Traditionally diamonds were a luxury reserved for European kings and nobles, but in the mid 18th century, when Indian mines were nearly exhausted, the discovery of Brazilian sources enabled the emerging middle class to purchase and adorn themselves with diamonds. Diamonds were sought not only by Europeans, but Americans as well; even Martha Washington had a diamond wedding ring. Diamond demand soared in the 1860's, causing the Brazilian supply to deplete. On the brink of disaster, one child's discovery saved the diamond market. In the winter of 1867, a young South African boy named Erasmus Jacobs found a transparent stone on his family's farm, located on the southern bank of the Orange River. After several months and careful inspection the stone was determined to be a 21.25 carat diamond rough, worth #500. Entitled "Eureka", it is now credited as being the first diamond discovered in South Africa.
Nearly three years passed before another diamond was found in South Africa. In March of 1869, the "Star of South Africa" sparked the first diamond rush (this gem would later be auctioned by Christie's, in Geneva, fetching $552,000 in May of 1974). In the fifteen years that followed South Africa yielded more diamonds than India had in over 2,000 years. Prospectors came in droves, most with only picks and shovels, to the banks of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. For many centuries it was believed that diamonds occurred in surface deposits (typically shallow riverbeds) known as alluvial deposits. When, in 1869, diamonds were discovered in an area distant from any streams or rivers, the theories on diamond formation and occurrence were re-examined. The second discovery was made in July of 1871, at Colesburg Kopje, later known as the Kimberley Mine, in honor of the British Secretary for the Colonies, John Wodehouse, First Earl of Kimberley. Miners here soon found that the diamonds were not limited to the first few feet of surface soil, an important distinction between these primary deposits and alluvial deposits. Mineralogists now theorized that these sources were volcanic channels, dubbed "kimberlite pipes", through which diamonds were brought to the earth's surface. This discovery at the Kimberley Mines revolutionized mining technology: no longer were pans and shovels sufficient. The pipe at Kimberley was partitioned into 470 claims, each 31 square feet, with 15-foot roadways between them. An elaborate series of roads and steel cables was implemented over the mines to transport equipment, supplies and buckets of earth. As the pits became 70 feet deep, roadways began to collapse and flooding threatened the claims. One man, Cecil Rhodes, saw this as a golden opportunity.
Cecil Rhodes arrived in the port of Durban, South Africa, in September 1870, with only one dream-to extend the British Empire throughout the world. Colonizing Africa was a means to a glorious end. With this in mind, he set up his tent, along with nearly 50,000 other prospectors. Rhodes offers us this description in a letter to his mother "I would like you to have a peep...from my tent door at the present moment...Imagine a small round hill, at its highest point only 30 feet above the level of the surrounding country, about 180 yards broad and 120 feet long, all round it a mass of white tents...It's like an immense number of ant heaps covered with black ant as thick as can be; the latter represented by human beings". When the flooding began Rhodes invested all of his money, roughly #2,000, in the only steam pump in South Africa. Claim owners, defenseless against the flooding, were willing to pay Rhodes any amount of money to pump their individual claims. With the profits he purchased new and larger pumps from England and continued to steadily increase his fees. The mine owners could not afford to pay Rhodes his exorbitant prices, and instead paid in claims, making Rhodes the largest owner in the De Beers Mine by the age of 27. He regarded this wealth and power as instrumental in achieving his vision of a global British Empire, but only one obstacle remained-The Kimberley Mine.
Barney Barnato, Rhodes's rival, arrived in South Africa in 1876, and bought four claims in the Kimberley Mines. He made a large profit and formed the Kimberley Central Mining Co., the largest company in the Kimberley Mine by 1883. Rhodes, seeking control of the mine, attempted to buy out Barnato's enterprise. The result was a fierce financial battle, each man acquiring as many shares of the Kimberley Mines as they could get. Eventually Barnato relented, and sold Kimberley Central to Rhodes for #5,338,650, which was, at the time, the largest check ever issued. In 1888, Rhodes merged the holdings of both men into a new company, De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. It was, and remains, the leading diamond company in the world, owning all of the South African mines and thus 90 of global diamond production. On 14 August 1914, work on the Kimberley Mine was suspended; after yielding 13.5 million carats of diamonds, the supply was depleted. Known as "The Big Hole", it is 705 feet deep and is the largest hand dug excavation in the world.
Diamonds excavated from the Kimberley cluster of mines are characteristically light yellow, and are known as "Cape diamonds" after the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Loyal to its namesake, this fancy yellow diamond is the only stone honored with the title "The Kimberley Diamond". Weighing 490 carats in the rough, it was cut to a flawless rectangular shape of 70 carats in 1921, and then again in 1958, by the New York firm of Baumgold Bros., to its present weight of 55.08 carats. This fancy yellow diamond is a historical treasure from the depleted Kimberley Mines and the diamond rush that forever changed mining theories and technology.
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF DR. HERCHEL SMITH (cont.)
THE KIMBERELY DIAMOND