Record price for SA diamond

The raw 7.03-carat blue diamond found at
South Africa’s Cullinan Mine before it was
cut and polished.
(Image: Sotheby’s)

A miner carrying the legendary Cullinan
Diamond discovered in 1905.
(Image: Bryson Burke)

Khanyi Magubane

A 7.03-carat blue diamond discovered at the legendary Cullinan Mine in South Africa has broken a world record after it sold for US$ 9.4 million (R81-million) at an auction in Geneva, Switzerland.

The amount exceeded the pre-sale maximum estimate of $8.5-million (R73-million).

Hosted by auction house Sotheby’s, the sale of the diamond – classified as a “fancy vivid blue” – has been recorded as the highest price offered for a gemstone at an auction.

The new owner of the prized possession, Hong Kong collector Joseph Lau Leun-Hung, bid telephonically during the tightly contested sale, which lasted 15 minutes.

Lau Leun-Hung has since exercised his right to name the diamond, now known as the Star of Josephine.

Classified by the Gemological Institute of America as “internally flawless”, the cushion-shaped diamond was sold as part of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels Sale series, and comprised a number of classical pieces.

Another popular piece was a pink pear-shaped 5.29-carat diamond, which sold for $2-million (R17.3-miilion), and a marquise brilliant-cut vivid yellow diamond, weighing in at 18-carats.

According to the Times of India, the demand for big-sized stones is gaining momentum in Asian and western markets including Hong Kong, Japan, China and the US.

“Auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s are fuelling the consumer confidence around the world. While the world is reeling under recession, the sale of the blue diamond has revived the hope for the diamond industry,” said Bharat Gosai, a leading diamond expert, during an interview with Times of India.

Also present at the sale was Johan Dippenaar, the chief executive officer of Petra Diamonds, the company that bought the Cullinan Mine from diamond miners De Beers last year. 

Speaking to Sotheby’s, Dippenaar said, “The renowned Cullinan Mine continues to captivate the world with spectacular diamonds, building on its legacy as the source of some of the world’s most famous gems.

“This has been a very successful partnership with Sotheby’s … and has provided the perfect platform to garner international recognition for a gem of this caliber.”

Sotheby’s international jewellery department chairperson for Europe and the Middle East David Bennett spoke highly of their partnership with Petra.

“We are particularly thrilled with the price achieved for the exceptional fancy vivid blue diamond … its has been very exciting and rewarding to work so closely with Petra Diamonds and to follow the progress of this remarkable gem over the last few months and through to its auction success on the international stage.”

In total, the Magnificent Jewels Collection sold 266 lots for a whopping $35.7-million (R309-million).

Diamonds for Africa

The Pretoria-based Cullinan Diamond Mine, with its long history of legendary blue diamond discoveries, dates back to the early 1900s.

On June 25 1905, the world-famous Cullinan Diamond was discovered there by mine superintendent Frederick Wells. On a walk through the mine he picked up what he thought was a large piece of glass. When it turned out to be a 31.08-carat diamond, Wells was given a $10 000 (R86 000) reward for the discovery.

Sir Thomas Cullinan, the mine’s owner, went on to sell the stone to the then Transvaal government, who in turn presented it to King Edward VII for his 66th birthday.

The king sent the stone to be cut by master diamond cutters the Asscher brothers in Amsterdam. The final process of polishing the Cullinan Diamond was completed in 1908 and was subsequently cut into nine pieces.

Some parts of the Cullinan Diamond can be found in English Crown Jewels as well as the personal gemstone collection of the Royal Family. To date, the Cullinan is still recorded as the largest uncut diamond ever found.

Other famous finds from the mine include the 755-carat Golden Jubilee, the 600-carat Centenary, and the 530-carat Great Star of Africa.

Since the 1905 find, more than 120-million carats have been mined at Cullinan. It is still in operation and producing about 25% of the world’s gem-quality diamonds.

Public tours are conducted at the mine for those wanting to visit the historic site.

Tourists interested in the underground operation of the mine are treated to an underground tour, where tour guides explain the process of diamond mining.

Visitors are taught about the extraction of diamonds from the earth and the process of diamond cutting.

Sharing an African vision

Petra Diamonds, the company that owns the Cullinan Mine, has acquired a number of diamond mines across Africa, and has since been recognised as one of the biggest independent diamond mining groups in the world. It also owns the Koffiefontein, Helam, Sedibeng and Star mines in South Africa.

In other parts of the continent, Petra Diamonds has acquired a 75% stake in the Williamson Mine in Tanzania.

According to company reports, it has reached an agreement with De Beers to buy the Kimberly Underground mines.

With the threat the illegal diamond trade poses to the industry, Petra Diamonds has committed itself to only working with companies that are a part of the Kimberly Process, which promotes the dealing in conflict-free diamonds.

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