History of Diamond Mining

‘Eureka’ is said to be the name given to the first diamond that started the diamond rush in South Africa around 1867. History has it that a shepherd by the name of Erasmus Jacobs whilst walking along the banks of Orange River, in a place called Hopetown in South Africa, saw what he thought was small white pebble. His suspicions must been aroused because he picked it up and took it home, showed it to a neighbour and local farmer whose interest was also engaged which lead them to the decision to have the ‘pebble’ analysed.

When the gemmologist report came back the ‘pebble’ was a 21.25 carat diamond. Four years later in 1871 an even larger diamond at 83.50 carat was found which lead to the first so called diamond rush. Heralded by this second find, extensive and prolonged mining and excavation activities followed, which resulted in a gigantic open pit, to appear on the landscape commonly known as ‘the big hole’.

For some time the area which became the centre of the rush was named ‘New Rush’. However, it was renamed Kimberley after the English nobleman, John Woodhouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley who was the British secretary of state at the time.

In 1880 Cecil Rhodes and seven other individuals formed a partnership called De Beers Company Limited. He was a very skilful and powerful man with notable political influential and was able to influence laws specific to the diamond mining industry.

Through his influence, no less than two laws were passed to control the behaviour of his employees. The first law made it legal to use surveillance methods to monitor the activities of his employees and it also gave him powers to order ‘strip searches’ at will, to ensure that none of his employees would be able to leave the mining compound with diamonds secluded about their person, thereby effectively curtailing and impinging upon their rights and liberty.

The second law made it illegal for mine employees to remove rough diamonds from the mines. The surveillance and ‘strips searches’ produced results and over a period of time, in excess of 100,000 carats of diamonds were found on workers leaving the mines for home.

It was at this time that it is believed that the seedlings of the apartheid laws which once existed in South Africa’s were planted. It came about when the white workers, through a series of strikes, demanded to be given separate living accommodation and more favourable treatment than their black co-workers. Pressures and demands which De Beers felt unable to deny those whom they felt were essential to their mining operations.

Although the surveillance methods were successful overall, mine workers were still able to remove rough diamonds from the mine which created a problem for the company, because at one point there was glut of diamonds on the open market, causing the price of diamonds to drop. This prompted De Beers to join forces with several other large wealth families, which included the Rothschild’s to establish the DeBeers Consolidation Mines Limited. This association gave the De Beers group the monopoly they needed to dominate the diamond mining industries of the world.

After joining forces with Rothschild’s and others, together they devised marketing strategies to control how the diamonds would be released onto the open market, which ultimately proved to be extremely effective.

It was decided that by selling their diamonds at prices significantly lower than could be bought on the open market to a small group of business men, bankers and wealthy associates, (who incidentally were also shareholders), they would be able to control the market by holding huge surpluses in reserve, thereby creating a the demand which would eventually pushed prices up and keep them up.

This strategy was employed for many years, making the members of that syndicate extremely wealthy. Additionally, effective advertising campaigns were launches to increase its popularity and desirability, making diamonds the most sought after precious gem purchased as engagement rings.

It was not all plain sailing. In 1914 Diamonds were found in nearby Namibia which at the time was virtually owned by the Germans. Feeling somewhat threatened, De Beers thought it might be prudent to strike a deal, but not before undertaking a field study which  proved sufficiently promising. Eventually a deal was struck and an agreement was made to divide up production.

The DeBeers empire is still in production today, although it is not the mining giant it once was.

Mining of any kind has always been a difficult and dangerous occupation. Many men have lost their lives, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands in pursuit of diamonds and continue to do so from time to time, even today with all the technological advancements made within the mining industry which is a fact well worth remembering.

The largest rough diamond ever found was in 1905 in the Cullinan mine and is known as the Cullinan diamond also commonly called the ‘Great Star of Africa’. It was 3106 carat and weighed 24 ounces. It was given as a gift to King Edward V11 on his 66th birthday and it eventually became part of the British Crown Jewels, housed in the Tower of London, England.

The Cullinan mine is still in production today on the 24th of September 2009 a significantly large diamond was found weighing 577 carats and said to be of exceptional quality, colour and clarity.