The world’s love of diamonds started in India, where diamonds were gathered from the country’s rivers and streams. Some historians estimate that India was trading in diamonds as early as the fourth century BC. The country’s resources yielded limited quantities for an equally limited market: India’s very wealthy classes. Gradually, though, this changed. Indian diamonds found their way, along with other exotic merchandise, to Western Europe in the caravans that traveled to Venice’s medieval markets.
By the 1400s, diamonds were becoming fashionable accessories for Europe’s elite.
In the early 1700s, as India’s diamond supplies began to decline, Brazil emerged as an important source. Diamonds were discovered in the pans of gold miners as they sifted through the gravels of local rivers. Once it reached its full potential, Brazil dominated the diamond market for more than 150 years.
Explorers unearthed the first great South African diamond deposits in the late 1800s just as diamond demand broadened.
The story of the modern diamond market really begins on the African continent, with the 1866 discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, South Africa. And by the 1900s an estimated 90 percent of the world’s production of rough diamonds will come from there.
At the end of the 1970s, the world’s most important rough diamond producers were South Africa, Zaire (now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo), and the former Soviet Union.
In 1982, a highly productive new mine in Botswana added to world production.
World diamond mining expanded dramatically with the discovery of sources in Australia in 1985 and important new deposits in northern Canada in 2000.
Diamond’s splendor has been appreciated for centuries, but there was not much scientific knowledge about it before the twentieth century. Since then, diamond knowledge has grown steadily, with research by chemists, physicists, geologists, mineralogists, and oceanographers. In the past 50 years alone, scientists have learned a lot about how diamonds form and how they’re transported to the earth’s surface. That knowledge has made it easier to predict locations for new diamond discoveries.