Blood Diamonds have a history

Blood Diamond History: What Came Before This Tragedy?

These days, there is a damper put on every diamond purchase because the source of those gems might involve child labor or slavery. Commonly called “blood diamonds,” these illegal business practices are making headlines in early 2017.

For example, in late 2016, there were accusations from the Mine Web investment blog that Cameroon was allegedly exacerbating the blood diamond situation in Congo.

There were also headlines in late 2016 related to the fact that banning and controlling blood diamonds is showing some positive results, according to Telegraph.

Showing a reduction in the number of blood diamonds on the market is especially important to the jewelry industry worldwide, since Africa produces about 65 percent of all diamonds each year. Synthetic diamonds are starting to make an impression on buyers that want to avoid blood diamonds.

However, was there ever a good history for gemstones, or has it always been a blood diamond industry to some degree?

A historic first in the world of diamonds is described in The Nature of Diamonds, edited by George E. Harlow for the American Museum of Natural History. According to research, the first diamonds found by archaeologists date to about 2,200 years ago.

For example, archaeologists working in Yemen noticed that some dental drill work used diamonds around 400 BCE. Other diamond drill dental tools were found in Sri Lanka that date back to 700 BCE.

Blood diamonds have a history in Africa civil war
Blood diamond history often involves countries like Sierra Leone. [Image by Chris Hondros/Getty Images]

Despite this, it is thought that the first diamond mines were in India and could have been mined about 8,000 years ago. Before the New World was invaded by Europeans, the only sources of diamonds in the Old World were from what was called the “Orient” also known as Asia.

The oldest reference to this famous diamond mine in India was discovered in 1905 in a document called the Arthasastra. The 150 BCE Sanskrit document talked about the source of this first famous diamond mine and discussed the first taxation of diamonds by the Mauryan Dynasty.

After the success of diamonds as a commodity in India, the Ancient Romans and Greeks were thought to be the first Europeans to get their hands on diamonds. These were some of the most famous gems of those cultures, and they were called “adamas.”

In etymology references, it is thought that the word diamond derives from adamas, and archaeologists often conclude that diamonds in Rome or Greece were from around 100 CE.

The most common diamond of that time was a yellow octahedra. Pliny the Elder is quoted as saying that the diamond was worn by the Romans to ward off evil spirits. For various unknown reasons, between 500 BCE and the 1200s, diamonds were not that common in Europe.

In the Middle Ages, cutting facets in diamonds was not yet highly developed, and the most popular cut, according to Antique Jewelry University, was the “point cut” or “pyramid cut” and this emphasized a diamond’s original, octahedral form.

Starting around the mid-1400s, the first diamond cutters became popular, and this was due to explorer Vasco Da Gama making it easier for Europe to have access to diamond mines in India.

In the 1700s, diamond mines in Brazil flooded the European market until about the late 1800s when African diamonds started being sold in large quantities in Europe, according to the Gemstone Institute of America.

Just as African diamonds started arriving in Europe in the late 1800s, diamonds also became industrialized.

Antwerp's blood diamond history
There is a history of blood diamonds being sold to Europe in the past decades. [Image by Paul O’Driscoll/Getty Images]

In the book Faceting History: Cutting Diamonds and Colored Stones by Glenn Klein, the author states that the refinement of the technique of diamond cutting is usually accredited to Louis de Berquem in the late 1800s.

De Berquem eventually helped make Antwerp, Brussels, the famous diamond-cutting capital of the world that it still is today.

Adding to this, in 1867, Antwerp made headlines with the opening of the first diamond cutting factory, and diamonds soon became part of the mass-produced economy of the Industrial Revolution. It was around the time of the Industrial Revolution that it became easier to build machinery that could mine for diamonds, and larger ones were soon discovered.

Unfortunately, poor mining conditions usually accompanied diamond mines throughout history, and blood diamonds came at the tail end of many centuries of miner abuse. Sadly, aggressive mining became popular during colonization of Africa by countries like France, the U.K., The Netherlands, and Belgium in the 1800s and 1900s.

Part of this drive to mine Africa for diamonds started in the late 1800s when South Africa began to discover some of the largest diamonds ever found in history. This naturally started a rush to find the next one, and in the beginning, there were many miners that were risking their own lives.

Over time, as diamond miners became wealthy, they hired workers and this led to an exploitive diamond mining system that has had several strikes over the past 140 years.

Despite this, according to Amnesty International, the modern blood diamonds or conflict diamonds have a history in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, and Sierra Leone. Although the exact date that blood diamonds have been a problem is not known, it is thought to have become a prominent issue around the 1980s.

The main reason blood diamond history began is due to the fact that these four African countries needed money to buy military supplies to fight the war, and so those countries started to force its own people to mine diamonds.

To avoid buying blood diamonds, Time suggests looking for dealers that are certified as complying with the Kimberley Process. Keep in mind that diamonds purchased from antiques dealers and estate sales may have initially been blood diamonds, but resale of these diamonds does not directly line the pockets of war lords.

[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]

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