OF many of her beauties, Nature gives us glimpses only. As swaying gossamer momentarily reveals and hides the charms of a dancing fairy, so the quick flashes of brilliancy and color, the changes of tone and atmosphere, the drifts of song and sighing, and the varying perfume of moods, flit about us, in the restless movements with which our mother plays hide and seek with her children. Light and shadow flitting over waters, the interweaving chords of harmonious and exquisite color with which the sun comes and goes, the whisperings of the wind, the ripple and rustle of billowing fields and meadows, the mists of the morning, all become memories as the sight and sound of them sink from eye and ear to heart. Even the glories of her seasons endure not; the flowers fade, the green of the field withers, the fruit falls, and the dazzle and glitter of snow and ice soon melt from the light which glorified them.
There are things in Nature, however, which hold their beauty unscathed by blasting storm, or withering heat, or the changing seasons. These in their proud supremacy defy time. Among them are ” precious stones.” Ethereal though it seems as a white cloud in a sunny sky, or mist beads on the leaves at early morning, the pearl reeks not of rising or setting suns. The emerald remains green when the grass burns, and it lies vivid yet in the frozen heart of winter. The diamond sparkles and flashes whenever and wherever the light finds it, while the generations which successively enjoyed its beauty, fade and are forgotten.
Combined with the qualities that withstand the destructions of time, precious stones possess others which prevent the weariness of monotony growing usually out of changeless existence. These make them as captivating to the senses when the eye dims with age as when they first attracted it in eager youth. To the sun, ” soul of surrounding worlds,” year after year and age after age, they respond like the stars. ” The ruby lights its deepening glow, and with a waving radiance inward flames.” From it forever ” the sapphire, solid ether, takes its hue cerulean ” and all combined, its beams ” thick through the whitening opal play.” By the play of light and color, precious stones coquette as capriciously after a thousand years as in the beginning, and keep ardor burning by a constant revelation of new tones of beauty and a tantalizing but delicious expectancy of more. In shadow, mysteries of romance and tragedy slumber in the blood-red of the ruby, but sun-light wakes fires in it, ardent and changeful as the glances of love. We say the color of the ruby is red, and of the emerald, green, and of the sapphire, blue, but as they move in the light, or quiescent, the light rays pass over them, a thousand tones of color in harmonious chords emanate from the flashing facets, and the eye watches, as the ear listens when a master hand wanders over the keys of music.
Unseeing eyes sometimes hold in contempt those for whom these precious things of beauty have a charm. To them, the fascination which these ” baubles” exercise, is no hint that they are wonderful and worthy; they regard it only as a sign that the fascinated are-weak.. The sense which caused that prince of orators and thinkers, Henry Ward Beecher, to carry a beautiful stone about in his pocket, that he might at will take it out and feast his eyes upon it, or that leads many men noted in the fields of government, finance, industry and war even, to buy them at great prices, not to show upon their persons, but to cherish for themselves and their familiars in private collections, is beyond them. The appreciation of precious stones marks the rise of the individual from grubbing to a broader outlook; of a nation, from the hard struggle for existence, to the plane of acquirement.
Among these beautiful creations, the diamond, for several reasons is pre-eminent. The hardest, it more successfully resists the abrasions of time, and by the same quality is capable of holding for our delectation more of the fugitive phenomena of that most blessed source of human comfort, light. No other has such universal fascination. In all ages and nations it has been esteemed most highly, and now that all its dazzling beauty has been discovered, though the ruby may be more precious to a few lords of the Orient, and else-where, and if the pearl be the jewel of refinement everywhere, the diamond is nevertheless by far the most general favorite. Its enduring and unassailable purity, and the blazing splendor of its reflective and dispersive powers, are universally attractive, and to these the magnificence of exalted and ancient associations add a glamour which predisposes the beholder to yield to it royal honors.
In these days of abundance, when the young woman who earns her living would regard the linen of ancient queens as too coarse for ordinary wear, and the ” fine rai-ment ” of the Bible would be regarded with derision; when the sons and daughters of labor bedeck themselves with jewels reserved by the imperial edict of Rome for patricians, and the only reservation which guards them is the price, it is difficult to fully realize the feeling with which people in the old times looked from afar upon the effulgence of the diamond, or to awaken the imaginations which then clustered about the name.
