Experience the Northern Cape, South Africa

The history of diamonds is South Africa has its root in the Northern Cape and diamonds remain a legacy here, today. 

Erasmus Stephanus Jacobs - Although the first diamond discovery in South Africa was made in 1859, the country’s diamond heritage stems from a young boy, who picked up a pretty pebble near Hopetown in 1867.  15-year old farm boy Erasmus Stephanus Jacobs found the pebble on the banks of the Orange River. The true nature of the stone was undisclosed for a while as the kids used it for playing games on the farm.  Eventually Jacob’s mother offered the stone for free to a neighbour and casual stone collector, who expressed interest in the attractive rock.  Schalk van Niekerk later entrusted the stone to a travelling peddler John O’Reilly, who sent it to the well-known geologist Dr William Atherstone in Grahamstown.  Tests conducted by Atherstone revealed that the stone was a 21.25ct brownish-yellow diamond and he valued the diamond at £500.  Once cut, the stone weighed 10.73 carats and was called the Eureka

The Eureka diamond was later sold to Sir Phillip Wodehouse, governor of the Cape Colony, for £1500. Sir Phillip felt that Queen Victoria should be given the opportunity of inspecting the diamond first-hand, so the Eureka was sent on a long journey to Windsor. At the same time, a replica of the diamond was sent to be exhibited at the Cape Colony’s stand at the 1867 Paris Exhibition.  The Eureka is now kept at the Library of Parliament in Cape Town.

Schalk van Niekerk - The news triggered a flurry of excitement in the Hopetown area, but eager prospectors found only a few small stones to reward their efforts and drifted away disillusioned. Almost three years later in March 1869, a Griqua shepherd named Booi from the farm Zandfontein picked up another pebble and after in vain to trade it, once again found his way to Schalk van Niekerk.  Having learned something about precious stones, Schalk traded almost all his belongings including 10 oxen, a horse and 500 sheep for the stone.

The Star Of Africa
The discovery of this stone set off the diamond rush and Van Niekerk ultimately sold the stone to a firm of local jewellers for £11200. The 83.50 carat diamond was named 'The Star of Africa' and was sold in England to the Earl of Dudley for the then princely sum of £25000.

Kimberley
Diggers flocked to the area and staked their claims along the banks of the Orange and then the Vaal River and its tributaries to the north. Some of the first significant finds were made about 30 kilometres from the Vaal on the farm Vooruitzicht belonging to two De Beer brothers.  The 'Colesburg Kopje' - site of the future Kimberley and the richest treasure house of high quality gem diamonds in the world – was discovered nearby in 1871 and saw the dawning of the 'New Rush' had begun and the arrival of the famed diamond legends.

Cecil John Rhodes
By 1872, approximately 50 000 men had encamped in the area. Soon the tents were replaced by corrugated iron and mud-brick houses and rudimentary hotels, bars, brothels, banks, stores, a church, a school, the famed Kimberly Club and the stock exchange. The haphazard nature of the diggings were dangerous and could not be worked at all during the rainy season until an enterprising 19 year old Englishman named Cecil John Rhodes imported a steam operated pump to keep the diggings dry. During the 1870s Rhodes laid the foundation for his later massive fortune by speculating in diamond claims, introducing various mining techniques and eventually forming the De Beers Mining Company in 1880. Rhodes had decided that consolidation was the key to the success of the diamond fields and the company eventually took control of the De Beers mine.

Barney Barnato 
Like Rhodes, Barney Isaacs better known as Barney Barnato had successfully plied his trade as a middleman and claim-dealing entrepreneur. Showing remarkable business acumen, Barnato became a multi-millionaire and gained control of the Kimberley Mine within five years of arriving in town.   Although the mine has been closed for decades, it is now a popular tourist attraction known as 'The Big Hole'.

By 1889, the future of the diamond world depended on the outcome of a battle for total control between Rhodes' De Beers and Barnato's Kimberley Mines.  Rhodes bought out Barnato for £5,3-million and the two mines were amalgamated under the new company, De Beers Consolidated Mines.  Over a century later, the company still has its registered office in Stockdale Street in Kimberley. De Beers continues today to dominate the world diamond markets. 

Ernest Oppenheimer 
 In 1902, a young German-born diamond buyer arrived at Kimberley as the representative of a London diamond broking firm. Ernest Oppenheimer's family had been involved in South Africa's diamond industry for many years. He decided to settle in South Africa and soon became mayor of Kimberley. In 1917, he moved to Johannesburg and was instrumental in founding Anglo American, initially a gold mining house and later a corporate power in the diamond world. After the First World War, Anglo American led a syndicate to exploit the significant alluvial deposit in German South West Africa (now Namibia).  Consolidated Diamond Mines (CDM) was formed in 1919 to amalgamate eleven mines north of the Orange River.  Oppenheimer soon became the leading light in the diamond world and was soon elevated to the board.  Within three years Oppenheimer was elected as chairman of De Beers. Ernest Oppenheimer remained at the helm until his death in 1957, when his son, Harry, took over to run the giant conglomerate with outstanding success for the next quarter of a century. Today it is run by Nicky Oppenheimer, who became chairman of De Beers on the 1st of January 1998.

Images Courtesy of capetowndiamondmuseum.org
Source: http://www.marksolomonjewellers.co.za/sa-history.php
Source: http://www.miningweekly.com/article/eureka-south-africas-got-diamonds
Source: http://www.capetowndiamondmuseum.org/about-diamonds/famous-diamonds/
Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/cecil-rhodes