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234 × 156 × 24 mm
256 pages
103 illustrations, 61 in colour
01 Mar 2017

Rocks, Ice and Dirty Stones Diamond Histories Marcia Pointon

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 in some of the world’s poorest countries remains conten­­tious. Immensely valuable for their size, stones can be easily hidden and transported, and so are favoured by those fleeing persecution as well as by criminals wanting to launder cash. Diamonds have been widely used in industry since the nineteenth century, and have long been valued for their pharmaceutical and prophylactic properties.

This probing, 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, from the multi-million-dollar ‘rock’ to the high-street brilliant. Finally, she reminds us why and how lost, stolen or cursed diamonds create suspense in so much classic fiction and film.

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.

‘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, Professor of History (Emeritus), University of Sussex, author of Glamour: Women, History, Feminism

‘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 . . . A scholarly and entertaining read. Highly recommended.’ — R. R. Shield, Brown University

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Marcia Pointon is an independent scholar and research consultant; she is Professor Emeritus of History of Art at the University of Manchester and Honorary Research Fellow at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. She is the author of Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gem Stones and Jewellery (2009), Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in Eighteenth-century England, Portrayal and the Search for Identity (Reaktion, 2012) and History of Art: A Student's Handbook (5th edn 2014).


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