DIAMOND. The images and symbols abound with just the mention of this mineral, a natural crystalline substance that exemplifies wealth, prosperity, status, and everlasting love. Even lightning, magic, healing, protection and poisoning have been associated with this gem.

The story of the diamond is a long, unwieldy tale that transcends time and numerous cultures. It is the oldest item that anyone can own - it's three billion years in age, a strategic and high tech super material for our technological society that is formed in the earth's interior and shot to the surface by extraordinary volcanoes. It is carbon in its most concentrated form, composed solely of carbon -- the chemical element fundamental to all life, thus it is a native element. It is also extremely pure, containing only trace amounts of boron and nitrogen. The diamond's close cousins are mineral graphite and amorphous carbon.

In unraveling the history and associations of diamond, we also need to know the history of the words attached to it: did the words spoken by the Indians and Greeks signify the same things they do today, or something very different? "Diamond" comes from the Greek adamao, transliterated as "adamao," "I tame" or "I subdue." The adjective "adamas" was used to describe the hardest substance known, and eventually became synonymous with diamond.

The cultures that played a role in bringing the diamond into prominence are numerous. They are Greek, Indian, Old English, French, German, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Polish, Japanese, American, African, Korean, and Chinese.

Small numbers of diamonds began appearing in European regalia and jewelry in the 13th century, set as an accent point among pearls in splendid wrought gold. By the 16th century the diamond became larger and more prominent in response to the development of diamond faceting which enhances it brilliance and fire, and in the 17th and 18th centuries the diamond presided as the last word in representing all that was wealth, prestige and power. An act of Saint Louis (Louis IX of France, 1214-70) that established a sumptuary law reserving diamonds for the king bespeaks of the rarity of diamonds and the value conferred on them at that time. Within 100 years diamonds appeared in royal jewelry of both men and women, then among the greater European aristocracy.

The earliest diamond-cutting industry is believed to have been in Venice, a trade capital, starting sometime after 1330. There is no recorded explanation for the European upsurge in the diamond's popularity. Nevertheless, the huge import of diamonds during the 17th and 18th centuries is nothing sort of revolutionary. And the tradition of giving rings in the engagement and marriage ceremony as tokens of everlasting love has taken the diamond into its present-day popularity.

This custom of exchanging wedding rings dates back as far as the comic Roman poet Plautus in the 2nd century BCE. Wedding rings were then valued because of interior inscriptions recording the marriage contracts signed in the presence of the Emperor's image. The custom was continued and mostly Christianized by the 4th century by St. Augustine. Byzantine wedding rings are thick gold bands with round or oval bezels depicting the couple face to face, or receiving Christ's blessing of their union.

Knowledge of diamond and its origin starts in India where it was first mined. The first known reference to diamond is a Sanskrit manuscript, the Arthsastra ("The Lesson of Profit") by Kautiliya, a minister to Chandragupta of the Mauryan dynasty in northern India.

And now over the centuries, the diamond continues to embody deep human expression of purity, strength, solarity and eternal love.

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