Diamonds, precious gems, and gold jewelry are a wonder to behold and a luxury to possess. Many battles and wars have been waged because of their beauty and value, and they became the spoils of victory throAugh many centuries with the last being WWII.
Does possessing them only represent wealth and privilege? Back then it did, and many royal families all through Europe and Asia had their own goldsmiths busily creating jewelry for kings and queens and their entire court.
That was then and this is now. Things have certainly changed a whole lot since then. In ancient Roman and medieval times, a slave or serf in possession of a simple gold ring would be put to death on site on the pretence they had obviously stolen it!
What made diamonds and precious gems so valuable back then and even today? I mean, to some it’s just a shiny rock or metallic thing that came out of the ground, for Pete’s sake!
Rough diamonds or gemstones are usually found in pebble or crystal shapes. A rough diamond found in a riverbed could be mistaken for ordinary inexpensive quartz or agate, and those that were identified correctly were difficult to cut into shapes. The size most common was the “cabochon cut” (rounded on top and flat on the bottom). Actual faceting of gems did not happen until the late thirteenth century or a little later and then it was very crude. These were called “rose cuts” (a few facets on top with a flat bottom). Over the centuries diamond and gem cutting evolved from “old miners” (still a bit crude, not quite round, but it had more faceting and no longer a flat bottom) to “old and new European cuts” (where they become noticeably rounder) with better precise faceting and a tapered bottom known as the pavilion.
In the turn of the twentieth century prestigious jewelry companies with rich and demanding clientele such as Tiffany and Cartier wanted better, so the cutters in the Netherlands, and especially Belgium, were able to perfect the art of diamond cutting to where it is today.
And yes, it became an art form that involved taking a raw diamond crystal and by centuries of techniques and technology maximizing the cutting of raw diamonds and rendering the finished products to be the most exquisite, most brilliant, and scintillating cut diamonds the world had ever seen! Soon diamonds and gems were not just for the rich and famous – everyone wanted to enjoy and wear one or even covet.
In 840 Pope Nicholas I said that an engagement ring should signify a man’s intent to marry and that usually involved a metal or gold band for a betrothal ring.
It was supposedly the Archduke Maximilian of Austria who presented Mary of Burgundy the first diamond engagement ring in the year 1477.
And after that the rest is history! A diamond is a diamond right? Not quite… A diamond’s value is determined by a few factors as many of you know as The Four C’s: carat, color, clarity and cut (I recognize one more factor so 5 C’s… Cost is also an important factor.) All these factors combined determine a diamonds beauty and value, or lack of. A darkly colored, highly flawed, and irregularly cut diamond simply will not sparkle and is not worth a hill of beans. Paying a great deal of money for that piece of diamond junk is not what one should do, yet I see it nearly every day with folks been getting bamboozled into buying such diamonds since forever. It’s common–sense folks. If it don’t sparkle it’s not worth buying, kinda like buying a blind, three–legged English pointer – that dog ain’t gonna hunt!
I have been preaching from my golden pulpit till I have been blue in the face to educate the naive before buying that really expensive piece of compressed coal, but many of my inebriated readers insist on purchasing diamonds while on cruises or in foreign lands because “it looked like such a great deal!”
Nine out of ten times they got nowhere near what they paid for and now I have to tell them they were taken over the coals (pun intended!) and what they purchased for ten thousand or so dollars is nearly next to worthless. Not exactly being absolutely brilliant, is it?
Richard Alan is a designer/goldsmith and owner of The Harbor Goldsmith, Marco’s go–to jeweler and a purveyor of fine diamonds since the early 1970’s. He welcomes your questions and comments about all that glitters at www.harborgoldsmith.com.