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Diamond Mines of the World: South Africa Diamond Mines

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Kimberley - North Cape Diamond Mines

Article Copyright © 2009 AllAboutGemstones.com

The Kaapvaal Craton in central South Africa was blessed with some of the richest diamond-bearing kimberlite dykes on planet earth. Kimberley, the present capital of Northern Cape provence in South Africa, started out as a mining/boom town, becoming ground-zero for the historic South African diamond industry.

It all started in 1866 on a farm near Hopetown, a young shepherd named Erasmus Jacobs found a small white pebble along the bank of the Orange River. That white pebble was passed on to a neighboring farmer named Schalk van Niekerk who sent it to Grahamstown to be identified by a Dr W.G. Atherstone. The pebble turned out to be a 21.25 carat diamond, dubbed the "Eureka."

In 1870, diamond diggers discovered stones at the Bultfontein, Du Toits Pan, and Vooruitzight farms, and in 1871, an 83.50 carat diamond was found on the slopes of Colesberg Kopje, leading to the first 'diamond rush' into the area. Miners began arriving by the thousands, and the hill at Colesberg Kopje began to disappear, replaced by a gigantic open-pit mine that became known as the "Big Hole".

Northcape South Africa Map

   Kimberley 'Big Hole' Diamond Mine

Kimberley 'Big Hole' Mine - Photo: Public Domain

Kimberley began as a town called "New Rush" and was renamed Kimberley on June 5th 1873. Kimberley was named after the British Secretary of State of the Colonies, John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley. A diamond trader/speculator from England, named Barney Barnato systematically bought up pieces of the Big Hole to eventually create the 'Kimberley Central Mine.'

The largest company to operate a diamond mine in South Africa during the diamond rush was the De Beers Company, founded Cecil Rhodes. The De Beers empire was started on a farm owned by two Boer War settlers, brothers D. A. and J. N. De Beer. Around 1873 the De Beer brothers sold out to a group of mining syndicates who later merged with Cecil Rhodes' pumping company to form 'De Beers Consolidated Mines.'

Historical Photos of Kimberley Diamond Mining

Kimberley rapidly became the largest city in the North Cape, due to massive migration to the area from all over the African continent. These immigrants supplied the cheap labor force for the De Beers company and Kimberley Central Mine's Big Hole.

At the time, the British controlled much of the surrounding land of South Africa and decided to annex the area around the diamond mine. As a result of this decision, Kimberley was besieged at the beginning of the Second Boer War on October 14 1899.

As of today, five enormous holes have been dug into the earth at Kimberley, each following the trail of the kimberlite pipes. The largest, the "Kimberley Mine" or "Big Hole," covered 170,000 meters and reached a depth of 3,520 feet (1,097 meters). Kimberley's Big Hole mine is the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. The Big Hole yielded over 3 tons of diamonds before it was closed in 1914. Three of the remaining holes; the Du Toitspan, Wesselton, and Bultfontein mines closed in 2005.

New Orange River alluvial deposits have been located along the Namibian boarder, near South Africa's northwest coast. The Baken Diamond Mine sits on the south bank of the Orange River, approximately 50 miles from Alexander bay.

Limpopo Province

The most notable diamond mine in this provence of South Africa is the Venetia Diamond Mine. The Venetia is an open-pit diamond mine that produces over 40% of the world's gem-quality diamonds. The Venetia diamond mine opened in 1992, and is the De Beers Company's flagship operation today. Diamonds are extracted from the undisturbed kimberlite within the pit as well as from the overshot-zone using drilling and/or blasting (below, right).

Map of Limpopo South Africa

   Diamond Mining - Limpopo Province

Photo: Unknown/Public Domain

Venetia is a conventional open-pit mine located on a kimberlite pipe. At present the mine employs surface mining techniques that are expected to carry on for 20 years. After that point it will be determined if it is feasible to continue the mining operation using underground "hard rock" mining.

located in Limpopo's north-east is The Oaks Diamond Mine 20km south-east of Swartwater. The Oaks is one of South Africa's newer diamond mines, operated by De Beers Group.

Gauteng Province

The Cullinan Diamond Mine (aka Premier Diamond Mine) has been the source of some of the world's largest diamonds. Prospector Thomas Major Cullinan purchased the land (then the Elandsfontein farm) in 1902 after the present owner Willem Prinsloo died. The mine is located in Gauteng Province (adjacent to Limpopo Province), South Africa. The mine is situated over one of the largest kimberlite pipes in the world.

Historical Photos of Cullinan Diamond Mining

The largest rough gem-quality diamond in the world was found by Frederick Wells (above center), of the Premier Diamond Mining Company in 1905. The rough stone was 3,106.75 carats, weighed over 1.3 pounds (621 grams), was colorless and free of inclusions. Known as the "Cullinan Diamond," the rough uncut stone was sold to the Transvaal Government for 150,000 pounds.

Premier Diamond Mine 1914

The Premier Diamond Mine (c. 1914)

   Premier Mine in 1918

Premier Mine (c. 1918)

In 1907 King Edward VII had the stone cut into eleven gemstones by Joseph and Jacob Asscher in Amsterdam. The largest of the eleven was named the "Cullinan l" or the "Great Star of Africa" (below, far right) which weighed 530.20 carats. The second largest cut diamond to come from the Cullinan stone was called the "Cullinan ll" or "Lesser Star of Africa", weighing 317.40 carats (below, right).

Cullinan Diamond Mine

Cullinan Diamond Mine - Photo: Public Domain

   Portuguese Diamond

The Portuguese Diamond from the Premier Mine

The Great Star of Africa was the largest polished diamond in the world until the discovery of the "Golden Jubilee" diamond in 1985. The Golden Jubilee diamond was also from the Premier Diamond Mine and has a cut weight of 545.67 carats.

Kingdom of Lesotho

The tiny land-locked Kingdom of Lesotho is a mountainous sovereign nation located in the center of the Republic of South Africa. Lesotho's Lets'eng Diamond Mine (aka "Lets'eng-la-Terae" or "swamp in the corner")—owned by Gem Diamonds Limited—is noted for its high percentage of large diamonds in the 10+ carat range, although the mine is expensive to operate with a low yield of around 2 carats per hundred tons.


Letseng Mine - Photo: www.gemdiamonds.com

With its large amount of sizable roughs, the Letseng mine has the highest dollar-per-carat ratio of any diamond mine in the world. The Letseng Mine is also one of the highest altitude diamond mines in the world at around 3,100 meters, situated on the high plateaus of the Maluti Mountain range (known as the "Roof of Africa"), 16 km southeast of Mothae, and 70 km north of Mokhotlong, off highway A1.

One of the most notable diamond roughs to come out of the Letseng diamond mine was the 603 carat "Lesotho Promise diamond, found on August 22, 2006. Lesotho Promise is the 15th largest diamond ever found, and the largest rough unearthed in this century.

Lesotho Promise will ultimately be cut by London's House of Graff, creating an estimated 20 'D-flawless' cut diamonds ranging from a 75 carat pear-shaped stone to several 1+ carat stones with a total estimated worth of around $25 million US.

The 601 carat fancy-colored "Lesotho Brown" diamond was discovered by a tribal Basuto woman at Letseng in 1967, and subsequently cut into eighteen diamonds.

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Bibliography on the Diamond Trade

1. Mining Technology, New Techniques in Mining Technology . SPG Media Group PLC

2. Stefan Kanfer, The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World . Farrar, Straus, Giroux

3. National Geographic, Diamonds: The Real Story

4. Janine Roberts, Glitter & Greed: The Secret World of the Diamond Cartel . The Disinformation Co.

5. Edward Jay Epstein, The Diamond Invention . www.edwardjayepstein.com

6. George E. Harlow, The Nature of Diamonds . Cambridge University Press

7. De Beers, The De Beers Group

8. Trans Hex, The Trans Hex Group

9. Rio Tinto, Rio Tinto Group

10. DizzyDiamonds.com, The Asscher Family History

11. Gem Diamonds Ltd., Lesotho - Gem Diamonds Limited

12. Mining Review, Letseng Diamond Mine

13. Williams, Gardner, The Diamond Mines of South Africa Vol.I and II - Buck & Company

14. Fred Cuellar, How To Buy A Diamond 5th Edition . Sourcebooks Casablanca

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