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As every good television viewer knows, diamonds are not only forever, but they are the symbol of love and commitment. Western popular culture has idolized the diamond for its incredible beauty and its reminder of the first bloom of love.

But as you stare deep into the eyes of your lover and think fondly of diamond engagement rings and sparkling facets, can you actually remember when the diamond became that symbol of everlasting affection? Did you ever even know?

The first diamond engagement ring known was given by Maximilian I, Hapsburg Archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor. He gave it to his fiancée, Mary, the heiress to the Dukes of Burgundy (Maximilian was very intelligent and managed to marry a great deal of land and wealth into the family through his own engagement and that of his relatives-the diamond was a small price to pay).

So what were diamonds used for between then and the time since they were first unearthed about 4000 years ago in India? Frankly, very little. Diamonds were relatively insignificant until Louis de Berqueur learned to cut facets into them in 1456. Once they were fashionable, they became sought after pieces of jewelry and also began to be used commercially. As diamond is the hardest substance known to man, its manufacturing uses are practically limitless.

For centuries, people thought that only India was home to diamonds, but when they were found in Brazil around 1726, the industry moved to South America. It was a short-lived dominance, however, as the discovery of (relatively) immense supplies of diamond were found in South Africa in 1867. Since that discovery, the African continent has been the primary supplier of the world's diamonds. It was also that discovery, which led to the European conquest of the continent during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

While almost every cut diamond is a coveted item, some diamonds are of such magnitude or beauty that they have captured the hearts and imaginations of countless people. Among these is the Star of Africa (also known as Cullinan I), which at 530.2 carats is the largest cut diamond. It was cut from a 3106-carat stone and is now on the Royal Scepter of Great Britain. A great deal of mystery surrounds the Great Mogul, which is the third largest gem quality diamond known, but which's whereabouts are currently unknown. Named for Shah Jehan (who built the Taj Mahal), it disappeared in the twentieth century. The inaptly named Hope Diamond is also the subject of much controversy. During the French Revolution, the Blue Tavernier diamond was stolen and in 1830, Henry Thomas Hope bought a slightly smaller stone of the same color and beauty. It is suspected that the gem known as the Hope Diamond was cut from the Blue Tavernier sometime after the revolution. After Hope died, the diamond passed through a few other hands and each person who owned it lost his or her fortune, including the stone itself. As a result, no one would touch it by the time it went on sale in New York City. It now resides in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Diamonds come in a variety of colors, from the transparent diamonds that we think of as engagement rings to startling blues to luminescent pinks. They are treasured stones in industry and in jewelry. Fortunately, modern technology can now manufacture sufficient quality diamonds for most necessary industrial uses, but it remains to be seen if it will ever catch up in making gem quality stones. If it does, it's anyone's guess whether the diamonds will lose value just as they become widely available.