One of the world’s most coveted and controversial gems, I took a look at the background, beauty and regulation standards of diamonds for Fastjet’s Places in-flight magazine. Read below my ‘Diamonds in the Rough.’
The word diamond comes from the Greek word Adamas, meaning invincible, untamed and unbreakable. This rare and desirable gem is known for it’s unparalleled brightness, sparkle and sense of purity and has been fuelling the imaginations of raconteurs, novelists and moviemakers since its discovery. There exists no other gem that holds more allure or interest.
A Diamond is Forever.
Beyond this desire and fascination, however, very real questions arise. One being: where do the precious stones come from and how can we be sure of their quality and value? Fortunately, in 1931, the Gemological Institute of America looked to the four characteristics that all diamonds share and created the 4Cs international grading system, now universally adopted as the standard in a diamond evaluation.
How a diamond is graded
Under their system, each diamond is objectively graded and checked for authenticity and any heat treatment. From there, the 4 Cs – colour, clarity, cut and carat – are assessed. Colour is graded to a scale that ranges from D to Z; D being the purest colourless diamond and Z having a yellow tint. There are 11 qualitative ways to rank the clarity of a diamond. The fewer inclusions and blemishes, the better the clarity grade. While the clarity significantly impacts a diamond’s value, most of the imperfections cannot be seen with the naked eye.
The cut, be it round or brilliant, is not only about the shape, but also the sparkle and brilliance that emanates from the stone. Yair Shimansky of Cape Town’s Shimanksy Diamond Jewellers pioneered the My Girl Diamond, the cut that which achieves the perfect balance of fire and brilliance and results in a one-of-a-kind sparkle. The final criteria, carat, is a measure of weight, with one carat equal to 0.2 grams. No two stones are alike, and even those with equal weight will have different values as a result of differences in colour, cut and clarity.
The Kimberley Process international diamond certification
Equally important to the established 4Cs is the 5th C: confidence, which denotes that a diamond is ethically sourced. In a bid to stop the trade in conflict or blood diamonds and ensure that diamond purchases were not financing violence, the Kimberley Process (KP), an international diamond certification scheme, was founded. By late 2002, negotiations between governments, the international diamond industry and civil society resulted in the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which sets out the requirements for controlling rough diamond production and trade. By 2003, participating countries were implementing its rules.
The KP has been effective in reducing the flow of conflict diamonds, which are used to finance wars against governments around the world, and is reported to have helped stem 99.7% of the global production of conflict diamonds, with 99.8% of the world’s diamonds now coming from conflict-free sources.
However, the narrowness of the KP definition of conflict diamonds has come under criticism, as it means that a diamond receiving KP certification may still be linked to violence. It also fails to address violence, worker exploitation or environmental degradation linked to diamond mining, or any of the pressing ethical problems facing the diamond industry today.
To rise above the doubt, companies like Shimansky purchase their rough diamonds directly from South African mines, making them the only jewellery company in South Africa to source, cut and polish their own diamonds, and qualified to issue each stone with an Ethical Compliance 100% conflict-free guaranteed certificate.
An estimated 10 million people are directly or indirectly supported by the diamond industry, with 65% of the world’s diamonds coming from African countries. Efforts to cut down on corruption and trade in conflict diamonds are delivering, but the question of how to ensure the benefits of mining this precious commodity reaches the people, and is not only benefitting the predominately foreign-owned mining companies that have historically reaped the reward, remains.
So how can concerned consumers ensure they are buying conflict-free diamonds in a way that helps those who have mined them? Asking questions can go a long way. Question jewellers about the provenance of their gems and the mining conditions in that country. After all, being informed is always in vogue.
The five largest gem-quality diamonds ever have all been found in Africa.
Famous African gems
Cullinan: 3 106 carats, South Africa. Found in 1905, the Cullinan was gifted to King Edward VII. The stone was cut into smaller gems, the most famous being the Star of Africa, which is set into the British Crown Jewels.
Lesedi La Rona: 1 109 carats, Botswana. Unearthed at the Karowe mine in north-central Botswana in 2015, the colourless Lesedi was purchased by British jeweller Graff Diamonds for US$53 million.
Excelsior: 995 carats, South Africa. Famed for its bluish-white colour, the Excelsior was discovered at Jagersfontein Mine in 1893. Without a buyer at the time, it was tactlessly cut into at least 20 pieces.
Star of Sierra Leone: 969 carats, Sierra Leone. The Star of Sierra Leone is a type lla diamond, indicating a lack of nitrogen atoms in the crystal structure. Fewer than 1% of all diamonds have this level of purity.
Yet Unnamed: 910 carats, Lesotho. Gem Diamonds discovered this diamond, which is yet to be named, in early 2018 in Lesotho’s Letseng Mine.