But by the late 1700s the old ruling classes, the largest consumers of diamonds, were in decline and the political upheavals that engulfed Europe in those years, like the French Revolution, they led to changes in the distribution of wealth.
The 1800s brought growing wealth to Western Europe and the United States. The explorers unearthed the first large South African diamond deposits in the late 1800s just as the demand for diamonds was starting to increase very quickly from all over the world and without any decline.
The history of the modern diamond market really begins on the African continent, with the discovery of diamonds in 1866 in Kimberley, South Africa. The entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes 22 years later, or in 1888, founded De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited. By 1900, De Beers, through its mines in South Africa, controlled about 90% of the world’s rough diamond production.
South African sources have affected many segments of the diamond industry. This was especially true when diamond mining moved from the surface to the subsoil. Due to the enormous costs and relatively low yields involved, new sources have forced the development of more efficient extraction techniques. They created the need for better marketing. They also called for an improvement in cutting and polishing. All these advances have increased efficiency, reduced costs and improved the appearance of the finished stones.
In 1870, the annual production of rough diamonds was well below one million carats.
In the 1920s the figure was around three million carats. Fifty years later, annual production approached 50 million carats to exceed 100 million carats per year in the 90s.
In the late 1970s, the world’s leading producers of rough diamonds were South Africa, Zaire (now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo) and the former Soviet Union. In the 1980s, production of superior quality diamonds from Russia and South Africa remained relatively constant, but Zaire’s production, albeit of lower quality diamonds, more than doubled.
In 1982, a new, highly productive mine in Botswana was added to world production.
A prolific source of high-quality diamonds, the Jwaneng Mine, has increased Botswana’s production so much that the country has risen to third place in the world for total diamond mining and second for diamond value. De Beers entered into a contract with the Botswana government to purchase the mine’s production and Botswana decided to build its own diamond cutting industry.
World diamond mining has expanded considerably with the discovery of sources in Australia in 1985 and major new deposits in northern Canada in 2000.
The market has probably changed both after 1990 and in the years following the discovery of diamonds in 1866 in South Africa and the establishment of De Beers. The 1990s brought exciting new sources and encouraged the dramatic growth of some cutting centers. All of this was happening as the world economy rocked wildly. As a major player in the trade, De Beers also had to change. The De Beers of today bears little resemblance to the De Beers of 1989. The company has lost its role as a monopoly custodian of the supply of diamonds. Instead of flowing into the market in a one-channel path from De Beers, diamonds now flow into the market through multiple channels. Not everything has changed, however. Regardless of which route they take, diamonds continue to flow from mines through cutting centers and finally to retail customers.
The brilliance of the diamond has been prized for centuries, without having much scientific knowledge before the twentieth century. Since then the knowledge of diamonds has grown steadily, with the research of chemists, physicists, geologists, mineralogists and oceanographers. In the last 50 years alone, scientists have learned a lot about how diamonds are formed and how they are transported to the earth’s surface. This knowledge made it easier to predict locations for new diamond discoveries.