Namibia is one of the world’s foremost producers of gem-quality diamonds and the world’s fifth largest diamond supplier. The country’s leading diamond-mining company is Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Pty) Ltd, which accounts for 86% of all diamonds produced in Namibia and employs over 3 000 people, most of whom are Namibians. Namdeb contracts De Beers Marine Namibia to mine for diamonds in its Atlantic 1 licence area, while NamGem is a cutting factory that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Namdeb.
The journey of a diamond begins with the exploration. This is the stage when the Geologists first search for sources of diamonds. Once they find a source which they think can be sustainably mined, the information is passed on to the miners. At this stage the only work that has been done is just drilling for samples.
In the case of Namibia, Namdeb and Debmarine Namibia are responsible for recovering the diamonds from land and from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. These are grueling operations which require high intensive machinery and technology. The machines also assist to separate gravel and all other debris from diamonds. Millions of dollars are spend each year to ensure diamonds are extracted economically and efficiently.
Once the diamonds are recovered, they are transported to the Namibia Diamond Trading Company (NDTC). The NDTC’s main responsibility is to make sure the diamonds are sorted (divided in categories) according to the Four C’s of diamonds.
NDTC sorts, values and sell all of Namdeb’s diamond production. Their operations are based in the Namdeb Centre in Windhoek. Once sorted, the diamonds are assessed by government evaluators, and when a price has been agreed upon, are sent to London, where they are mixed with diamonds from other diamond-producing countries such as Canada, Russia, South America, South Africa and Australia. From London they are sold in packages to various clients, one of which is Namibia’s NamGem diamond-cutting and polishing factory in Okahandja.
The four Cs
Just like a finger print of a person, every diamond reflects its own character, history, the myths and mystic associated with diamonds. The fact that a diamond has a very long life spend, it sets itself apart from all other minerals, that’s why the slogan “A diamond is Forever”. Diamonds talk to you.
All diamond features are important, although, once polished, certain characteristics stand out better such the ability to reflect and refract light; of course that depends on how well the diamond has been polished; nevertheless clarity and cut also contributes to the overall beauty.
When purchasing a diamond, the characteristics that give the stone its quality and value are the so-called four Cs:
Cut: A diamond’s cut is what gives it sparkle and fire. The better the proportions, the better the diamond is able to absorb and refract and reflect light, and the better it creates sparkle and scintillation.
Colour: The majority of diamonds range from those with barely perceptible yellow and brownish tints up to the very rare pinks, blues and greens referred to as ‘fancies’. The optimum colour for a diamond is, however, colourless or ‘white’, as these reflect the best sparkle.
Clarity: Most diamonds contain inclusions and cracks that hampers with the smooth travel of light through the diamond. The fewer and smaller these inclusions, the less likely they are to interfere with the passage of light through the diamond, and the more beautiful the diamond is likely to be.
Carat weight: One carat is divided into 100 points, so that means, a diamond of 75 points weighs 0.75 carats, 1 carat being equal to 0.2 grams. However, two diamonds of equal weight can have completely different values, depending on their cut, clarity and colour.
Diamond Cutting and Polishing
NamGem, a wholly owned subsidiary of Namdeb and equipped with the most advanced technology, is a diamond-cutting and polishing factory that was opened in Okahandja in 1998.
NamGem buys rough stones as parcels ten times a year at the DTC headquarters in London. The company buys only octahedrons (eight-sided stones) and converts them into ‘round brilliants’, regarded as the optimum shape for a gem-quality diamond. Once the stones reach the factory, they are sorted according to size, shape and quality. From this point each stone is packaged and handled individually, and is cut and polished in accordance with its particular ‘model’ or shape.
The first step in the process is ‘bruting,’ that is making the stone round. Then, using two diamonds to cut one another, the top (smaller) section of the octahedron is removed, leaving two stones to be facetted and polished. The bottom section of the polished stone ultimately has 24 facets, and the top section 33, including the table. A great deal of skill is required to do this, as each facet is polished individually, for which the equipment has to be perfectly balanced.
The polishing action is done with a cast-iron wheel with very fine holes in its surface into which diamond dust has been rubbed to produce a sandpaper effect. An important part of the manufacturing process is cleaning the polished stones, which is done chemically.
The uncut stone yields a main stone of up to .35 carats and a second stone of about .15 carats, meaning that roughly 50% of the original stone is lost in the polishing process. This is, inter alia, what makes the finished product so expensive. Ultimately, however, it is quality, weight, colour, and most importantly, cut, that determine the price. The bigger the ‘table’ of the diamond (the top section) and the smaller the width of the ‘girdle’ (the widest section), the better the light is refracted and the more the stone ‘sparkles’.
Ninety-five per cent of the polished diamonds produced at NamGem are returned to London, from where they are sold to major diamond-trading centres around the world such as Antwerp and Tel Aviv.