Diamond is the most popular of all gemstones because of its great hardness and unique brilliance and fire. They usually occur in nature as eight-sided crystals known as octahedrons (eight faces). To best use their natural form and unique optical properties, they are most commonly fashioned into the 58-facet cut known as the “modern round brilliant.”
It is thought that diamond mining as an industry originated in India, sometime between 800 and 600 B.C. The oldest definite evidence of the use of diamond as an ornament is a Greek statue (now in the British Museum) which has two small diamonds for eyes, and is dated by experts at the 5th Century B.C. Some scholars think that the campaigns of Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. may have quickened commerce with the Orient, and a few diamonds found their way to Europe in the next 400 years.
But at the time of Christ, the diamond was still a rarity. Pliny the elder, the great Roman philosopher of the 1st century A.D., describes six kinds of diamonds, commenting on their unspeakable hardness, and saying that they were so rare as to be owned “only by kings.” He goes on to say that the diamond would withstand the test of being pounded with a hammer on an anvil, without breaking; and that the only way to soften one was to soak it in goat’s blood. These two quaint, incorrect ideas persisted for many years afterward.
The custom of wearing a diamond as a personal adornment, was introduced in Europe about the year 1430. A lady of the French court, one Agnes Sorel, is usually given credit for the idea. Following her leadership, fashionable women throughout the continent created a demand for diamonds, and the 15th century marked the beginning of a “boom” in the Indian mines which lasted over 300 years.
Cos Altobelli is a third generation jeweler and president of Altobelli Jewelers in Burbank, previously located in North Hollywood for 60 years. His specialty is appraising for all functions and acting as an expert witness. He holds a graduate degree from the Gemological Institute of America and the title of Certified Gemologist Appraiser from the American Gem Society. He is the author of three appraisal books and has appeared on ABC-TV’s “Prime Time Live.” Altobelli can be reached at (818) 763-5151.