of the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain. It is also in the Tower of London with the British Crown Jewels.

The Dary-i-Nur is 186 carats, is pink and is in the Iranian Treasury. It is the largest uncut diamond in the world. Its name means “Sea of Light”.

The Dresden Green is 41 carats; it is green, and a very rare type ila diamond of extraordinary quality. It gets its name from the city of Saxony where it had been on display for 200 years. The Dresden Green is now on display at the Albertinium Museum in Dresden.

The Hope Diamond is 45.52 carats, is blue, and is in the Smithsonian Institute. According to legend, a curse was placed on the large, blue diamond after it was stolen from an idol in India. Whether you believe in curses or not, the diamond has had a fascinating past – it was owned by King Louis XIV, stolen during the French Revolution, sold to pay gambling debts, owned and worn almost daily by an American heiress, sold and worn to raise money for charity, and finally donated to the Smithsonian Museum.

The Hortensia is 20 carats, is peach colored and is in the Louvre. It is one of the crown Jewels of France, and was owned by Louis XIV. It was named after Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of Holland, who was the daughter of the Empress Josephine, the stepdaughter of Napoleon Bonaparte and the mother of Napoleon III.

The Kohinoor is 108.93 carats, white and is located in the Tower of London. As with many of the most famous diamonds, there is a curse of death and destruction attached to it. Its name means “Mountain of Light” and legend has it that it actually comes from another diamond also rife with legend, called the “Great Mogul" which was said to have weighed 244 carats and mysteriously disappeared in 1665. The Kohinoor was owned by the first sultan of Mogul, and passed down through generations, until it was given to Queen Victoria. It was recut and now rests in the crown of Queen Elizabeth.

The Orloff is 189.62 carats. It is thought to have weighed about 300 carats when it was discovered. For a while, it was confused with the Great Mogul diamond. One legend of the Orloff is that it was set in the eye of a god statue in the temple of Sri Rangen, and stolen by a French soldier dressed up like a Hindu. He is said to have escaped by swimming down a raging river during a storm. It was eventually sold to Prince Gregory Orloff. In an attempt to win back her heart, he gave it to Catherine the Great, who collected lovers and precious gems with equal passion. She had the diamond mounted on top of the double eagle in the Imperial scepter. It is in the Russian Diamond Fund, Moscow.

The Spoonmaker Diamond has many legends associated with it. (It supposedly got its name when the owner--who is said to have found it sitting on top of a pile of garbage --bartered it to a spoonmaker for three wooden spoons.) More likely is that it was purchased by a Frenchman named Pikot, who bought it from the Maharajah of Madras in India. He took it to France, but was robbed. The diamond ended up at an auction, and was bid on by the notorious Casanova. It was finally bought by Napoleon’s mother, Letizia Ramolino, who later sold her jewelry to help her son escape from Elba. It was bought again by an officer of Tepedelenli, and put into the treasury. When Tepedelenli was killed during a revolt, the entire treasury went to the Palace of Turkey, and the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, now called the “Kasicki” is there.

The Taylor-Burton Diamond is a 69 carat pear-shaped white diamond that was originally called the “Cartier Diamond” after the jeweler paid $1,050,000 for it at an auction. Richard Burton purchased it the day after the auction for Elizabeth Taylor. She later renamed it the Taylor-Burton diamond. Ms. Taylor wore the diamond publicly at a party for Princess Grace’s 40th birthday party in Monaco. She sold the diamond in 1978 and used the funds to build a hospital in Botswana. The diamond was later purchased by Robert Mouawad.







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