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GIA Librarian on Why Diamonds Make the Grade

Dec 25, 2017 9:45 AM   By Sonia Esther Soltani
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Robert Weldon, head of the lab’s gemological library, shares his thoughts on why diamonds have stood out in different generations and cultures.

Why we love them
Diamonds help us celebrate loving and joyous occasions — betrothals, weddings, anniversaries, births and birthdays. They can also mark a moment of self-fulfillment and accomplishment. Once the purview of the ultra-wealthy or royalty, diamonds have been democratized. Diamonds are unexpected gems. Though it’s extremely rare, diamonds can be red, orange, yellow, green, blue, grey, violet — with hundreds of variations in between.

A history of symbolism
Diamonds have been appreciated for thousands of years. They were believed to imbue the wearer with the gems’ own characteristics. In India, people who wore diamonds were assured of having a long life, physical endurance, and beauty. Perhaps because of this, diamonds remain a symbol of love in many societies around the world.

In a class by themselves
Rarity, hardness, brilliance and scintillation are all aspects that we appreciate in diamonds.... Other gems are appreciated for different reasons, but principally for their depth of color. For example, the rarity and beauty of rubies, emeralds and sapphires are also remarkable attributes.

Iconic examples
Different people will have varying opinions, but I believe these five diamonds stand out for their unique history, their iconic status, their singular size or color, and for the people who loved them: The Great Mogul, Hope Diamond, Cullinan, Dresden Green and Hancock Red.

Fascinating facts
While we know about the hardness — 10 on the Mohs hardness scale — many people do not realize that diamonds are also great conductors of heat. This allows them to be used in tooling, such as cutting, grinding and drilling, where extreme heat or pressure will not cause them to disintegrate. Diamond powder is successfully used to preform and polish other colored gemstones.

Personal meaning
Aside from their beauty and reflective characteristics, I am awed by a diamond’s sense of permanence. Diamonds can be passed on to family members for generations, and by this simple act, family history is conveyed with the glittering gem. This is how people’s relationship with diamonds is constantly reaffirmed.

The five most iconic diamonds, in the words of the GIA’s top librarian:
The Great Mogul. This is a 280-carat gem — roughly the size of an “egg cut in half.” This was the description by the great French traveler and gem merchant Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. He saw it and described it in his books when it was in the possession of [17th-century Mughal emperor] Shah Jahan. He was told that the original weight of this diamond from Golconda, India, was 787.50 carats.
The Hope Diamond.
This is also an old Golconda diamond that has passed through many hands, including Tavernier’s. He sold the stone to Louis XIV of France in 1668. The diamond has a remarkably storied history. I did have a chance to photograph the 45.52-carat [stone] once — just five minutes were allowed for me to peer into its depths. I got chills knowing I was in the presence of one of the world’s most famous diamonds.

Cullinan I, II. When it was found in 1905 in South Africa, the rough weighed 3,025.75 carats — the biggest diamond found. It was cleaved and cut, and its major and satellite diamonds were set into the most significant jeweled objects in history: the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

he Dresden Green. This modified pear shape is an approximately 41-carat gem, unique in that it is a confirmed naturally green diamond.

Hancock Red. This is a fairly modern diamond, an unassuming round brilliant-cut weighing less than 1 carat. What makes this diamond special is the depth of its red color. Its record-shattering sale at Christie’s in 1987 (with a per-carat price of $926,000) changed the world’s appreciation for fancy colored diamonds. The GIA graded this diamond in 1956.

Images: Judy Colbert/GIA; GIA; Alamy Stock Photo 

This article was first published in the December 2017 issue of
Rapaport Magazine.
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Tags: GIA, Robert Weldon, Sonia Esther Soltani , Sonia Esther Soltani. famous diamonds
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