In those old days the diamond was the associate of might. Where it shone, lay the power to kill or make rich. Men trembled at the frowns of one who wore diamonds, for they were a sign that he was the lord of men. To the onlooker there was mystery in the light that shot from under the rough skins of the curious stones. Baubles they were, but fiercer than the tempered blades of the princely swords whose hilts held them. Things of beauty to lie in the soft folds of silken tunic and turban, yet harder than the grim rocks where their princely owners perched their fortresses. Flint, nor steel, nor any other thing could mar their glistening faces, for in the grind with rougher and coarser things, only they came out unharmed. This invincible light of them delighted the dark-eyed rajahs, and when later, more of their innate brilliancy was revealed by grinding them together, the oriental mind gave them such names as ” Sea of Light,” ” Light of the Moon,” and the like. In the lands of the Sun, they held imprisoned souls, in the poetic imagination of many. Men saw intelligence in the plan of the shapely crystals, and that give birth to speculations which became the nuclei of many superstitions. To their fortunate possessors they were treasures, not of price but very precious, and peculiarly fitted to adorn the persons of the great. The big diamonds, seldom found, were guarded with jealous care by the lords whose droit they were. Held often at great cost of blood and life, when they did change hands, they passed only to conquerors as the spoils of war.
Now that one may see diamonds in glittering masses, not only in jewelers’ windows, but in dry-goods stores, though they attract, they do not have quite the effect upon the mind of the beholder which the mere mention of the name had, when they were seldom seen, and then only in the hands of cautious dealers or upon the per-sons of the great and powerful. Nevertheless, there remains something of the old regard. The diamond is still a thing of great price and a sign of wealth if not of power; the old stories of diamonds, blazing in the helmets of kingly soldiers and from the folds of princely turbans, gathered there by many devious paths of blood-shed and adventure from dark, mysterious mines, still stir the soul when the light of their flashes ensnares the eye.
India has always been regarded as the natural home of the diamond, for there it was first found. In the old times, when journeys to the Orient could only be made safely by armies, those who came back spread wonderful tales of eastern treasures, so that the lands of the East became the dream of western adventurers. Imagination so rioted over those stories of the wealth and magnificence of dusky princes and their courts, that the barren sands of the Orient were transformed in their dreams to gold, and all the pebbles to precious stones.
Diamonds have existed within the reach of man in India for many ages. Not only are they found in the valleys and beds of streams, but also, separated from the matrix in which they were formed, in strata of detrital matter that have since been covered twelve to sixteen feet deep by the slow accumulations of many later centuries. How long they have been known and used as jewels is uncertain. Nor do we know when they were first distinguished with certainty from similar white transparent stones. Probably general knowledge was the growth of many ages, during which those who knew, profited by the prevailing ignorance. Hindu legend in the Mahabharata tells of a diamond worn by one of the heroes 5,000 years ago. It is possible that if the hero really lived he did wear one. It is also possible that the stone was a rock crystal or a colorless zircon, or white sapphire, or topaz, for all these have at one time or an-other passed for diamonds, but from the fact that diamonds are specifically mentioned in the Hindu ancient writings, it is certain that, if sometimes confounded with others, the stone was known when men there began to make records.
Not until a few centuries back was the art of cutting and polishing the diamond discovered. Prior to that, but little of its marvelous brilliancy was known. True, for ages the natural stones had been somewhat improved by rubbing them together, but before that, the diamond as found would not have been likely to attract the finder as much as the rock crystal which, in its rough state, is generally much more brilliant. Doubtless many of the diamonds of legend were crystal, especially where they are said to have been engraved, for the Ancients could not engrave the diamond. This native hardness, which now makes the stone pre-eminent among jewels, in the old days rendered it less desirable than others. Even in the sixteenth century it was valued far below rubies and emeralds. Nevertheless Pliny speaks of it as a thing which exceeded all others in value and con-fined to the use of few kings even. It may be that in his time it was more highly valued than later. It may be that he romanced about this as he did about many other things, though some of Juvenal’s stories give evidence that it was very precious in the early days of the Roman Empire. Whatever the facts concerning it in ancient times may be, the diamond, as we know it, is a comparatively late production, and the extreme perfection of beauty attained by the cutting of to-day has been developed in this generation. As Europe taught the Orient what undreamed-of beauty was inherent in its native gem, by the art of cutting and polishing, so did the new empire of the west teach Europe how to reach the acme of beauty by adapting proportion of size and shape to the qualities of reflection and refraction. The diamond, as we know it, is not yet fifty years of age.
Before exact knowledge was acquired of the combination of qualities which constitute a diamond, much confusion doubtless existed. White topaz, sapphire, zircon, and rock crystal might be easily mistaken for diamonds, because, they are brilliant and colorless, and to a very late date, real diamonds were discarded and destroyed by the tests for hardness which ignorance suggested. Peoples among the ancients, unacquainted with the stone, did not understand that the hard pebbles which could not be abraded, would splinter and split easily. Having learned that many of the bright crystals found were not the hard stone which they prized, they tested them, when uncertain, by pounding them and destroyed many noble gems in that way.
