Natural Jewels

Natural jewels or tool?

To the Romans, the diamond was 'only a speck of a stone, but more precious than gold' and was 'known only to kings, and to very few of them'. Yet, they believed in its mystical concept almost as ardently as their Indian counterparts. The philosopher, Pliny the Elder, who died while investigating the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, may never even have seen a diamond, but he did draw attention to usefulness: 

'When an adamas is successfully broken, it disintegrates into splinters so small that they can hardly be seen. These are much sought after by engravers and are inserted into iron tools for making hollows in the hardest material without any difficulty.' 

This would not have surprised the Chinese, who had used the diamond as a 'bit' in an iron holder for finishing jade and drilling pearls, before learning that it was considered a valuable gem elsewhere. With their different beliefs, they could not appreciate this need for amulets, armbands and 'ring stones'. They thought 'the foreigners quite mad', to wear them and had no hesitation in saying so. To them, a diamond cut jade 'as if it were clay.' 

But with the collapse of the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity, earlier European interest in diamonds was dwindling. By the 14th century, they had fallen to 17th or 18th place in the league, well behind rubies, red spinels (balas rubies), sapphires (considered unlucky in India, unless neutralised by other gems), but still above emeralds, as the Colombian deposits had not yet been identified. 

In India, another belief was that only natural diamonds retained their magical powers. If any work was done on them, the powers would be lost. Not until the 17th century did this belief weaken sufficiently to allow a diamond to be placed on a wheel. Then, when its radiance was unleashed, it swiftly regained the pre-eminent position that it has held ever since.

 

All historical texts above from: Een Streling Voor Het Oog, Antwerpen 1997

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