Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Book review


A multifaceted history

In Diamonds, historian and gemologist Jack Ogden chronicles two millennia of the iconic gemstone.

By David Brough


Jack Ogden’s Diamonds is a richly illustrated, in-depth account that covers 2,000 years of diamond jewelry and commerce, from the Indian mines to European merchants, courts and workshops.

Ogden, who specializes in ancient gems and jewelry, describes the early history of diamond jewelry, the development of diamond cutting, and how the gems were valued. As an elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Gemmological Association of Great Britain, he is well qualified for the task.

Launched at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London in April, Diamonds is a superbly written narrative laced with anecdotes. The volume illuminates myriad facets of the “king of gems,” with a cast of larger-than-life characters such as Alexander the Great, the Mughal emperor Jahangir, and East India Company adventurers. It’s a study tracing the story of diamonds from their early mining and trade to the 1700s, when Brazil displaced India as the world’s primary supplier. Among the first references to diamonds, the author reveals, are descriptions of the stones’ octahedral form in early Indian texts and by Roman writer Pliny.

One of the book’s revelations is its section on how diamonds came to be symbols of love. Today, from San Francisco to Shanghai, the diamond is the gem of choice for engagement and wedding rings. Cynics may say this “tradition” is an invention of modern marketing, but they are wrong. Ogden points out that a ring belonging to Mary of Burgundy, with what are now called hog-back diamonds delineating her initial “M,” is often said to have been her betrothal ring when she married Maximilian I of Austria in 1477. In addition, he recounts an early mention of a diamond ring with love connections in England. The will of a wealthy widow, Johanna Fastolf, who died in 1417, includes a diamond ring inscribed, “[Je] Vous aime de tout moun coer” — meaning “I love you with all my heart.”

Image: Museum of London

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