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Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Diamond Industry in Southern Africa

Diamonds are always a fascinating subject.  They have been catalysts to the rise and fall of myriad fortune seekers.  The South African story is no different.

The diamond industry in South Africa was established in 1868.  It retains its important place in the economy of South Africa and has been the foundation of its modern industrialisation. South Africa’s chief diamond pipes are relatively wide-spread across South Africa.  The producing areas are - Kimberley in the Cape Province; Transvaal (now called Gauteng); the Orange Free State (now called Free State); and the North West Cape.  Diamond digging operations at the famous Big Hole in Kimberley ceased in 1914. 

The Biggest Diamond in the World 
Premier Mine, where the world’s largest diamond, the 3,025-carat Cullinan Diamond, was discovered in 1905, is one of South Africa’s largest diamond mines.  The Cullinan Diamond is the largest uncut diamond ever discovered. However, when it comes to polished diamonds, the Great Star of Africa (530.4 carats) lost its title as the biggest polished diamond to the Golden Jubilee Diamond (545.67 carats) in 1985.

Still the Biggest Known Rough Diamond in the World
The Transvaal government bought the rough diamond from the mine for 150,000 pounds. Transvaal Prime Minister Louis Botha's proposal to give the Cullinan to King Edward VII was approved by the Transvaal Parliament and the rough diamond was accepted by the King in a 66th birthday presentation on 9th November 1907.

Cullinan diamond
Frederick Wells with The Cullinan Diamond
South Africa at the time was a British Colony and the find occurred very shortly after the Boer War which had led to much bitterness between the Boers and the British. It was thought that this gesture might help reconcile the two sides to a certain extent.

Outwitting Thieves
Transporting the diamond from South Africa to England caused much anxiety to the authorities. In a novel plan, detectives from London were placed on a steamboat that was rumoured to carry the stone. The stone on that ship was actually a fake, meant to attract those who would be interested in stealing it. The actual diamond was sent to England in a plain box via parcel post, albeit registered!
The Nine Main Cullinan Diamond Cuts
The Nine Main Cullinan Diamond Cuts

Mining and Recovery Methods
Most South Africans are aware of our diamond legacy and are proud of it.  In a world-wide recognition of the diamond industry in South Africa,  the dark grey or black volcanic rock is known as kimberlite.  The name 'kimberlite' is derived from Kimberley, a town in South Africa, named after Lord Kimberley who was, at the time, the British Colonial Secretary.  Rough, natural diamonds are often recovered from 'kimberlite', which is also known as ‘blue ground’ (a layer of non-oxidized kimberlite). The rock is located in an unlimited depth and forms crater pipes through a gaseous explosions

Kimberlites are a class of igneous rocks commonly associated with diamond mining. Before the advent of modern geophysical probes, the ideal way to find a kimberlite pipe was to search for "yellow ground", a layer of oxidized kimberlite which is a deep tawny yellow. "Blue ground" was regarded with scorn during the South African diamond rushes
Formation of Kimberlites
Formation of Kimberlites
Formation of Kimberlites
Barney Barnato
One of the central characters in the initial diamond rush, and a South African legend, Barney Barnato, who made his fortune by purchasing digs in which the "blue ground" was all that remained.

Barney Barnato
Barney Barnato (link to additional information)
Barrnato who was born Barnett Isaacs (1851-97) started his working life at 14 in his father's shop in Petticoat Lane. London. Barnato was a stage name. He was intelligent but ill-educated; he was adventurous and possessed physical courage. He followed his older brother, Harry, to Africa to seek his fortune on the diamond fields. He had a meteoric rise from itinerant trader and small diamond merchant to being the owner of claims and then learning that the essence of capitalism lay in company formation, access to finance and share dealing. Barnato moved from taking small risks to making calculated investment decisions with long term consequences. His success depended on both luck and astute judgement. Barnato was the first to understand the diamond finding prospects of the blue ground.

1 comment:

  1. I'm ignorant when it comes to diamonds. So, thank you very much for the information. It was interesting, but I think they'll still not be my best friend (as in that song Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend). :-)