The Origins of Bling
The desire to adorn ourselves with beautiful, shiny natural diamonds – or “bling” – is a deeply human one. A journey that started thousands of years ago, it is a testament to our nature, and how we are drawn to all things beautiful.By Amrit Mohan |
A Brief History of Adornment
The desire to adorn our bodies with beautiful jewellery is inherently human. In fact, it is a characteristic that existed in us before we were even people – the earliest known jewellery was created by Neanderthals. And the journey has never stopped since.
The Greeks used gold, silver and metal for jewellery ranging from rings and pendants to bracelets and earrings. The Romans wore precious stones, including opals, emeralds, pearls, and of course, diamonds. In Egypt, everyone wore jewellery, regardless of status; employing everything from precious metals and semi-precious stones to painted clay, stones, shells, and bones. In medieval times, perhaps more so than at any other time, jewellery served as a symbol of social status; nobility wore gold, silver and precious gems, and the general public wore base metals like copper. The Renaissance saw the addition of head ornaments and bodices adorned with jewels in addition to traditional necklaces and earrings.
While the term ‘bling’ may be new(-ish), the concept is as old as time. And diamonds have played a key role in its evolution for thousands of years. Pictured here among other bling is a rendition of a pair of Mughal-era glasses said to have belonged to Emperor Shah Jahan, originally encrusted with emeralds and Natural Diamonds.
A Concept As Old As Time
…while the term ‘bling’ may be new(-ish), the concept is as old as time. And diamonds have played a key role in its evolution for thousands of years…
While the term ‘bling’ may be new(-ish), the concept is as old as time. And diamonds have played a key role in its evolution for thousands of years. It is commonly believed that diamonds were first mined in India – they even find mention in the works of 1st century Roman author Pliny the Elder. But around a thousand years later, in the 12th century is when we really started going big with our bling.
One of the largest cut diamonds in the world, the Daria-i-Noor (“Sea of light”), is the rarest shade of pale pink to be found in diamonds. It was once a part of Shah Jahan’s famous Peacock Throne. The whopping 182 carat natural diamond is believed to have been cut from an even larger piece, the Great Table Diamond – arguably making Shah Jahan the posthumous poster-child of the bling lifestyle.
Another example is the House of Medici, who, it is believed, went to great lengths to acquire what has since been called the Florentine Diamond, a 137 carat light yellow diamond with slight green overtones. Valued at $750,000 all the way back in the 18th century, the colour of the diamond was described as “wine mixed tenfold with water.”
Fast-forward three hundred years, and bling was still very much in. The Wittelsbach diamond is yet more proof that bling – and the stone that represents it best – have never gone out of style (and probably never will). The King of Bavaria once commissioned a special royal crown with the sole purpose of prominently displaying the 35 carat deep-blue diamond.
Finally, A Word That Fits
Simply put, the word ‘bling’ means flashy jewellery that shows off a particularly bold personality – specifically diamonds. It is commonly believed that Lil Wayne came up with the term (or at the very least, is directly responsible for its widespread pop culture usage and subsequent dictionary inclusion) in 1999, as part of the group Cash Money, for B.G’s hit single “Bling Bling”. And if there’s anyone up to the task of coming up with a single crisp, cool, ageless word for celebrity diamond jewellery, it’s Wayne. What is surprising is how quickly the word has gained popularity in almost every realm of modern culture – perhaps more proof of how inherent to us as human beings the concept is? Perhaps the term bling is not so much referring to shiny things, but in fact the things that make us feel like we shine. It would certainly explain our excitement as a global society to finally have a word for a sentiment we’ve felt for thousands of years.
… the term bling is not so much referring to shiny things, but in fact the things that make us feel like we shine. It would certainly explain our excitement as a global society to finally have a word for a sentiment we’ve felt for thousands of years…
Bling as Self-Expression
Bling is everywhere. From royal crowns commissioned for the display of diamonds, to the Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bras that have been a mainstay since 1996, there seems to be a long, unspoken link between the red carpet style and natural diamonds – the ultimate bling. Marilyn Monroe knew this. For her 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the iconic actress adorned herself with the famed Moon of Baroda diamond, a beautiful 24 carat natural diamond of fascinating yellow colour in an antique pear shape. Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway know this. Roberts, who donned the iconic diamond and ruby necklace designed by the French celebrity jewellery designer Fred Joaillier for Pretty Woman, was more recently spotted flaunting her bling at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, when she chose to complete her red carpet look with a gorgeous diamond necklace designed by Chopard. Featuring a gigantic 100 carat yellow diamond in a pendant, it has an additional 54 carats of pear-shaped and cushion-cut diamonds lining the necklace. And who can forget Hathaway’s stunning Cartier necklace in Ocean’s 8, the “Jeanne Toussaint”, modelled after a legendary 136 carat blue-white diamond piece created by Jacques Cartier himself for the Maharaja of Nawanagar in 1931. And with her love for diamonds well known to all around her, it is no surprise that Jennifer Lopez too has often been spotted with her bling. Last year she was seen with a gorgeous 8.5 carat natural green diamond centre stone; and it is only one of several in her collection. The singer and actress also owns a beautiful 15 carat emerald cut diamond ring.
The list of celebrities flamboyantly exhibiting their love for diamonds on the red carpet is one that can go on a while. In 2019, Lady Gaga wore the famed Tiffany Damond – a 128 carat beautiful yellow stone – to the Oscars, and the jewellery world hasn’t stopped gasping since. Reportedly, it was the most expensive jewel ever to be worn to the Academy Awards. The same year, Missy Elliot also wore a stunning diamond necklace to the VMAs. More recently, she shared a self-portrait featuring a new custom diamond piece inspired by her 1995 hit The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly). In the rap, bling is still big as ever. Rapper Gucci Mane has it written all over him. Literally. A couple of years ago, he got diamond-studded teeth, his “man-gagement ring” was a three-stone diamond wonder, and at their wedding, his bride reportedly held a diamond-encrusted bouquet.
And it is not just pop stars, actors, and actresses that flaunt their bling every chance they get. The sports world too, has its share of bold personalities, and they have their bling. Cristiano Ronaldo has flaunted his with flair on multiple occasions. Some of his favourites include a diamond-encrusted Franck Muller timepiece, a Rolex GMT Master encrusted with “hundreds of 30 carat diamonds”, and a stunning ring featuring a large yellow diamond encircled by “a halo of white diamonds and set on a diamond-encrusted band.” And the list goes on.
Bling Means Business
Given the timeless appeal of bling, it is no surprise that major fashion brands would want to dabble in diamonds too. Gucci offers an array of rings, earrings, studs, bracelets and necklaces adorned with the finest Kimberly certified natural diamonds. Versace presents stunning diamond watches that are to die for. Louis Vuitton has entire collections offering natural diamonds in various forms, ranging from rings and pendants to bangles, bracelets, and even ear cuffs.
From “Bling, Bling” to “Bling”
There have been many names and terms given to our desire for beautiful natural diamonds over hundreds of years. There have been times when the sentiment has not needed a word at all, as omnipresent as it is. And now we find ourselves in a time where there is this neat little word that conveys precisely what we’ve wanted to say all along. When the term first came about, it was “bling, bling.” Then it evolved to the singular, “bling”, which is currently in popular use. While the words we use to describe our desire for it may continue to evolve further, the feeling we get from natural diamonds adorning our person has always, and will always be ours to cherish.