A Diamond Is Forever

The history of diamonds as a symbol of love

Giving the gift of a diamond says, ‘I will always love you’. And it has done for centuries. Explore history’s most romantic love stories through the ages.

Early Days -
The meaning of a diamond

Diamonds have nourished man’s fantasies and are synonymous with power, not even human, but from non-human, divine forces - Pliny the Elder, Roman historian

A sparkle like no other

“Its colour is that of ice, and as the dew-drop or drop of water from a mountain stream sparkles in the light of the sun as the icicle sparkles in winter, and the stars on a cold winter night, so the diamond sparkles, and it combines and contrasts with all known gems.” - George Frederick Kunz

A ring has the symbolism of life and eternity, and was first used in Roman times as a public pledge of marriage between a couple. These were later adorned with diamonds because of their own remarkable significance.

The word diamond comes from the Greek word ‘adamas’ meaning indomitable or invincible. It is similar to the Latin verb ‘adamare’ — to love passionately. Since it was discovered diamonds can resist both fire and steel, they have possessed otherworldly powers in the eyes of people all over the world.

Sinbad the sailor

Sinbad the sailor, from ‘Book of Marvels,’ was an adventurer with a desire to discover the unknown. He finds himself stranded in an unknown island with a valley “covered with diamonds, some of them of a huge unexpected size.”

He discovers these are harvested by throwing huge chunks of meat into the valley, which eagles carry back to their nests with hundreds of diamonds stuck to them. Sinbad finds a diamond covered piece of meat and, using his turban, he straps it to his back and, with the help of an eagle is carried back to a nest, where merchants then rescue him.

As early as the first century AD, diamonds have been mined as gem quality diamonds, but it was in the area of Golconda, India, that the diamond trade opened up to the globe. Indian scholars wrote of their supernatural powers and protection against evil.

Diamonds in the
15th Century

By the 15th century, the diamond ring became the celebrated symbol of faithfulness, love and commitment in marriage. The diamond was used in its natural crystalline structure — eight sides joined together, like two pyramids joined at the base. The bottom half covered by the ring was thought to symbolise an evil half, whilst the other exposed side shone bright in all its brilliance.

Two torches in a
ring of smouldering fire.
Two wills, two hearts,
two passions
are joined in marriage
by a diamond ring.
- Lines and translation from the Vatican manuscript.

Later in the century, some of the first techniques for polishing diamonds were discovered, and more delicate and intricate setting designs were crafted. A diamond ring started to become not just a symbol of love, but excelled as an exquisite thing of beauty. Secret words of love were decorated with flora enhancing the romantic gestures.

A declaration of love through diamonds

The first known diamond betrothal ring was presented by the Archduke Maximillian of Austria to Mary of Burgundy in 1477, daughter of Charles the Bold. It features hogback (baguette cut) diamonds arranged in the shape of a letter ‘M’ alluding to the first names of both, as well as the Virgin Mary.

Diamonds in the
16th Century

The diamond giveth to a man that beareth it strength and virtue, and keepth him from grievance, meetings and temptations and from venom - Given from the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, London, 1513

The 16th century saw this everlasting symbol of love flourish as the skills of royal Goldsmiths peaked. Delicate designs emerged with their chased hoops, shoulders of sculptural or architectural form decorated with soft enamels combined with pointed or table-cut diamonds. The ingenious addition of a silver foil lining in the setting showed off the diamond’s brilliant, white light.

Written with love

Letters of love were literally etched out for pairs of lovers with a sharp pointed diamond set in a ring, known as a ‘scribbling ring’. Sir Walter Raleigh declared, “Fain would I rise, but that I fear to fall,” on a window pane, to which Elizabeth I replied, “If thy heart fails thee, do not rise at all.”

Diamonds in the
17th Century

As the rough diamond from the mine
In breaking only shews its light,
Till polishing has made it shine
Thus learning the genius bright.
- Allan Ramsey, The Gentle Shepherd, 1685-1758

The gift of love

"The Taj Mahal Necklace is incredibly beautiful, but the story behind the necklace is what gives it its romantic value" wrote Elizabeth Taylor. It was made in 1627 for the wife of an emperor and passed down through generations. It was a gift to Taylor on her 40th birthday.

By the 17th century the fabulous diamond mines in Golconda, India, came under control of the Mughal Emperors. They had a fierce passion for collecting diamonds, most famously, Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. In a heart-breaking story, he built the magnificent Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth, and within he placed a sarcophagus bedecked with diamonds. He also acquired the Koh-i-Noor, one of the world’s most famous diamonds.

