June 2017

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Finding Diamonds: Stories of Fantasy and Finance

Whether it’s a large mining company, or a lucky teenager wandering in a national park, the stories of finding diamonds are always framed with a touch of serendipity, and a hearty dose of good fortune. And it’s a story that people everywhere can’t get enough of.

We’ve all heard it before. The older gentleman who takes the family’s heirloom ring to the Antiques Roadshow, only to discover he’s been sitting on a priceless gem – just before he was going to sell it at the pawn shop. Or the mining company, down on its luck, who finally excavates a massive, record-breaking rough diamond. What is it about these stories that people find so appealing? Why is it that finding diamonds – lost in a garbage chute, hidden in a riverbed, or stuffed in the back drawer – that makes us turn our heads and want to hear more?

Finding Diamonds is Winning the Lottery

Of course, a large part of what makes finding diamonds so appealing is the financial angle. Who among us doesn’t secretly hope that our jewelry box inheritance will yield a fabulously expensive find among all the costume jewels? This is exactly what happened recently to a woman in England, who – perhaps wisely – chose to remain anonymous. Meanwhile, her story carried across the globe. In the 1980s, the lucky lady purchased what was believed to be a fake diamond ring for the equivalent of $13 at a car boot sale in west London. Thirty years later, it was discovered that the ‘fake’ diamond was in fact a genuine, 26-carat cushion-shaped diamond from the 1800s. Sotheby’s originally estimated the value of the ring at $300,000-400,000, and it eventually sold at auction at Sotheby’s in London for a whopping $847,667!

How could the diamond have been so misunderstood for so long? According to experts, the diamond was cut in the 1800s, when cutting techniques were far less sophisticated than today. Modern diamond cutting is based on a range of advanced planning technologies that maximize the polished diamond’s sparkle and fire. Back then, primitive cutting techniques resulted in diamonds that were duller, even grayish in appearance. To the modern eye at the local car boot sale, this amazing rare gem seemed like a poor, fake reproduction. Now it has been discovered and sold to an international diamond trader. The diamond will probably be recut using the world’s best technologies, and the new diamonds that result will likely be valued at far more than the original antique diamond.

Perhaps the reason why the story captured the imagination of people all over the world is the secret wish we all have to be ‘that’ person. Or as the head of Sotheby’s jewelry department in London was quoted in the Evening Standard, “Anyone would be [excited] in this position, it’s a life-changing amount of money. No matter what your background is or what your past experiences have been, it’s going to revolutionise someone’s life.”

Searching in the Right Places

Speaking of revolutionizing lives, how about the stories that crop up now and again about the lucky person who finds a diamond when hiking in a national park? Truth be told, diamonds are not just going to turn up in any state park. The stories that come out of the US about people finding diamonds come from the famous Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas, a popular tourist site that is the world’s only diamond hunting ground open to the public. The park has a 37.5 acre plowed field where visitors can search for diamonds and semi-precious gemstones.  Hundreds of diamonds are found by the public each year, and there are always the ‘stand-out’ stories that get a lot of press. This year, Wendell Fox from Montana found a 2.78 carat diamond at the park. He and his wife had only been searching for an hour and a half before stumbling upon their rare and valuable find. In May, a 25-year-old woman unearthed a 2.65-carat brown diamond. Although brown diamonds are less prized than white, the sheer size of the rough stone makes it an exceptional find worthy of press coverage. And in March, a 14-year-old boy found a 7.44 carat diamond, the seventh largest ever to be found at the Arkansas state park. According to his mother, the boy loves science, particularly rocks and minerals, and he’ll keep the diamond to help with future college fees or the down payment on a house. Me too, please!

Diamond Mines: The Hidden Treasure Trove

Another reason that finding diamonds is such a special and fascinating event is the knowledge that – unless you own a mining company – natural diamonds are impossible to come by. Yet even mining companies come out every now and again with irresistible stories about their diamond finds. Such as the recent discovery made by Gem Diamonds of two diamonds each over 100 carats in size, excavated from its mine in Lesotho in southern Africa. The story broke after a less-than-successful year, in which the company has unearthed ‘only’ five diamonds over 100 carats. To individuals scouring the Arkansas state park, it might sound ridiculous. But to an expensive mining operation working in the competitive global diamond market, these recent finds might just be what the company needed to turn its fortunes around. Good news indeed.

At the end of the day, finding diamonds is more than just about money. The mystical, mysterious and desirable aspect of diamonds, which began even in ancient times, still commands our culture today, in spite of trends in lab-grown diamonds, environmental and social awareness, and a certain cynicism among millennial consumers. That’s why these stories, and thousands more like them, will continue to charm people in the years and centuries ahead.

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