The History of Diamonds - how did diamonds come into existence?

Updated: Apr 3

The timeline of diamonds and where it started

Diamonds are considered one of the oldest materials on earth. They are between 1 to 3.5 billion years old. Planet Earth is ‘only’ 4.5 billion years old.

Diamonds are formed at the center of the earth. They only make it to the surface by coincidence, e.g. because of erupting volcanoes, in magma, or molten rock. Diamonds burn up in magma, so rough diamonds need to be protected or insulated inside a piece of kimberlitic rock to make it all the way up.

400 BC : The first Diamonds discovered in India

The earliest known reference to diamonds is a Sanskrit manuscript, "The Lesson of Profit" (Arthasastra) by Kautiliya, 320 to 296 BC.

"A stone (diamond) that is big, heavy, capable of bearing blows, with symmetrical points, capable of scratching (from the inside) a (glass) vessel (filled with water), revolving like a spindle and brilliantly shining is excellent. That diamond, with points lost, without edges and defective on one side is bad."

Greek translation : Adamas or the "unbreakeable".

"The substance that possesses the greatest value, not only among precious stones, but of all human possessions, is adamas; a mineral which for a long time, was known to kings only, and to very few of them...These stones [diamonds] are tested upon the anvil, and will resist the blow to such an extent as to make the iron rebound and the very anvil split asunder."

"These particles are held in great request by engravers, who enclose them in iron, and are enabled thereby, with the greatest facility, to cut the very hardest substances known."

Trading routes from Europe to India become apparent.

Diamonds begin to appear in European jewellery in the 13th and 14th centuries. The earliest European diamond trading capital was Venice, where the first attempts to polish the natural faces and flaws of the diamond originated sometime after 1330. Antwerp, allowing a yearly import of 1000 to 2000 carats until 1725.

Fifteenth century - Antwerp, Belgium

The oldest document proving the existence of the diamond trade in Antwerp dates from 1447. 1475 brought the first diamond polishing wheel infused with a mixture of olive oil and diamond dust: the Scaif, invented by Lodewyk van Berken. With it comes the concept of absolute symmetry in the placement of facets.

Sixteenth century

Not many cities could ‘cut it’ compared to Antwerp in the 16th century. It was the world’s biggest trade center, so its port welcomed 40% of the world’s trade, with a starring role for the diamond industry. The city has been able to hold on to its top position in the global diamond trade ever since.

Seventeenth century

The intrepid French trader, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, was the first European who obtained permissions to visit the Indian diamond fields. Jean-Baptiste discovers the famous "Hope Diamond".

In 1725 new diamond deposits were discovered in Brazil, and production was significantly enlarged. Secondary deposits were discovered in South Africa. In 1870, the first primary deposits are found in Kimberley. In 1949 Russian deposits are found in Siberia, adding 15 million carats to world production.

Nineteenth century - the first De Beers diamond mine

Two simple farmers Johannes Nicolaas and Diederik Arnoldus De Beer bought their South African farm ‘Vooruitzicht’ in 1865. They had no idea it would be a diamond mine.

In 1871, they found a rough 83.5-carat diamond. The brothers sold their land for 6,800,000 British pounds.

The ‘Cullinan’ diamond was later discovered in South Africa, weighing in at 3,106 carat. The diamond was named after the owner of the mine and split into 9 cut stones: Cullinan I to IX. All 9 stones were donated to the British royal family.

Tolkowsky (1919)

No less than 80% of all colorless diamonds are brilliant-cut. This cut consists of 57 planes or facets and was refined by Antwerp local hero Marcel Tolkowsky. Tolkowsky was the first to grade diamonds based on hearts and arrows patterning.


Jewish diamond cutters and traders that were not able to find refuge, were deported to concentration camps during World War II. Of the 1,645 members of the Antwerp Diamond Bourse, only 355 remained.

The Belgian and British governments founded the ‘Diamond Office’ to encourage Jewish ‘diamantaires’ to return to Antwerp soon after the Second World War.


Up until the beginning of the 1970’s, most of rough diamonds that were traded in Antwerp, were also cut there. Some of the cutting trade has moved to lower income countries since then, although larger and more complex stones are still cut in Antwerp.

2002 - No to conflict diamonds

In 2002, the Kimberley-certificate is implemented to curb conflict diamond trading and was implemented in 2003.

2014 - A record year for Antwerp diamond trade

The Antwerp diamond trade booked a record revenue in 2014. More than 227 million carat rough and cut diamonds were traded, estimated at 58 billion dollars. This makes diamonds one of Belgium’s most important export products.

Today (Current)

Today’s diamond market presents producers with four major challenges: reserve replenishment, environmental challenges, increasing social awareness, increasing pressures on operating costs.


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