Diamonds, The King of Gems, Page 3

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Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the greatest gem merchant of all time, who lived in the 17th century, is our chief authority on the mines of India (Gibbon of Roman Empire fame refers to him as "that jeweler who had read nothing, but had seen so much and so well.").

As was to be expected, Tavernier had Gallic wit: "All the Orientals are very much of our taste in matters of whiteness and T have always remarked that they prefer the whitest of pearls, the whitest of diamonds, the whitest of breads, and the whitest of women." He describes the selling methods of the Hindoo gem merchants, a technique used today in the Chinese jade market: "The buyer and seller sit facing one another like two tailors and one of the two opening his waistband, the seller takes the right hand of the buyer and covers his own with his waistband under which, in the presence of many other merchants who occupy themselves sometimes in the same manner, the sale is completed secretly without anyone having cognizance of it." The silent code depends on whether the whole hand, a finger, or a mere joint is covered, each having its numerical value.

A century later, when the Brazilian mines were discovered, European diamond merchants had adequate stocks of Indian diamonds. They, therefore, stated that the Brazilian stones were not diamonds, or if so, of an inferior quality. The Portuguese, however, had an Indian colony at Goa. The stones were shipped there, transshipped to Europe, and brought top prices as Indian stones.

The magical powers ascribed to gems are intriguing. Regarding the diamond, let us quote that worthy, Camillus Leonardus, doctor of medicine and protégé of Caesar Borgia, who wrote in 1502: "The Virtue of all these Species (of Diamonds, SHB) is to repel Poison though ever so deadly: is a defense against the Arts of Sorcery; disperses vain Fears; enables to quell all Quarrels and Contentions; is a Help to Lunaticks and such as are possessed with the Devil; being bound to the left Arm it gives Victory over Enemies; it tames wild Beasts; it helps those who are troubled with Phantasies, and the Night-Mare; and makes him that wears it bold and daring in his Transactions."

Notwithstanding the gem's rumored power against poison, diamond powder administered internally has long been supposed in certain quarters to be a deadly poison. One of Cellini's most amusing tales is of an attempt upon his life by this method by his rivals. His miraculous escape was due to the cupidity of the lapidary to whom the task of grinding the diamond was assigned. He, being in financial straits, pocketed the diamond and substituted a softer and cheaper stone.

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