In very early times it is probable that the diamond was sought more for its hardness than for use as a jewel. Indications of this exist in several books of the Old Testament. The “shamir ” of Ezekiel and Zechariah, translated in our version after the Greek to ” adamant ” and ” adamant stone,” in Jeremiah is translated ” diamond.” The prophet says, ” The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond.” (Jer. xvii, i.) Ancient Jewish writers say of the ” shamir,” that ” it is like a barley corn, so strong as to cut the hardest stones in pieces.” They claimed that Moses used it for cutting the stones for the two tables of the law, and for fitting the precious stones in the Ephod. They say also that Solomon cut with it the stones for the temple he built. The word rendered diamond in Exodus, where it is given as one of the stones in the High Priest’s breastplate, is ” Jahalom,” coming from a word which signifies to break. The point of the diamond ” mentioned in Jeremiah, undoubtedly refers to the points of the natural crystal, especially when found as an octahedron, which was a common form in India, and the reference shows that its value for engraving and cutting hard substances was known at that time. It is possible that the ” Jahalom ” of the breastplate was some other stone of similar appearance, and that the tribe name engraved on it was cut with the point of a real diamond crystal, though, inasmuch as diamond will cut diamond, both the breast-plate stone and the cutter may have been diamonds. From these references it is probable that the diamond, at the time they were written (500 to 600 B. C.), was more noted for its hardness than its beauty; nor would the fact that a diamond was chosen as one of the stones in the Jewish High Priest’s breastplate a thousand years earlier, oppose the theory, for as stated, with the degree of knowledge about precious stones existing then, other stones, more transparent in the natural crystal, might have been used as diamond jewels, while many of the real diamonds found, on account of their refractory qualities and lack of exterior brilliancy, were adjudged inferior and used for mechanical purposes only. To-day some of the noted diamonds (?) stored in royal treasuries, are under suspicion, and are believed to be rock-crystal or topaz, and strength is given to the supposition by the refusal of the owners to submit them to critical examination by experts. If we consider how very slow and gradual has been the growth of definite knowledge about precious stones even during the last century, it is reasonable to suppose that for ages, color-less shining transparent stones were all classed with the hard diamond, even as red stones were called rubies because they were red. Then came a period of dangerous “little knowledge ” which sought to cull out the stones which were not diamonds, by the absurd test of the hammer and the anvil, whereby the hard, but cleavable and easily fractured diamond was destroyed as effectually as the softer rock-crystal and topaz. But out of every chaos, truth finally emerges : the matrix of error and ignorance wears away with time, for only truth endures. And so step by step, men learned to differentiate these similar stones.
There yet remained, however, as an obstacle to the use of the diamond as a jewel of the first class, the dull exterior of the natural crystal, and though there was that about the light of it which fascinated the eye, and suggested beauty imprisoned behind the facets, the hard skin barred all attempts to get more than a glimpse of the beauty it would not fully release or unveil. For centuries that hard exterior was invincible and the flashing brilliancy of the cut diamond was unknown. Then came the idea of rubbing and grinding the stones together, suggested probably by a desire to smooth the surfaces of rough and hackled crystals. This practice led to the discovery that the even facets of the smooth octahedron could be improved by the same process, but, from all we can learn, the ancients got no farther.
Another hindrance to an adequate appreciation of the diamond as a jewel was its lack of color. The ruby, emerald and other stones, attracted the Oriental eye by their color, but the glory of the diamond is its brilliancy and that was partly hidden. For that reason, the ruby and inferior stones were preferred, and even now that the inherent beauty of the diamond is fully revealed, the natives of some eastern countries, by hereditary instinct, rank it, as did their forefathers, below the blood-red stone of Burmah.
Though the diamond and other similar stones sup-posed to be diamonds, were known and treasured for several thousand years B. C. in India and neighboring countries, it was comparatively unknown in Europe be-fore the invasion of India by Alexander the Great, 327 B. C. Returning Greeks brought knowledge of the diamond to Europe, and their leaders doubtless brought some of the precious stones also. From Greece they were carried to Rome by war and commerce, so that during the first century they are mentioned by Roman poets and historians in their writings.
The English name for the stone and the French ” diamant ” are synonymous with ” adamant ” from the Greek adamas “ untamable the unconquerable. It is derived from the Greek c” un ” and ” tame.” The name was Latinized as Rome superseded Greece as a world-governing power, into ” diamas,” and established with slight variations by medieval writers in the vernacular of the various European nations; originally as ” aimant” and ” ayment ” in France, and ” die mant ” and ” demant ” in Germany.