Diamonds from India found their way to Europe where they started to become one of the main ways to display wealth, adding their glittering presence to betrothals, weddings and other great occasions.

Diamonds in the
18th Century

In the 1720s, diamonds were found in Brazil, Portugal’s newly discovered colony. This caused an influx of diamond trade in Europe, and the diamond was celebrated with a renewed passion. Improved candle lighting and use of large mirrors meant that more social events could take place at night. The perfect ambience was created for the flashing and sparkle of the increasingly faceted gems, and for new love to spark.

The rarest thing in the world, next to a spirit of discernment, are diamonds… From the French

In the 1770s, loving declarations were spelt out in diamond letters - AMOUR and AMITIE - often framed in pearls or rose-cut diamonds. Pretty, delicate, colourful jewellery was the perfect expression of the elegant and refined tastes of the period. Rings symbolic of love were treasured, none more than betrothal and wedding rings of which the 18th century provided a sparkling galaxy.

The Queen of Diamonds

Princess Charlotte of Mecklenberg Strelitz was married to George III of England and received so many gifts of diamond jewellery, that she was named the “Queen of Diamonds.”

Diamonds in the
19th Century

Symbols of love, hearts, crowns and flowers followed from the previous century into the 19th century. Diamonds continued to shine bright as the ultimate gift of love. Queen Victoria of England adorned diamonds on her wedding day to Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, who had the courage to woo a young woman who was already the Queen of England.

It was a century of change as the booming Industrial Revolution brought a growing spread of wealth and diamonds were no longer confined to royalty and the aristocracy. For the first time, this powerful symbol of love was more accessible to the wider public.

... on the finger which outvied
his art he placed
the ring that’s there
still by fancy’s eye descried,
in token of a marriage rare:
for him on earth,
his heart’s despair
for him in heaven,
his soul’s fit bride.
- From Robert Browning’s ‘Dramatis Personale’

The founding of De Beers

A new source of diamonds was found in South Africa, including an area of land owned by two brothers called de Beer. After the initial prospectors amalgamated, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd was founded in 1888.

Diamonds in the
20th Century

The 20th century was a period of great change as the terror and destruction of two world wars meant that more women had to enter the working world.

Towards the end of the century, as attitudes changed towards traditions and romance, the diamond preserved its place as a talisman of eternal love. Diamonds became more popular all over the world as more and more people sealed their promise of ultimate commitment with a diamond.

...the first yellow beam of the sun struck through the innumerable prisms of an immense and exquisitely chiselled diamond — and white radiance was kindled. - F.Scott Fitzgerald 'THE DIAMOND AS BIG AS THE RITZ'

As the century advanced, the cutting, polishing and setting of diamonds reached its full potential, to release the full beauty of the precious gems. The cutter’s art became a monument to mathematical perfection: emerald, square, rectangular, marquise, heart, pear, shapes emerged to showcase the symbol of love in a new light.

A declaration of love through diamonds

The Queen of England, Elizabeth II was gifted an exquisitely beautiful diamond engagement ring by Prince Philip in 1947. It was made using the heirloom diamonds from a diamond tiara belonging to his mother, creating a platinum ring set with 11 diamonds, a solitaire of three carats and five smaller diamonds on each shoulder.

Diamonds in the
21st Century

As the 21st century advances, traditions change and promises of Forever take different forms. Yet the gift of a diamond as a symbol of love continues
to flourish.

For all the advances in prosperity and freedom, the world today can still seem fragmented, unstable, impersonal and threatening – and love can be hard to find. So when true and everlasting love takes root and flourishes, or a personal goal is achieved, this deserves to be celebrated.

A Diamond Is Forever

The role of the diamond has now entered new dimensions. But it still retains its unique significance as a symbol of commitment. Marking its 70th anniversary the iconic ‘A Diamond Is Forever’ strapline is as relevant today as it was then. More than any other gift, a diamond continues to evoke love, now, and Forever.


Images of rings on red background photographed with the kind permission of the
Ben Zucker Family Collection

Historic images from Getty Images

Beyond the 4Cs

Throughout history, diamonds have dazzled and amazed. At De Beers Forevermark, we individually select diamonds against additional rigid criteria to ensure that only the most beautiful diamonds can become De Beers Forevermark.

Now, Forever

We are believers in Forever. Through the twists and turns, the ups and downs, everyone goes on a different journey towards true love. Every step you take now, is a step towards your Forever.