Diamond as Symbols of Mystical Power
Throughout the continents and the centuries, diamonds have been believed to convey magical, mystical and medicinal properties. For the better part of the past two millennia, mental illness was considered the work of the devil, so naturally diamonds, formally the lachrymal by-product of the gods, could serve to cure them. Throughout Europe diamonds were believed to calm the mentally ill and ward off devils, phantoms, and nightmares. In China, diamonds were carried on one’s person in the belief that they could thwart evil spirits, serving as a symbol of strength, courage and invincibility. Ancient Indians believed that the human soul could reincarnate as a plant, animal, and, as a gemstone or diamond. The Greek philosopher Plato believed diamonds were living beings, home to celestial spirits. And Greek philosophers after Plato categorized precious stones as either male or female and believed they could “marry” and reproduce.
Diamonds as Medicinal Agents
Minerals were among the earliest curatives. In the Middle Ages, people believed that a sick person would be healed if he slept with a diamond, warmed it with his body, breathed upon it while fasting or wore it close to the skin. Another convention held that by placing a diamond in someone’s mouth they would be cured of the habit of lying. And, if one suspected they might be poisoned, they might wear a diamond talisman, which was believed would prevent the poison from its intended effect.
Ironically, ingested diamond powder was a sure-fire way to kill an enemy, a truism that was tested by the Turkish Sultan Bajazet’s (1447 – 1513) son who attempted to do away with him by slipping large quantities of diamond powder into his food. Two decades later, in l532, Pope Clement VII died as a result of an overdose of pulverized gems, including diamond. Later that century, Catherine de Medici became infamous for resolving disputes by diamond poisoning.
Diamonds and Wealth: the First Hard Currency
In their earliest use, ancient man used the raw, uncut diamond to create tools and carvings. Later, when tribes in Africa and the Middle East expanded their trade with one another, these rare stones were their currency of choice. Throughout the intervening centuries, the largest known diamond deposits were in India. After centuries of depletion of India’s reserves, and Brazil’s (the second largest known depository) supply rapidly declining, the discovery of diamonds near Hopetown, South Africa, gave birth to the modern diamond industry.
The sudden glut of diamonds on the market dropped their value, which led members of the upper classes to replace these now “common stones” with emeralds, rubies, and sapphires in their engagement rings.
With the “Mad Men” savvy of a leading advertising agency, the “A diamond is forever” campaign was launched to restore the luster of undying love to the once royal symbol of prestige. And by a stroke of luck the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, indelibly linked diamonds with the ultimate symbol of glamour – Marilyn Monroe. As the saying goes, sex sells. Just under a century ago, the value of diamonds had dropped by 50%, but today, more than 78% of engagement rings contain diamonds.
The diamond has risen back to its former place of glory and remains supreme among gemstones as the symbol of mystical, divine, unconquerable, love.
This is the second of a two-part series on the history of diamonds. Sources: