But to be honest, despite their popularity, diamonds never enchanted me much. Even as my birthstone, the diamond never quite called to me the way colored stones do; never gave me the quiet thrill that the carnelian does, with its cloudy orange depths darkening to russet in the shadows. I never stared into the soul of a diamond like I do a garnet, marveling at the liquid burgundy abyss. I never looked at a diamond and felt the call of the ocean, like I do when I’m handling an aquamarine.
The diamond was too neat, too perfect. The facets too mathematical. Magic, to be sure, but it felt like a trick: a hall of mirrors, reflecting and refracting light without depth.
As I began designing my own pieces, I started to understand the diamond better: its magic is not in the stone itself necessarily, but its ability to cast a halo of light and draw attention to the beauty of the things around it. The cleanness, and brightness -- all the things I had never cared for -- became miniature stars dotting the lines of my architectural designs, drawing the eye through the golden geometry I had created. It was a dew drop clinging to a piece of grass, creating a prism that makes the green even brighter. It was a spotlight on the stage.
With grudging appreciation, we developed a good working relationship, the diamond and I. But I still didn’t quite get the hubbub.
Then … I started getting into antique jewelry. Where I once focused solely on contemporary designers, I found myself spending hours (and hours!) scrolling through the corners of Instagram studying intaglios (carved hardstones) and intricate Victorian earrings. Learning about styles and materials and settings. It’s an ongoing education, but above all else, I began to understand diamonds in a very different light.
18K gold earrings set with old mine cut diamonds weighing 10.15 carats total.
Photo: David Behl. Copyright: Janet Mavec & GIA
Antique pieces feature glittering diamonds in every shade: from ivory and pale yellow sunshine hues to crystalline with tinges of mellow reds and browns. Diamonds that feel warm and inviting. Diamonds that feel alive. No frosty impersonal stones with their illusory perfection. These jewelry pieces from the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries featured stones that felt human because they are; the diamonds were all shaped and cut by hand, before electricity. A person handled each gem and thoughtfully carved out facets that would best capture the flames reflected from flickering candlelight which illuminated the world.
And I finally got it.
These billion-year-old stones, formed under immense pressure in the depths of the earth, are still just rocks until we give them life. Until we handle them and shape them and place them in our creations and wear them into the world.
That frenzied burst of glitter that happens when the light strikes the stone? That’s our magic, bringing it to life.