1902 Encyclopedia > Diamond > The Diamond in History

(Part 1)

The Diamond in History

This gem, the most highly valued and brilliant of precious stone, is also remarkable for its history and it peculiar physical and chemical properties. Though not always accurately distinguished from other similar stones, it seems to have attracted notice at a very early period, especially in India, the chief source of supply in ancient times. The old Jewish doctors regarded the jahalom, the third in the second row of stones in the breast-plate of the high priest (Exod. xxxix. 11), as the diamond, and it is thus translated in the English and other versions. But as each stone bore the name of one of the tribes, and there is no reason to believe that any method of polishing such hard stones, still less of engraving letters on them, was then known, the identification cannot be accurate. Among the Greeks it is first mentioned about three centuries B.C. under the name of adamas (adamas, Gk.), "the unsubduable," referring to its hardness and power of resisting fire. The same name was previously given to a metal highly valued from its extreme hardness for armour and weapons, and the twofold use of the term continued long both in Greek and Latin. The name of the gem in our own and most modern languages is derived from this old name, occurring in the form diamas in Albertus Magnus and other authors of the 13th century. Curiously enough, the French aimant, applied to the magnet, comes form the same term in its other signification of an ore or metal.

The fullest account of the adamas as a stone is found in Pliny, who says it exceeds in value all human things, and its use was confined to kings, and to few even of them. He mentions six varieties, the most remarkable being the Indian and Arabian, of such unspeakable hardness that when struck with a hammer even the iron an anvil were torn asunder – "ita respuentes ictum,ut ferrum utringque dissultet, incudesque etiam ipsi dissiliant." It also resisted the fire, and could only be subdued and broken down when dipped in fresh warm goat’s blood. Similar fables continued to prevail during the Middle Age, and even yet have hardly vanished from popular belief. As an ornamental stone it was highly esteemed during the early times of the Roman empire, as some scandalus stories recorded by Juvenal testify, though only stone with naturally polished faces could be used. This fact is proved not only by the words of Seneca –" nec secari adamas aut caedi vel deteri potest" – and others, but from specimens of diamonds set in gold from classic times and from the Middle Ages. This unworkable character long greatly limited both its use and its value; and the more highly coloured rubies, and even emeralds and sapphires, were often preferred to it. It was only after Ludwig van Berquen (or Berghem, as he is often only after Ludwig van Berquen (or Berghem, as he is often named) in 1476 discovered the mode of cutting and polishing it, that the diamond slowly regained the first place among gems. Even in 16th century (1550), Benvenuto Cellini (Trattato dell’ orificerio, cap. i.) assigns it only the third rank in value, estimating a perfect ruby of one carat weight as worth 800 scudi d’oro (each equal to about 4s.), a similar emerald at 400, an equal diamond at 100, and a sapphire at 10 scudi. In the same century the use of the diamond for cutting glass and engraving gems seem also to have become known.

Read the rest of this article:
Diamond - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries