The history of great diamonds is intimately interwoven with the lives of emperors and conquerors, great kings and queens, with statesmen and soldiers, the rich and worldly - but also, inevitably, with those who lead more shadowy lives.
They have been objects of passion, sometimes of war, violence and theft.
As well as being objects of exceptional beauty and rarity, they were once thought to possess magical properties which protected their owners from enemies.
Initially a male prerogative, reflecting status and authority, they later adorned the wives of powerful men, and at times were offered as influential gifts.
Few were immune to the temptation of diamonds; many sacrificed their lives and souls to them.
In the past decade some historical diamonds have resurfaced, whilst the market has also seen an unprecedented arrival of 'fancy-colour' and modern gemstones, amongst them some of the biggest and finest ever seen.
In this updated fourth edition of 'Famous Diamonds', Ian Balfour tells the fascinating stories of almost eighty of these remarkable gems.
Some have detailed histories that can be traced from the present day back to the moment they were mined, while others have a more mysterious past or have disappeared from view.
Also included are shorter entries on a further selection of some forty notable diamonds.