Diamonds were formed billions of years ago deep under the earth’s crust. After waiting for hundred of millions of years, through something extremely violent most likely a volcanic eruption, they were carried to the surface of the earth, unscathed, all because it’s the hardest substance known. Diamonds we see today were delivered to the earth’s surface between 2.5 billions and 20 millions years ago.
Diamonds were first found in India’s rivers and were traded by Indian dealers as early as the 4th century. By 1400s diamonds were popular among the European royals and upper class. After the Indian diamond supply dried up, Brazil became the next diamond producer in the 1700s and remained the main producer for some 150 years.
In 1870, Cecil Rhodes arrived in South Africa to look for diamonds at just 17 years old. He founded De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd in 1888, and by 1900, De Beers controlled 90% of the world’s diamond production. As a production monopoly, De Beers was able to control diamond prices by controlling the supply.
De Beers maintained it’s strong position in the diamond industry for decades by building strong sales channels and distribution partners, a carefully balanced stockpile based on demand, and a strong global advertising campaign.
In the 1990s, De Beers’ monopoly position in the diamond industry began to change and new mines in Russia, Canada and Australia offered fierce competitions. Today De Beers accounts for about 30% of the market while its competitors amount to approximately 70% of the market.
Diamonds today are mined in Boswana, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Canada, Russia and Australia. Some diamonds that are mined in conflict zones such as Sierra Leone and certain areas of Zimbabwe are strictly prohibited in the international trade. The UN-sanctioned Kimberley Process which took effect in 2003 is a binding agreement among 81 governments to remove conflict diamonds from the global supply chain.
Robert M. Shipley founded the Gemological Institute of America in 1931. He developed 4Cs (color, clarity, cut and carat weight) as a method to access the quality of diamonds. Today, GIA’s 4Cs is the international standard for diamond grading everywhere in the world. Learn about the 4Cs below: