Big is beau­ti­ful for Le­sotho’s di­a­monds

Lesotho Times - - Business - Gavin du Ve­nage

LE­SOTHO is not of­ten in the news — and when does fea­ture, it is usu­ally be­cause Bri­tain’s Prince Harry, who likes to make the oc­ca­sional foray there for char­ity work, is in­volved.

The coun­try does, how­ever, pos­sess some of the finest di­a­mond de­posits on the planet. For this rea­son it is of spe­cial in­ter­est to those pur­su­ing gem-grade di­a­monds — any­thing above 10 carats and in fancy colours, says Hugo Phil­ion, a mem­ber of the man­age­ment team of the Emi­rati-backed Paragon Di­a­monds. “White or fancy colours such as pink, brown, red and green usu­ally qual­ify.”

Di­a­monds are clas­si­fied into two cat­e­gories: type I di­a­monds that con­tain ni­tro­gen; and Type IIA di­a­monds which are ni­tro­gen free. It is the lat­ter that con­tain colours and is the gem type with which Le­sotho is par­tic­u­larly blessed.

Some of the largest di­a­monds ever dis­cov­ered have been found at just one op­er­a­tion, the Letšeng mine run by Gem Di­a­monds, a Uk-based com­pany. Like Paragon’s planned op­er­a­tion, Letšeng com­prises sev­eral di­a­mond-bear­ing kim­ber­lite pipes and has steadily pro­duced spec­tac­u­lar finds since ex­ca­va­tion be­gan in the late 1950s.

Some of the big­gest stones range be­tween 500 and 600 carats un­cut, or about the size of a chicken’s egg. The 603 carat “Le­sotho Prom­ise”, dis­cov­ered in 2006, ranks as the world’s 12th largest di­a­mond. It was sold for US$12.4 mil­lion (about M134.8), to the Lon­don­based in­vest­ment jewel spe­cial­ist Graff Di­a­monds. Fol­low­ing a year of painstak­ing work, it was cut into 26 Flaw­less D (prac­ti­cally per­fect) jew­els, and fash­ioned into a sin­gle neck­lace. Graff es­ti­mates its value at about $50 mil­lion.

Since Gem Di­a­monds ac­quired a 70 per­cent stake in Letšeng in 2006, the mine has un­earthed four of the 20 largest white gem-qual­ity di­a­monds ever recorded. Last year’s ma­jor find was a 198 carat gem that made head­lines around the world.

All in all, Le­sotho has at least 39 dis­cov­ered kim­ber­lite pipes, of which 24 are di­a­mon­dif­er­ous, or those that con­tain di­a­monds for min­ing. And it will need them. The coun­try is des­per­ately poor, ranked 156 out of 177 coun­tries on the UN’S hu­man devel­op­ment in­dex. Most of its peo­ple work as labour­ers in neigh­bour­ing South Africa, by which Le­sotho is en­tirely sur­rounded.

Di­a­monds now of­fer a new source of in­de­pen­dent in­come. Al­ready di­a­monds con­trib­ute 10 per­cent of Le­sotho’s GDP, and if new dis­cov­er­ies are made, this could in­crease. New tech­nolo­gies could re­veal fur­ther un­known de­posits, says Paul Zimnisky, an in­de­pen­dent di­a­mond an­a­lyst in New York.

“Le­sotho, just like the other coun­tries and re­gions of the world that his­tor­i­cally have had eco­nomic di­a­mond re­sources, has been heav­ily ge­o­log­i­cally ex­plored,” he says, adding that new tech­nolo­gies could re­open pre­vi­ously searched ar­eas and lead to new dis­cov­er­ies.

“So I see new ex­plo­ration tech­niques and tech­nol­ogy and evolv­ing op­er­at­ing eco­nomics as the big­gest driv­ers of suc­cess in the di­a­mond ex­plo­ration/min­ing in­dus­try.”

In the mean­time Le­sotho is also hop­ing to be­come part of the larger gem­stone value chain. In 2011 it opened an academy in the cap­i­tal Maseru, to train lo­cal Ba­sotho men and women to cut, pol­ish and eval­u­ate stones. It may be time for Le­sotho to sparkle.

— Thena­tional.

THE Le­sotho Prom­ise (shown left) a 603-carat rough di­a­mond, was bought for $12.4 mil­lion and yielded the 26 multi-shaped pol­ished di­a­monds and set in a neck­lace now val­ued at more than $60 mil­lion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.