The stone and the legend

- Ardelle T. Merton () - December 28, 2007 - 12:00am

“How much do I love thee? Well, let’s look at my bank account.” This is how a modern day man smitten with his lady would probably reply. Long gone are the days when chivalrous gents would scale mountains, sail the seven seas and discover alien terrain all for winning the hand of his dream girl. We’re living in the modern times of a material world, and if a fine gentleman wishes to marry his lady, he saves up a mini-fortune and presents her with a diamond ring. The diamond engagement ring has become the requisite symbol of a couple’s lifelong commitment to each other.

“A diamond is forever,” the ads tell us, and the romantics affirm, so is true love. A diamond on a lady’s finger is a sign that she is loved, cherished and eternalized. Men, whether they’re beasts or knights in shining armor, can sometimes sweep a woman off her feet, only if they’re lucky. But diamonds…they take a woman’s breath away, not just sometimes, but always.

What is it about diamonds that’s so fascinating? Fueled by awe, research led me to unearth gems of trivia about the brilliant treasures. Diamonds are prized above all other gems for brilliance, purity, and steadfastness. The gemstones had taken time to earn their reputation. The word diamond, in fact, is rooted in the Greek word adamas, which means indomitable or indestructible. Early legend holds that freedom would be granted to captives who could crush a diamond – a virtually impossible task. It was also believed that diamonds could ward off evil and assure might in battle. It’s no wonder, then, that diamonds became symbols for the strength of love and the power of kings.

Although no one is sure when diamonds came to be known, Indian manuscripts from the fourth century B.C. describe gemstones with diamond-like qualities. Writings of the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder confirm that Romans of the first century A.D. prized diamonds but that only kings and the very wealthiest citizens possessed them.

It was in 1870 that the first diamond mine opened in Africa, and diamond prospectors flocked to the continent in a movement like the California gold rush. African mines began supplying the world with more rough diamond than had ever been available. With technological advances, new shapes and greatly improved cuts were introduced.

So famous and infamous are diamonds that the precious stones are history makers in themselves. Engraved in our history books is the Affair of the Diamond Necklace - a mysterious incident in the 1780s at the court of Louis XVI of France, involving the queen Marie Antoinette. The wife of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, whose reputation was already tarnished by gossip and scandal, was implicated in a crime involving an extravagant necklace of 17 large diamonds.

Even our legends are testimony to the legendary mystique of diamonds. The infamous blue Hope Diamond, weighing 44.52 carats, is reputed to be unlucky for its owner. It is named after a former owner, Henry Philip Hope. Perhaps the most notorious gem in history, the great blue diamond has left behind a trail of so many unlucky owners that it has been popularly said to be cursed. The Hope was mined in India, and the 112-carat gem was brought to France in 1668. It was said that a curse rested on it because a thief was said to have stolen the diamond from the eye of a statue of the Hindu goddess Sita, wife of Rama. Over the centuries, the Hope Diamond was passed on to the world’s most powerful, but wherever it went, it apparently brought grave luck to its holder. The Hope Diamond was finally donated in 1958 and is now on permanent display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, USA.

Our pop culture adores diamonds too. Who could forget Marilyn Monroe when she sang Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend? That scene of Marilyn draped in a glittery deluge of diamonds and a fancy slip dress, with gentlemen in courtly attendance is forever embedded in our entertainment history. The song, the woman, and the gemstone are icons.

From history to legend to pop culture, owned by the world’s wealthiest to couples rich with true love, diamonds aren’t just for show and glamour. They are beautifully symbolic. To wear a diamond is to wear a touch of legend, a bit of history, and a piece of the world itself.

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