Botswana discovers third-largest diamond just as market recovers

Botswana has discovered what experts believe is the world’s third largest diamond, just as the market for the gems has recovered from a slump in sales due to the pandemic.

The diamond, which was unearthed by Debswana, a joint venture between the government and De Beers, was measured at 1,098 carats — making it the biggest find globally since the Lesedi la Rona stone unearthed in the country in 2015.

Sales of diamond jewellery have rebounded in the US as the country’s economy recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s pushed up prices for rough diamonds, with prices at a De Beers sales event this week increasing by 5 per cent, according to people familiar with the event.

“The market is incredibly hot,” Anish Aggarwal, a partner at diamond consultancy Gemdax, said. “We’ve seen strong consumer demand. During Covid and the lockdowns we’ve seen consumers shift from experiential consumption towards personal goods and that has helped the diamond market.”

The Natural Diamond Council, an industry-backed body, said diamond jewellery sales in the US, the world’s largest market, rose by 30 per cent between March and May, from the same period last year.

At the same time the world’s largest diamond miners have curtailed around a fifth of their supply compared to pre-Covid levels in order to support prices, according to analysts at Citi.

Prices for rough diamonds have risen by 14.5 per cent this year as of mid-June, according to diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky.

While there is no estimate yet of the price of the diamond discovered at the Jwaneng mine in Botswana on 1 June the Lesedi la Rona diamond sold for $53m in 2017.

Last year diamond miner Lucara sold a 1,758 carat diamond it discovered in Botswana to Louis Vuitton, although no price was given for the sale.

“Debswana will work with the Government of the Republic of Botswana and De Beers to value and sell the diamond to ensure it returns maximum benefit for the people of Botswana,” the company said.

Debswana, Botswana’s biggest private employer and the main source of state revenues, has been entwined with the country’s history for half a century.

The Jwaneng discovery is “a symbol of what Botswana is about,” said President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who cradled the diamond at a ceremony in Gaborone, the capital, this week. 

Masisi’s government has pushed for diamond miners to give more of a cut back to the country from their sales, including support to make Botswana a bigger hub for higher-value activities such as polishing and trading.

“Our national development needs will in part be met by the proceeds of the diamond,” Masisi said. “We will tax the company sufficiently, they will pay royalties and remunerate their workers, and we will distribute the resources through the systems we have to develop this country.”

De Beers said the diamond would take its place in history “as one of the most exceptional diamonds ever discovered.”

The biggest diamond ever discovered was the Cullinan Diamond, which was dug up in South Africa in 1905. At 3,106 carats the diamond was cut up and incorporated into the UK’s Crown Jewels.

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