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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Rocks, Ice and Dirty Stones

Diamond Histories

The king of stones, valued since antiquity for their unrivalled hardness, diamonds today are both desired and deplored. Once faceted and polished they glitter on the fingers of brides-to-be and in the ornaments of the super-rich, but their extraction from some of the world’s poorest countries remains contentious. Immensely valuable for their size, diamonds can be easily hidden and transported, making them perfect contraband. Diamonds have been widely used in industry since the nineteenth century and have long been valued for their pharmaceutical and prophylactic properties.

This entertaining and richly illustrated book examines the history of the diamond trade through the centuries from India and Brazil to South Africa and Europe and investigates what happens to diamonds once they reach the cutters and polishers. Marcia Pointon takes the reader on a unique tour of the ways in which the quadrahedron diamond shape has inspired design, architecture, and painting, from the symbolism of medieval manuscripts to modern-day graffiti. She questions the etiquette of engagement rings, and she reminds us why and how lost, stolen, or cursed diamonds create suspense in so many classic novels and films. This compelling and fascinating account of the history of sparklers around the world will appeal to all who covet, as well as all who despise, the unparalleled brilliance and glitter of the diamond.

272 pages | 50 color plates, 50 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017


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“Pointon tells a rich story of diamonds that includes illuminating information on the industry and trade, enhancing her book throughout with wonderful photos, diagrams, and illustrations. The author writes in approachable prose about how diamonds have been conceptualized, cut and polished through the ages, and traded. She details symbolic and artistic designs inspired by the diamonds’ shapes and physical qualities. Pointon considers the contradiction that this hardest of substances can shatter under particular circumstances: the frailty of gemstone manufacture looms as a constant threat to the polishing that diamonds must undergo for trade. Her book chronicles how diamonds have been considered in literature, poetry, fable, and religion; tells tales of the diamond trade in past centuries; documents the rich history of families and firms in the trade; describes the making of the myth of diamond rarity through advertising; and details how they are used for luxury. The last chapter recounts numerous stories of theft through the ages. A scholarly and entertaining read. . . . Highly recommended.”


“A story of glitter and the dark side of history. Here are diamonds as objects of desire but also as magnets for human cupidity: theft, fraud, and murder. This is a rich and compelling cultural history, cool, precise, and laser-sharp in its analysis. And it sparkles with style.”

Carol Dyhouse, author of Glamour: Women, History, Feminism

Table of Contents

ONE Diamonds and Empire
TWO Diamond Business
THREE Diamond: Shape, Pattern, Symbol
FOUR A Girl’s Best Friend? Diamond as Luxury and Necessity
FIVE Theft
Further Reading
Photo Acknowledgements

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