Diamonds are not the only thing that can stand the test of time. Some of the diamond’s greatest allies in its quest to be immortalized are literature, poetry, and song. Western canonical literature exemplifies the pinnacle of literary achievement, so what better way to help shape what people think about diamonds than to use what helped shape the western culture? Written language has been around for countless generations, and people have been writing about diamonds for many of these generations. Below are a few sparking examples that have graced our works of word and song through the ages.
Though it wasn’t the first time a diamond was referenced, “diamond in the rough” is one of the most commonly used phrases when referring to a diamond. The first recorded use in print was in John Fletcher’s 1647 play A Wife for a Month. “She is very honest, and will be as hard to cut as a rough diamond.” Though the phrase originally referred to a person who is “basically good hearted but lacking social graces and respect for the law,” as it does in this context, the phrase has transmuted to have so much more meaning. You’ve probably heard it used to refer to someone or something that has one-in-a-million style qualities, but has been so downtrodden by his, her, or its circumstances that its true potential is yet to be uncovered.
The glitz and glamour associated with diamonds was forever written into American literary history with little known gems like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novella, “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.” Fitzgerald, a known partier and materialistic socialite, used the idea of a diamond “bigger than the Ritz” as a boon to the existence of the antagonist’s family. In the story, the Washington family owns a huge diamond, which is very high in value in the market in which it was discovered. However, the Washington family knows that the value of the diamond would decrease if knowledge of its size was leaked, because its sheer magnitude could supply the whole world with diamonds. In their quest to keep their secret from the world and maintain their high income and social status, they pauperize themselves and fall from grace.
Another famous use of the powerful symbolism inherent in diamonds was in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, when Ben, the tragic main character’s deceased older brother says, “The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds,” a quote that hinges on the monetary and social value and of diamonds being of utmost important to Willy, the “salesman” of the title. In the play, Willy believes that he has a lot of friends and is very “well-liked,” and Ben uses the image of diamonds to convince Willy that, in the wake of many failed business dealings, Willy’s own suicide will provide money and a status enhancement for his family.
Diamonds in literature have flowed seamlessly with the development of the diamond market, and less depressing examples than the above two have emerged from the folds. After the phrase “A Diamonds is Forever” was coined by De Beer’s, the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, wrote his fourth novel that would later be turned to film, Diamonds are Forever. When the book became film, Shirley Bassey wrote a song by the same name for the movie soundtrack. Her song is only one of many of the songs about diamonds that have embedded themselves deep within the American attitude: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” and “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” are a few other songs that helped Americans understand diamonds as a symbol of dreams and wealth.
Other writers looked past their market value as well, instead focusing on their more ethereal qualities of their carbon gleam and the watery appearance that is created by their elusive angles. “The hues of the opal, the light of the diamond, are not to be seen if the eye is too near,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson.
It is because of our ability to see value in diamonds, even uncut ones, that we write so often about them and their value. An old Chinese proverb states, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Emerson referenced diamonds in his transcendental writings when he wrote, “Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” Even noted satirist Mark Twain advised, “Let us not be too particular. It is better to have old second-hand diamonds than none at all.” We have always been able to see the beauty in diamonds, even imperfect ones, and not only do philosophers, poets, and songwriters reflect on their value in our lives, they compare their intrinsic value to the way we live.