The modern era of diamond mining began in the 1860s in Kimberley, South Africa with the opening of the first large-scale diamond mine. The first diamond there, was found in 1866 on the banks of the Orange River and became known as the Eureka Diamond.
Fleetwood Rawstone’s “Red Cap Party” of prospectors on Colesberg KopjeIn 1869, an even larger 83.50 carat (16.7 g) diamond was found on the slopes of Colesberg Kopje on the farm Vooruitzigt belonging to the De Beers brothers. This sparked off the famous “New Rush” and within a month, 800 claims were cut into the hillock which were worked frenetically by two to three thousand men. As the land was lowered so the hillock became a mine – in time, the world renowned Kimberley Mine. Following agreement by the British government on compensation to the Orange Free State for its competing land claims, Griqualand West was annexed to the Cape Colony in 1877.
From 1871 to 1914, 50,000 miners dug the Big Hole with picks and shovels, yielding 2,722 kg of diamonds, and by 1873 Kimberley was the second largest town in South Africa, having an approximate population of 40,000. The various smaller mining companies were amalgamated by British imperialist Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd into De Beers, and The Kimberley under Barney Barnato. In 1888, the two companies merged to form De Beers Consolidated Mines, which to this day today still retains a monopoly over the world’s diamond market.
Today, annual global rough diamond production is estimated to be about 130 million carats (26 tonnes), of which 92% is cut and polished in India, mostly in the city of Surat. Some 85% of the world’s rough diamonds, 50% of cut diamonds, and 40% of industrial diamonds are traded in Antwerp, Belgium – the diamond center of the world. Antwerp’s association with diamonds began in the late 15th century when a new technique to polish and shape the gems evolved in this city. The diamond cutters of Antwerp are world renowned for their skill. More than 12,000 expert cutters and polishers are at work in the Diamond District, at 380 workshops, serving 1,500 firms and 3,500 brokers and merchants.
In the 21st century, the technology to produce perfect diamonds synthetically was developed. Diamonds produced by the latest technologies are visually identical to mined, naturally-occurring diamonds. It is too early to assess the effect of future wide availability of gem-quality synthetic diamonds on the diamond market, although the traditional diamond industry has taken steps to try to create a distinction between diamonds dug from the ground and diamonds made in a factory, in part by downplaying the fact that diamonds from both sources are actually visually identical. Synthetics currently represent 2% of gem-quality diamond supply used for jewelry, but 98% of industrial-quality supply used for abrasive applications.