Taking Inventory: Diamond

A cutting-edge material

Let’s be honest – there’s no greater joy in Minecraft than breaking a block, deep underground, and seeing the shimmer of blue diamond ore behind it. It’s the bee’s knees, the cat’s pyjamas, the fox’s socks, the creeper’s hiss.

Diamonds, as you’ll probably know if you’ve played this game for any time at all, are rare and special. They’re found deep underground, below y-level 16, in blocks of diamond ore, but if you’re lucky you might also happen upon them in chests scattered around the world – in woodland mansions, strongholds, desert temples, and shipwrecks.

Diamonds were added to the game in 2010 in version 0.31, making them the same age as feathers, string and mushroom stew. When they were first added, diamonds were actually emeralds – but they were changed to diamonds the following day (and emeralds were re-added later on as a trading currency).

The reason diamonds are so coveted, why they’re so exciting to encounter, is that they’re used to make the best weapons and armour in the game. A diamond pickaxe is the only tool that’ll let you break obsidian, while diamond armour is the strongest and most durable.

But that’s not all. Diamonds are also a key ingredient of beacons, enchantment tables, bling-tastic diamond blocks, firework stars, and the all-important jukebox. What would life be like without fireworks and jukeboxes? Rubbish, that’s what.

In the past, I’ve written about what real-world diamonds are made of and how they’re mined, and the brilliant Alex Wiltshire wrote about how they’re the hardest substance we know of. So this time, I’ll tell you about the history of our relationship with these sparkly stones.

The first civilization that got into diamonds in a big way is believed to have been the Indian kingdoms of the fourth century BC, where they were gathered from streams and rivers and traded among the elites, who in turn traded them with the rest of the world. They believed that a diamond could protect its wearer from danger. Any Minecraft player who’s watched their freshly mined diamond ore tumble into the lava knows that sadly isn’t true.

The ancient Romans and Greeks were also pretty fond of diamonds – but they believed that they were the tears of gods. The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century AD: “Diamond is the most valuable, not only of precious stones, but of all things in this world.” Looks like somebody never managed to get himself an Ender Dragon egg...

By the 1400s, Indian diamonds had become popular as fashion accessories in Medieval European courts. They were thought to have healing properties, and to be able to cure ailments ranging from fatigue to mental illness. But by 1700, India’s supply was starting to dry up. Soon, Brazil had become the world’s primary producer of diamonds, then South Africa took the title in the late 1800s. By 1900, the South African company De Beers controlled about 90 per cent of the world’s production of rough diamonds.

Back then, annual production of rough diamond was well under a million carats. Today we understand more about the science of diamonds, so it’s easier to predict where they might reach the surface. That means production has rocketed up to more than a hundred million carats – with mines in Botswana, Russia, northern Canada and Australia.

But the most important diamond source for you is probably your Minecraft world. So here’s an extra bonus diamond tip that we’ve not mentioned in our previous posts on diamonds: if you spy some diamond ore on the ceiling of a cave over a lava lake, you should carefully cover or fill in the lake with cobblestone before you start mining. Otherwise, there’s a risk it’ll drop in the lava, and your hard work will have been wasted.

Good luck!

Written by
Duncan Geere