Diamonds are more than just beautiful pieces of crystalline carbon – they’re an enduring symbol of beauty, love, and commitment.
This precious stone derives its name from the Greek word “Adamas,” which roughly translates to “unconquerable.” This symbolism lends itself well to the diamond’s historical entanglement with ideas of eternal love.
But where did it all start? Who was the first person to find diamonds? These are all important questions.
The history of diamonds is incredibly rich, spanning more than two thousand years. Although they had become immensely popular in the 20th century, people were enamored with diamonds long before.
In this article, we’ll go over diamonds’ rich and interesting history. You’ll find out who was the first person to find diamonds, as well as the long history of diamond exploitation.
Let’s start at where it all began – India.
The first diamonds were discovered in India in the fourth century before Christ. Although even the youngest deposits were formed almost 900 million years ago, humans simply didn’t get lucky enough to stumble upon one.
Who was the first person to discover diamonds? Unfortunately, it isn’t known. We know that most diamonds found in India reached other parts of the world via the Silk Road.
If you didn’t know, the Silk Road is a network of trade routes that connected India, China, and Europe throughout history. This is how most of the spices, rare materials, and knowledge reached Europe.
At the time of the discovery, diamonds were appreciated due to their strength and brilliance. Blacksmiths loved these rocks because they allowed them to engrave metal.
Moreover, diamonds were worn as jewelry, used for making cutting tools, and served as talismans to ward off evil spirits.
Warrior cultures especially valued diamonds because they believed they provided protection in battle.
Until the 18th century, India was believed to be the only source of diamonds. But when Indian diamond mines dried up, the quest to find alternate sources began.
The search for a new diamond source didn’t last for long. In 1725, gold miners searching for new gold deposits found a diamond supply in Brazil.
Although Brazil is famous for the production of colored gemstones, it’s often not recognized as a source of diamonds.
The first diamond deposit in Brazil was discovered in 1725 by artisan miners looking for gold deposits along the banks of the Jequitinhonha River near the Arraial do Tijuco village in the state of Minas Gerais.
While in most other parts of the world, diamonds are usually recovered from kimberlite pipes of volcanic origin, Brazilian diamond deposits are a bit different. Brazilian diamonds are found in secondary deposits over large watersheds and sedimentary rock formations.
The way diamonds were recovered remained relatively unchanged since the 18th century. Artisan miners called Garimpeiros use simple tools and operate in small groups by either panning or dredging for diamonds in the rivers.
They wash and/or break down the sediments that contain diamonds.
After the diamonds were discovered, people flocked to Minas Gerais. The diamond exploitation industry boomed for nearly a century. Moreover, Minas Gerais was one of the world’s biggest diamond suppliers.
But all good things must come to an end. After 150 years of prosperity and growth, the Brazilian diamond industry began to wind down.
Although in the early 1840s, miners discovered an unusual polycrystalline black diamond, that was not enough to outpace the diamond production in Africa.
The story of African diamonds begins at the end of 1866 when Erasmus Jacobs, a 15-year-old boy, found a brilliant rock on his father’s farm.
The farm was located right next to the south bank of the Orange River, South Africa. Over the next couple of tears, Africa yielded more diamonds than India had in over two thousand years.
The first diamond deposits discovered in South Africa were mostly alluvial. However, by 1869, diamonds were found far away from any river.
People first discovered diamonds near the town of Kimberly in yellow earth, and below hard rock called blue ground. This hard rock is today known as kimberlite after the town of Kimberly.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Kimberly mines produced 95% of the world’s diamonds. This town was one of the richest and most prosperous in the world.
It was also a place of fierce rivalries – the most notable one being between Cecil John Rhodes and Barney Benito. Rhodes and Bernato were English immigrants who consolidated early prospects into ever larger holdings and mines.
They tried to outcompete one another all the way up to 1932 when diamond mining operations were stopped due to the Great Depression.
Work resumed right after the end of WWII. Africa remains one of the biggest diamond suppliers in the world to this day, with new deposits being discovered each year.
But this is not where the diamond history ends. These precious rocks were discovered all over the world, even in the Land Down Under. Let’s see how diamonds impacted Australia’s history.
Australia is one of the biggest diamond suppliers in the world. The first diamonds in Australia were discovered in early 1851 in the Bathurst area, New South Wales.
Not long after, other significant diamond deposits were found in alluvial areas at Copeton and Bingara.
However, these deposits didn’t yield many diamonds. In fact, it was not until the tail end of the 20th century that Australia became a big player in the diamond market.
In the late 1970s, geologists found the Argyle pipe in the remote Kimberly area in Western Australia.
The Argyle pipe is one of the world’s largest diamond deposits. In fact, the Argyle mine is the world’s most prolific diamond mine by the sheer volume of diamonds excavated.
The Argyle mine is owned by the infamous Rio Tinto and is one of the world’s most productive diamond mines. Moreover, it’s the main source of pink and red diamonds. Nearly 90% of these fancy diamonds are mined from the Argyle mine.
Not too long after the discovery of the Argyle pipe, another one was found in Ellendale. Although this pipe has a much lower concentration of diamonds, it is one of the world’s largest fancy yellow diamond deposits.
