The idea of birthstones seems to go pretty far back but I’ve yet to find much trustworthy information on the whys and wherefores. In 1870 Tiffany & Co. published a poem with the traditional birthstones of English speaking countries, which sort of codified them. As new gemstones are discovered the calendar is sometimes modified to include them. (For instance adding pink tourmaline to October-why couldn’t they have left well enough alone? And tanzanite to December-now that’s an upgrade!)
April has remained steadfastly diamond.
“She who from April dates her years,
Diamonds shall wear, lest bitter tears
For vain repentance flow; this stone,
Emblem of innocence, is known.”
Gemstones, especially diamonds, are graded by four ‘C’s:
Color-intensity and purity
Clarity-a lack of flaws and inclusions
Cut-the technical perfection of the faceting, does it maximize the impact of the stone?
Carats-weight A carat is .2 grams. It comes from carob; supposedly because its seeds are of extremely even weight and size so were used for measurement. Since large stones are rarer than small stones prices rise exponentially as stones get larger. Twice the size is not twice the price, it could be several times the price.
Diamonds are classified as native elements-they’re minerals formed from a single element. Gold and silver in their purest forms are native elements. Diamonds are composed of pure carbon. The way the carbon atoms bond is what gives diamond its legendary hardness.
The word diamond comes from the Greek word adamas, unconquerable.
Don’t confuse hardness with durability. It’s a significant aspect of it, but diamond’s rigid structure can make it brittle as well as extremely hard. (This is why a lot of the old destructive hit it with something because diamonds won’t break tests are really bad things.)
People have been mining diamonds for millennia. (Historians are sure it’s at least 3000 years, some estimate up to 6000 years.) India was the only source of the gem for most of human history.
The most productive mines were in southeast India. In the state of Andhra Pradesh there are still ruins of a fortified city called Golconda which was close to many productive mines and was the major market for the diamond trade. Its vaults at one point held the Koh-i-noor and Hope diamond, amongst the most famous gemstones in history.
The word Golconda came to be used in Europe to reference riches beyond imagining. In John Keats’ time the name still held a mythical connotation of wealth and mystery. (Like Xanadu did for Coleridge.)
Hast thou from the caves of Golconda, a gem
Pure as the ice-drop that froze on the mountain?
Bright as the humming-bird’s green diadem,
When it flutters in sun-beams that shine through a fountain?
Hast thou a goblet for dark sparkling wine?
That goblet right heavy, and massy, and gold?
And splendidly mark’d with the story divine
Of Armida the fair, and Rinaldo the bold?
Hast thou a steed with a mane richly flowing?
Hast thou a sword that thine enemy’s smart is?
Hast thou a trumpet rich melodies blowing?
And wear’st thou the shield of the fam’d Britomartis?
What is it that hangs from thy shoulder, so brave,
Embroidered with many a spring peering flower?
Is it a scarf that thy fair lady gave?
And hastest thou now to that fair lady’s bower?
Ah! courteous Sir Knight, with large joy thou art crown’d;
Full many the glories that brighten thy youth!
I will tell thee my blisses, which richly abound
In magical powers to bless, and to sooth.
On this scroll thou seest written in characters fair
A sun-beamy tale of a wreath, and a chain;
And, warrior, it nurtures the property rare
Of charming my mind from the trammels of pain.
This canopy mark: ’tis the work of a fay;
Beneath its rich shade did King Oberon languish,
When lovely Titania was far, far away,
And cruelly left him to sorrow, and anguish.
There, oft would he bring from his soft sighing lute
Wild strains to which, spell-bound, the nightingales listened;
The wondering spirits of heaven were mute,
And tears ‘mong the dewdrops of morning oft glistened.
In this little dome, all those melodies strange,
Soft, plaintive, and melting, for ever will sigh;
Nor e’er will the notes from their tenderness change;
Nor e’er will the music of Oberon die.
So, when I am in a voluptuous vein,
I pillow my head on the sweets of the rose,
And list to the tale of the wreath, and the chain,
Till its echoes depart; then I sink to repose.
Adieu, valiant Eric! with joy thou art crown’d;
Full many the glories that brighten thy youth,
I too have my blisses, which richly abound
In magical powers, to bless and to sooth.
Diamonds were only discovered elsewhere in the world in 1725 (after the Indian mines were nearly spent) when they were found by gold miners in Brazil. (Just seventy years before Keats was born!) Brazil became the world’s major diamond source for over a century until they were discovered in South Africa.
Originally diamonds weren’t cut. It was believed that they had magical properties that would be destroyed by cutting them. It was only in the 1300s that people began cutting them with simple table cuts, the cuts growing more intricate over time.
Flawless diamonds are pure carbon. In nature the rare colors in diamonds come from chemical inclusions or disruptions in their crystal structure. Red and violet from trace elements are the rarest colored diamonds and so the most valuable, blue is also highly prized. Brown is caused by a disruption in the molecular structure and is generally less valued.
Today fancy diamonds can be created using extreme heat and radiation. So like many other stones it’s important to be careful of your sources, artificially colored stones are less valuable than untreated stones.
Although Marilyn Monroe told us that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, Christina Rossetti has her own reminder:
An Emerald Is As Green As Grass
Christina Georgina Rossetti
An emerald is as green as grass;
A ruby red as blood;
A sapphire shines as blue as heaven;
A flint lies in the mud.
A diamond is a brilliant stone,
To catch the world’s desire;
An opal holds a fiery spark;
But a flint holds fire.