This is not a paywall.

Register for free to continue reading.

The news sucks. But your reading experience doesn't have to. Help us improve that for you by registering for free.

Please create a password or click to receive a login link.

Please enter your password or get a login link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for registering.

First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

We'd like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick

More specifically, we'd like those who can afford to pay to start paying. What it comes down to is whether or not you value Daily Maverick. Think of us in terms of your daily cappuccino from your favourite coffee shop. It costs around R35. That’s R1,050 per month on frothy milk. Don’t get us wrong, we’re almost exclusively fuelled by coffee. BUT maybe R200 of that R1,050 could go to the journalism that’s fighting for the country?

We don’t dictate how much we’d like our readers to contribute. After all, how much you value our work is subjective (and frankly, every amount helps). At R200, you get it back in Uber Eats and ride vouchers every month, but that’s just a suggestion. A little less than a week’s worth of cappuccinos.

We can't survive on hope and our own determination. Our country is going to be considerably worse off if we don’t have a strong, sustainable news media. If you’re rejigging your budgets, and it comes to choosing between frothy milk and Daily Maverick, we hope you might reconsider that cappuccino.

We need your help. And we’re not ashamed to ask for it.

Our mission is to Defend Truth. Join Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Diamonds are Botswana’s best friend: The tricky busin...

Business Maverick


Diamonds are Botswana’s best friend: The tricky business of finding huge gems

The 1,098 carat gem-quality diamond unearthed by the Botswana Government and De Beers joint venture mining company Debswana. The stone was found on 1 June 2021 and is believed to be the third largest of its kind, according to Debswana mines. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STR)
By Tim Cohen
17 Jun 2021 0

Debswana has discovered the world’s third-largest gem-quality diamond. Now all they have to do is find a buyer.

Finding a huge diamond is just dreamy — like winning the lottery, but crazier. Also, it’s trickier to sell huge diamonds than you might imagine. 

De Beer’s subsidiary Debswana announced on Thursday that it had unearthed a 1,098 carat stone in Botswana at the beginning of June. It said, cautiously, that “preliminary analysis suggests the stone is the world’s third-largest gem-quality diamond ever, after the Cullinan diamond that was discovered in South Africa in 1905 and the Lesedi La Rona that was found in Botswana in 2015”.

According to Debswana’s acting managing director, Lynette Armstrong, it’s the largest diamond recovered by Debswana in its 50-year history. The diamond hasn’t been named yet.

The gem is a lot smaller than the 3,106-carat Cullinan found in SA in 1905 and only slightly smaller than the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona.

The Lesedi La Rona was discovered by Canadian company Lucara Diamond Corp at its Karowe mine about 500km north of Gaborone. A year after the discovery, the stone was put up for auction by Sotheby’s in London. Bidding stopped at $61-million, failing to meet the house’s $70-million reserve.

The following year, 2017, it was bought by British jeweller Graff for $53-million. Two years later, Graff had cut it into one large emerald cut diamond — the Graff Lesedi La Rona, weighing 302.37 carats — and 66 smaller stones.

The Graff Lesedi La Rona is the largest, highest clarity, highest colour diamond ever graded, and the largest emerald cut diamond in the world.

A 1098 carat gem diamond unearthed by the Botswana Government and De Beers joint venture mining company Debswana, put on display at the Botswana State House to show to the President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi, in Gaborone, Botswana, 16 June 2021. The stone measuring 73 by 52 by 27mm was found on 01 June 2021 and is the world’s third largest of its kind according to Debswana mines. EPA-EFE/STR

It’s also still for sale. The stone is so expensive that the price hasn’t been mentioned. If you have to ask…

The world’s largest diamond, the Cullinan, was also not sold in its cut form — it was given away, famously after a suggestion by the then Transvaal Prime Minister Louis Botha. He proposed buying the diamond for King Edward VII as “a token of the loyalty and attachment of the people of the Transvaal to His Majesty’s throne and person”. 

At that stage, two years after the stone was discovered, nobody had stepped up to buy it.

The diamond was essentially used as part of a diplomatic exercise since South Africa was building towards union and was warming the British up to grant the new union home rule. As a consequence, at the vote, all the representatives of the Boer republics voted in favour of giving the stone to Edward VII. All the representatives of the former British colonies voted against. 

The plan seems to have worked. The Union of South Africa was formed and soon afterwards granted home rule.

The Transvaal Colony government bought the diamond on 17 October 1907 for £150,000, which, adjusted for pound-sterling inflation, is equivalent to $25-million in today’s money. 

It produced nine major stones of 1,055.89 carats, including Cullinan 1, or what is now known as the Great Star of Africa — which is at the centre of the Sovereign’s sceptre — and Cullinan II, or the Second Star of Africa, which is part of the Regent’s crown. 

But there is a problem. Huge strides have recently been made in diamond mining technology, including something called the “roll crusher”, which reduces the number of large stones that get damaged in the process of extraction. Diamonds are fabulously hard, but they do have facets, so they can be damaged if struck at a certain angle.

As a result of the innovation, greater numbers of very large stones have been coming on to the market. 

Botswana Minister of Infrastructure and Housing Development, Thapelo Matsheka, holds a 1098 carat gem diamond unearthed by the Botswana Government and De Beers joint venture mining company Debswana, as it’s being displayed at Botswana State House for the President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi, in Gaborone, Botswana, 16 June 2021 . The stone measuring 73 by 52 by 27mm was found on 01 June 2021 and is the world’s third-largest of its kind according to Debswana mines. EPA-EFE/STR

Assuming the latest find can be sold, the discovery comes at a good time for Botswana and Debswana. Production at Debswana fell by 29% in 2020 to 16.6m carats, and sales fell by 30% to $2.1bn as the pandemic devastated production and demand.

Debswana hopes to increase output by a hefty 38% to pre-pandemic levels of 23 million carats in 2021 as jewellers reopen and the market normalises. Certainly, the sale of a great, thumping diamond would help. BM/DM


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

No Comments, yet

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted