South African diamonds are well known the world over and for many people, diamonds are what come to mind when you think about South Africa. Much of this has to do with the legacy of De Beers, perhaps the world’s most famous diamond mining company and who, of course, have their history firmly rooted in South Africa. The diamond industry is generally shrouded in mystery and misconceptions, and at Katannuta Diamonds we love dispelling false beliefs and correcting misunderstandings. So, here are 8 facts that you might not know about South African diamonds:
South Africa’s first diamond was discovered in 1867.
The discovery of a 21.25ct rough diamond in Hopetown by Erasmus Jacobs kick-started South Africa’s diamond rush in 1867 (3000 years after diamonds were first found in India). Found on the banks of the Orange River, this alluvial diamond was named the Eureka diamond and was subsequently cut and polished into a 10.73ct cushion-brilliant cut diamond. After passing through several hands, De Beers purchased the Eureka diamond in 1967 and donated it to the South African people. It now resides in Kimberley, at the Kimberley Mine Museum.
Diamonds are mined on the sea floor off the west coast of South Africa.
South Africa and Namibia both have rich alluvial diamond deposits along their coastline, near the mouth of the Orange River. Over millions of years, the Orange River has transported diamonds hundreds of kilometres from South Africa’s interior to the ocean through erosion. Specialised ships can mine diamonds from depths of up to 150m off the South African and Namibian coastlines.
South African diamonds have always been conflict-free.
As the world becomes more conscious and aware, consumers are more focused on making sure they “do no harm” with their purchases. Blood diamonds, as conflict diamonds are colloquially known (mostly thanks to the 2006 Hollywood movie), are diamonds that have been mined in war zones and are sold illegally to fund armed conflicts. Key countries that were involved in conflict diamonds were Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, Angola and the DRC. Thanks to the Kimberley Process, and a cessation of civil unrest in these African countries, conflict diamonds have been virtually eliminated from the industry. Diamonds mined in South Africa are, and have always been, conflict-free.
The world’s biggest diamond ever found was mined in South Africa.
In January 1905, a 3,106ct rough diamond was discovered in South Africa at the Cullinan Diamond Mine (named the Premier Diamond Mine at the time), just north of Pretoria. Named after the owner of the mine, Thomas Cullinan, the Cullinan Diamond was first put on display in Johannesburg, before being sent to London. However, two years after its discovery, the Cullinan Diamond had still not found a buyer. Following a suggestion by the Prime Minister of the Transvaal, the diamond was purchased and gifted to King Edward VII. It was subsequently cut into 105 diamonds, with the two biggest diamonds taking pride of place in the Crown Jewels. The 530ct Cullinan I is set in Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, whilst the 317ct Cullinan II is set in the front of the Imperial State Crown.
South Africa’s Cullinan Diamond Mine is the world’s most reliable source of blue diamonds.
Blue diamonds are extremely rare and valuable; only a tiny fraction have ever been mined. Petra Diamonds, the current owners of Cullinan Diamond Mine, have recovered many significant blue diamonds from the mine over the last few years. Blue diamonds are a result of boron imperfections in the crystal lattice of the diamond and prices on outstanding blue diamonds can range upwards of $ 1 million per carat. In 2021, a 39.34ct exceptional Type IIb blue diamond was unearthed at Cullinan, South Africa and sold for $40.1 million.
Some South African diamonds are more than 3 billion years old.
In 1984, Professor Steve Richardson of the University of Cape Town, published a landmark paper in Nature, proving that diamonds are significantly older than their volcanic host rock (kimberlite). By chemically analysing garnet and clinopyroxene inclusions found in diamonds, Richardson illustrated that some of the diamonds from Kimberley are over 3 billion years old. Subsequent studies have shown that the average age of South African diamonds is between 1 – 2 billion years.
In 2022, South Africa was the 5th largest producer of diamonds in the world.
Despite De Beers having closed, and sold, several of its South African diamond mines, South Africa is still making a significant contribution to the global diamond market. In 2022, South Africa produced 9.6 million carats of diamonds, with a value of over $1.5 billion. Other companies currently mining diamonds in South Africa include Petra Diamonds Ltd, Rockwell Diamonds Inc and Namakwa Diamonds Mining Limited.
South Africa is home to the world’s largest hand-excavated hole – but it’s not the Big Hole.
Kimberley’s Big Hole is an icon in the world’s diamond industry and open-cast miners excavated to a depth of 450 feet (137m) using pickaxes and spades. For many years, the Big Hole was believed to be the world’s largest hand-excavated hole, but 2005 research by historian Steve Lunderstedt revealed that the Jagersfontein mine actually holds the record. By 1911, the Jagersfontein open-cast pit (110km southwest of Bloemfontein) had been dug to a depth of 660 feet (200m), by hand.
If you’re looking to buy a South African diamond, why not contact Katannuta Diamonds? With extensive knowledge of the diamond industry and access to some of the best available diamonds in South Africa, at competitive prices, our diamond expert and company founder Clare Appleyard is ready to help you find your perfect diamond. Send us an email or contact us on social media and let us know how we can help you.