Diamond and Verse

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:


The 4 ‘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.


Golconda Fort

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.)


On Receiving A Curious Shell


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.


Filed under Gems, Poetry

7 responses to “Diamond and Verse

  1. I think it comes from the Zodiac, translated through the jeweller’s shop. The idea of a gem from a birth month seems like a step back; either they have their significance from a system of archetypes, or they’re just a way to shift stones. That’s why some lists have traditional and modern. I know mystic crystal stuff make you recoil, but attributing Aries’ birthstone to the month of April bother the heck out of me. Damn those marketing meetings!

  2. I’m confused. (Yes, a usual state for me.) But isn’t Aries largely in April? Why shouldn’t they have done that?

    I’m not sure, some sound like they vaguely predate the zodiac. Some give it old testament roots, I’ve seen references to the Mahabharata too, but I can’t find sources I’d trust. Not all the stones even in the traditional list go back that far, plenty of stones have been added on, marketers, as you say. I resent being given pink :p

  3. Laura

    I will take the improvement!

    • Laura

      I mean on a December birthstone. Though I was due in January and have always been attracted to garnets.

      • As Rhissanna pointed out the mystic connections isn’t my thing. But I always figured why not wear the month of the stone in that month, no matter when your birthday? More excuses for jewelry that way!

  4. Pingback: A Note on Inclusions | Magpie's Miscellany

  5. Pingback: Carbon is a girl’s best friend | Magpie's Miscellany

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