The word is apparently more ancient than a knowledge of the stone in Europe, and was probably attached to the stone because it conveyed an idea of the gem’s quality of invincible hardness. In the writings of some of the Ancients, the word signified a hard metal or weapon, and it was also used as a personal name. As the stone, which could rend any other thing and withstood all others, came to be known in Greece and Rome, the word in their language which carried an idea of its prominent quality was doubtless used at first descriptively, and became later by custom established in the nomenclature of gems. There was little use for the name in western Europe until the fourteenth century, as the stone was not generally known, and there were few of any importance in Europe until long after. A Portuguese writer of the sixteenth century claimed that all stones over 30 mangelins (37 1/2 carats) were the droit of the rulers of the countries where they were found. An-other writer a century later said that at Golconda the reigning prince claimed all stones of ten carats and over. As late as 1838, John Murray stated there were but 19 diamonds of 36 carats and up, in Europe. It has been asserted that not more than loo stones over 30 carats each were in existence about the time of the African discoveries, of which perhaps half were in Europe. One old writer mentioned as a thing hard to believe, that he himself had seen one weighing 140 carats and had heard of another which weighed 250 carats. In his time (early part of the 19th century) Mawe said he did not think there were a half a dozen very large diamonds in Europe, and they were in the hands of sovereign princes. He probably had in mind stones over loo carats, of which there were two each in the crown jewels of Russia and Portugal, the Austrian ” Florertine,” and the “Regent ” of the French crown jewels. Tavernier says that before the Coulour or Kollur mine of India was opened in 1550, the largest found were about ten or twelve carats. This does not tally with some of the ancient histories attached to several of the celebrated diamonds of India. The list of stones published in 1874 at the sale of the Duke of Brunswick’s collection, includes 7 diamonds ranging from 37 to 81 carats each.
It is evident from the remarks of Pliny about the diamond, that from its introduction by the Greeks into Europe until his time, over three hundred years later, but little was learned of the stone, for his accounts of it are absurd fables, and his statement that there were ” six varieties,” of which the Indian and Arabian were of ” unspeakable hardness,” indicates that softer stones were yet thought to be diamonds.
By the traffic of Rome, the diamond was gradually carried westward, but owing to the inability to cut and polish it until well on in the fifteenth century, it was not classed as the equal of rubies and emeralds. In the middle of the sixteenth century even, Benvenuto Cellini ranked it third among precious stones, placing the value of it as about one-fourth that of the emerald, and the emerald at half that of the ruby. It may interest some who know little of the value of these colored precious stones, to learn that he estimated a perfect ruby weighing one carat at the equivalent of eight hundred dollars.
Reviewing the information to be had, it appears certain that diamonds were known and appreciated in India at least five thousand years ago. They were brought into Europe twenty-two hundred years ago. During that period, similar stones were thought to be diamonds, the Indian stones, classified as superior on account of their hardness, probably being the real diamonds. By way of Greece and Rome, a few drifted into the hands of the monarchs and powerful nobles of countries farther west during the next fifteen hundred years, then to a greater extent as Spain, Portugal, England and others
established direct communication with India. As before stated, there is evidence that the points of the crystals were in use six hundred years B. C. as gravers. After the art of cutting and polishing it was discovered in the fifteenth century, the gem grew in favor as a jewel, slowly, however, and the use of it was still con-fined to the rich and powerful. In the early part of the seventeenth century, impetus was given towards its establishment in public knowledge and favor, by the discovery of new fields in Brazil. From that time it became a theme for historians and romancers. During the eighteenth century, scientists were attracted to it, and began to acquire exact information about its nature, formation, and various qualities, proceeding to make reasonable speculations regarding its antecedents. This was continued throughout the nineteenth century with the addition of careful experiments and research for the trial of, theories and the acquirement of definite knowledge. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the opening up of new diamond fields in Africa containing unlimited quantities, simultaneous with an unexampled development of industry in all departments throughout the world, and the rapid accumulation of wealth in the United States, combined to place the gem in a position of great prominence, not only as the jewel of fortune’s favorites everywhere, but as a great factor in the world’s store of enduring wealth, for while the greater items of food supply and manufactures must be constantly replenished, to repair the loss by consumption and wear and tear, the product of the diamond fields simply accumulates.
The opening of the twentieth century sees this superb gem in much more beautiful form than ever the monarchs of old saw it, scattered through every village and hamlet in the United States, and upon the hands and necks of daughters of the plain people, sparkle and flash gems more royal than the royalties of the world for thousands of years ever knew.