Russia is a treasure trove of rare materials. So, it’s no surprise that this country is considered one of the largest diamond producers in the world.
18th century Russia was one of the world’s largest ore exporters. However, Russian mines were incredibly ineffective.
Russian mines were under the rigid feudal system that used methods of production that were considered obsolete even by 1850s standards.
Because of this, the Russian Empire was quickly getting outpaced by other countries that embraced the industrial revolution.
To increase ore production, Tsar Nicholas I commissioned an expedition to discover new mineral deposits. For this task, he hired a Prussian geographer and geologist, Alexander Von Humboldt – one of the most famous scientists of that time.
Humboldt was tasked to find new gold, platinum, and any other mineral deposits across the vast Russian Empire. Humboldt learned that some mineral deposits appear side by side. For instance, copper deposits always came with gold minerals.
He also learned that diamonds usually came along with platinum deposits. He learned all of this during his research expeditions in South America.
And so, Humboldt went to the Urals to look for valuable mineral deposits. It was not long after he discovered considerable gold and platinum deposits in the Urals.
These discoveries also convinced him there were large diamond deposits along with gold and platinum. He was so convinced that during his meetings with Tsarina Alexandra, he would bring diamonds he found in the Urals as a gift.
Unfortunately, although the first discovery of diamonds in Russia was significant, the volume just wasn’t high enough to make Russia a significant diamond supplier. Over the years, diamonds were found in isolated deposits all over the Ural mountain.
It was not until 1954 that Russia became a significant diamond producer when mineralogist Lansa Popogayeva found a kimberlite chimney in Tsarnica in the middle of the Siberian wilderness.
In the next two years, she found another two kimberlite chimneys in Mir and Dachenia. These three deposits are almost as rich with diamonds as those in South Africa.
But what about Russia’s greatest rival, the United States of America? Let’s find out!
North American Diamonds
Around 18 years before the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, California became the first documented source of these precious rocks in North America. During the height of the gold rush in 1849, prospectors found diamonds while panning for gold near Placerville, east of Sacramento.
However, Californian diamonds weren’t of the best quality. In fact, most diamonds found there were small, semi-opaque, and very cloudy.
The US is a large country, so the search for diamonds continued. In 1906 a farmer named John Huddleston found a diamond on his property in Arkansas.
This discovery led to the prospecting of the surrounding countryside. Shortly after, prospectors found four volcanic pipes, two of which were full of diamonds.
Upon this discovery, John Huddleston sold his property to a group of investors based in Little Rock. Unfortunately, after decades of attempts to start a commercial diamond mining operation, it all failed.
In 1972, the state of Arkansas bought the land and turned it into the Crater Of Diamonds State Park. This tourist attraction is the only diamond mine in the world where visitors can look for diamonds and keep what they find.
There’s more to North America than just the US. There’s also Canada.
Although diamond mines from Canada are among the most recent in the world, the diamonds they extract are among the oldest on earth.
According to Canadian researchers, diamonds mined from Northwest Territories formed around 3.5 billion years ago. When these diamonds formed, Earth was still forming its first continents.
Brad Wood, a second-year geology student, was the first person to find diamonds in Canada. In 1987 Brad was hired by De Beers company to prospect for diamonds in Northern Ontario’s James Bay Lowlands. After just a couple of months, this young geologist found a kimberlite pipe.
Soon after Brad’s discovery, De Beers started preparing the mining grounds. Almost three decades later, in 2008, Ontario’s first diamond mine opened. It remained open until May 2019.
Prior to De Beer, Canada’s first diamond mine opened in 1998 in Point Lake. It’s called the Ekati Mine and was discovered in 1991.
However, before the exploitation could start, the Canadian government hired an Australian mining company BHP to perform environmental studies so they could ensure no harm to the environment could come from diamond mining. After seven years, the government finally issued permits.
Although diamonds reached Europe nearly 2500 thousand years ago, to this day, no diamond deposits have been found on this continent.
However, Europe played (and still does) a big role in the diamond trade. Let’s not forget that Europe was a major colonial power for nearly 500 years.
Since the 14th century, European empires have founded colonies worldwide. Britain, Spain, and Portugal spread their culture and influence to nearly every corner of the world.
Of course, these great powers also wanted to squeeze every resource their colonies could produce. One such resource was diamonds. This made Europe the center of the diamond trade. To this day, European diamond cartels control the price of both rough and cut diamonds.
- Raw Uncut Diamond Price List: Rough Diamond Prices Guide
- Diamond Price List: How Much Is A 0.1 To 40 Carat Diamond Worth?
As you can see, the history of diamonds is pretty rich. Unfortunately, who was the first person to find diamonds is not known. All we know is that they were first discovered in India nearly 2500 years ago.
It wasn’t until the mid-17th century that another diamond deposit was found in Brazil. Since then, new deposits have been found in almost every part of the world.
If you’re under the impression that you didn’t remember everything that was important from the article above, we encourage you to scroll up and give yourself a quick reminder. We know how this much information can be confusing.
We hope we have expanded your knowledge about the history of diamonds and the crucial people in this gem’s history, and until next time – happy shopping!