What are Diamonds used for?

Gem diamonds

Diamonds have been treasured as gemstones since their first use as religious icons in ancient India. While the first record of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a ring that is set with pieces of diamonds in the shape of an ‘M’, it was not until the large mines were found in the late 1800s in Kimberley (which gave its name to the word ‘kimberlite’) in South Africa that supply was able to reach sufficient quantities for a mass market for diamonds to develop.

Today demand for gem-quality diamonds (which form the vast majority of Petra’s production on a value basis) is driven by their use in jewellery and watches, as well as across a wide range of luxury goods, from phones to pens.

The bedrock of the diamond industry remains the bridal sector, as diamonds are the traditional stone in engagement and wedding rings, representing eternal love and commitment.

Due to their entrenched association with certain culturally and socially important events, such as engagements, weddings, births and anniversaries, a solid foundation for diamond demand can be found in countries such as the United States and, to a growing extent, developing countries such as China and India.

Industrial diamonds

Diamonds’ unique physical properties have been recognised since antiquity, with their usage in engraving tools dating back to early human history.

Diamonds are suitable for a whole host of industrial applications due to the following qualities:

  • Hardest natural substance known to man
  • Unrivalled thermal/electrical conductivity (100x better than copper)
  • Robust inertness (electrical resistivity and stability)
  • Effective lubricant

Traditionally, the industrial use of diamonds has centred on cutting and grinding tools, such as diamond-tipped drill bits and saws and the use of diamond powder as an abrasive. Today, scientists are finding ever more sophisticated uses for ‘nano-diamonds’ in high-tech applications, such as super lasers, surgical tools, cancer treatment, next generation computing (spintronics) and much more.

Around 95% of industrial diamonds are synthetic, owing to the fact that their properties can be controlled during manufacture, allowing the product to be tailored to the requirements of the consumer.

The History of the Engagement Ring

A decorative ring has been used as a symbol of betrothal since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians believed that there was a ‘vein of love’ that ran directly from the heart to the ring finger, which is why the trend started to wear rings on this finger.

The first record of a diamond engagement ring was in 1477, when Archduke Maximilian of Austria proposed to Mary of Burgundy with a ring that is set with pieces of diamonds in the shape of an ‘M’.

However, until the large mines were found in the late 1800s in South Africa, there was such a limited supply of diamonds in the world that they were only the preserve of the very powerful and wealthy, such as Kings and Queens. Once supply reached sufficient quantities to support a mass market in diamonds, De Beers’ capitalised on this opportunity by helping to culturally entrench the giving and receiving of diamond engagement rings with the slogan and campaign ‘A diamond is forever’ in 1947.