The name diamond is derived from the ancient Greek αδάμας (adámas), “proper”, “unalterable”, “unbreakable”, “untamed”, from ἀ- (a-), “un-” + δαμάω (damáō), “I overpower”, “I tame”. Diamonds are thought to have been first recognized and mined in India, where significant alluvial deposits of the stone could be found many centuries ago along the rivers Penner, Krishna and Godavari. Diamonds have been known in India for at least 3,000 years but most likely 6,000 years.
Diamonds have been treasured as gemstones since their use as religious icons in ancient India. Their usage in engraving tools also dates to early human history. The popularity of diamonds has risen since the 19th century because of increased supply, improved cutting and polishing techniques, growth in the world economy, and innovative and successful advertising campaigns.
In 1772, the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier used a lens to concentrate the rays of the sun on a diamond in an atmosphere of oxygen, and showed that the only product of the combustion was carbon dioxide, proving that diamond is composed of carbon. Later in 1797, the English chemist Smithson Tennant repeated and expanded that experiment. By demonstrating that burning diamond and graphite releases the same amount of gas, he established the chemical equivalence of these substances.
The most familiar uses of diamonds today are as gemstones used for adornment, and as industrial abrasives for cutting hard materials. The dispersion of white light into spectral colors is the primary gemological characteristic of gem diamonds. In the 20th century, experts in gemology developed methods of grading diamonds and other gemstones based on the characteristics most important to their value as a gem. Four characteristics, known informally as the four Cs, are now commonly used as the basic descriptors of diamonds: these are carat (its weight), cut (quality of the cut is graded according to proportions, symmetry and polish), color (how close to white or colorless; for fancy diamonds how intense is its hue), and clarity (how free is it from inclusions). A large, flawless diamond is known as a paragon.