It was recently announced in a press conference chaired by Martin Rapaport that the Peace Diamond has been purchased by Laurence Graff, of Graff Diamonds, from the government of Sierra Leone for US$6.5 million, after an earlier bid for $7.7 million had fallen through. Intriguingly Rapaport was not sure why the earlier (and much higher) bid was not accepted by the government of Sierra Leone. It has been suggested that a potential motive behind this move could relate to the public relations boost provided by the sale of the stone to such a high profile buyer, rather than an unknown or anonymous collector. On the part of Graff there may have been some philanthropic motives at play, as Rapaport explains: “Laurence Graff usually doesn’t buy anything that isn’t D or E in colour but he believes this diamond is a special diamond because it’s going to help the poorest people in the world.” For his part Graff stated that: “it is an honour to have acquired this magnificent rough diamond, and that its sale will directly benefit a country in desperate need. It is always special to be able to give back to the places that provide us with these beautiful stones.” The Peace Diamond derived its name from the fact that when it was discovered by artisanal miners in Sierra Leone they handed it over to the government, who it turn promised to divide the profits from its sale equally in half: 50% to those who unearthed it and the remainder to projects designed to help the development of those people in need in Sierra Leone.
(Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds collecting his OBE in 2013)
In a further magnanimous gesture the Rapaport Group, famous for the diamond index and pricing data, waived any fees as sales agent for the Peace Diamond, stating that their motive was to both help the people of Sierra Leone and increase the level of transparency in the West African mining industry. Martin Rapaport responded by saying that “this is a historic moment” and referred to it as the “most transparent process ever,” particularly as it demonstrates how artisanal miners can operate with a very high degree of integrity. The public relations opportunity presented by this sale was not missed by the government of Sierra Leone, who ensured that a number of government representatives and ministers were on show at the press conference to announce the successful auction. The philanthropic potential of the gem trade was succinctly summarised by Martin Rapaport: “there’s a reason God gave diamonds to the poorest people in the world and made the richest people desire them.” Sadly this fact has hitherto, in many cases, failed to result in an improvement in the circumstances of many of the most disadvantaged communities around the world that are located in and around the centres of mining and production of some of the most valuable commodities on earth. Perhaps, at last, a new ‘fair trade’ model may be starting the come to the fore. In fact Rapaport stated that the government of Sierra Leone received in total 59% (US$3.9 million) of the profit raised from the diamond’s sale, in the form of taxes to assist the local inhabitants.
In all just under US$1 million was channelled into the Diamond Committee Development Fund, which will deploy the money on infrastructure development projects in the immediate vicinity of the Peace Diamond’s place of discovery in Kono province. Speaking on behalf of the local population, Chief Paul Saquee V of Kono province stated that he was “very convinced that (we have gained) the maximum benefits from this diamond. We encourage the diggers, the artisanal miners back home, instead of being ripped off in some dark corners when they find their diamonds that they bring it to the government so they will get the maximum benefit.” The five diggers responsible for recovering the stone will each receive around US$200K, a figure they would be unlikely to have earned had they sold the stone on the black market. It is hoped that this will open up a new transparency to a national industry tarnished with the international perception of being a centre for ‘conflict’ or ‘blood’ diamonds that emerged during the country’s bloody civil war. Rapaport stated that over 70 firms were asked to view the diamond, which was reported to have been “very complicated to cut,” at the Israel Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan, in Antwerp and in New York. This resulted in 7 bids being submitted, in close secret, the final result displaying a light yellow hue. Rapaport has stated that the stone’s value was far greater than its usual market price because of the benefit it presented to the lives of the local inhabitants of Kono province.
(The village of Koryardu, the site of the discovery, is situated in Kono province, Sierra Leone)
It is interesting to note that a 476 carat stone that was recently unearthed in the same area was also handed over to the government, something that simply would not have happened in the past. Some of the improvements the Sierra Leone authorities have agreed to carry out in the village of Koryardu, the closest to the discovery point of the Peace Diamond, include better infrastructure for the villagers, the introduction of running fresh water, 24/7 electricity, roads, medical provision and the building, maintenance and ongoing funding of local schools. The lead digger in the case of the Peace Diamond happened to be a Christian pastor, named Emmanuel Momoh, which may have helped improve the chances of it being correctly reported to the authorities. Momoh stated that selling the stone privately would not have “benefited the community. We lack a lot of things. We don’t have a good road network or drinking water.” Only time will tell as to whether Martin Rapaport’s assertion that the events surrounding this find will bring about, in his words, a “sea change in the relationship between artisanal miners and the government” and “encourage others to work with the government.” It is certainly encouraging to see that the gem mining sector as a whole appears to be moving towards more ethical, sustainable and fair practices, which can only be of benefit to the many thousands of people around the world that rely upon it for the livelihoods.
(Artisanal diamond miners in Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world)
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