NEW YORK. Thanksgiving week in America is an ideal time to give thanks—even for non-U.S. residents who work in jewelry. That’s why a meeting held yesterday morning in New York City by Martin Rapaport, founder of the eponymous diamond price sheet, auction services, and magazine—for which this journalist is a monthly contributor—was so significant. The reason for the gathering? The 709 ct. Peace Diamond, a giant piece of rough, found by miners working in alluvial fields in Sierra Leone in February of this year. (Check out the video on the diamond’s website that shows the community where the stone was found.)
For sure, the stone is significant for its size—Hearts On Fire says that most rough is only about 0.10 ct.—but what’s more important is the story behind the stone. This piece of rough marks the first time that miners in Sierra Leone, once a war-torn country that many know of because of the movie “Blood Diamond,” actually trusted its government to help them broker a sale.
For those of you who are not familiar with the traditional path of diamonds from mine to market, it’s a complicated scenario. Miners like the ones who found the Peace Diamond, named for the peaceful state of the country and the growing trust between Sierra Leoneans and their government—which hasn’t always been the most effective—often sell stones through backdoor outlets at low prices and without paying taxes. They do so out of fear of not benefitting at all if they do use proper channels. The Peace Diamond, which was found in the Kono District of the country, marks a break in this vicious cycle: the miners who found it alerted their local chief, who notified the government, which is helping to broker a well-publicized and proper sale at auction. The proceeds will be carefully and transparently divided up between tax revenues that will benefit residents and more money to the actual miners, who often don’t benefit from a large score. What does this mean? Many independent miners working remote alluvial fields like the one in which the Peace Diamond was found work for about $2 a day and do not have homes with electricity or running water. The Peace Diamond is the beginning of change for this unfair system.
“The village in which this diamond was found does not have clean water, but it will,” insisted Rapaport yesterday morning. “The money from this sale will benefit the people of Sierra Leone.”
The meeting held yesterday at Rapaport was to introduce the media to Paul Saquee V, chairman of the Council of Paramount Chiefs for the Kono District, and to Pastor Emmanuel Momoh, one of the miners who found the stone. Martin Rapaport himself, having benefitted greatly from diamonds his entire life—diamonds have helped him build his vast network of businesses—has offered to help auction the stone at no cost, leaving more money for the miners and the people of Sierra Leone. The move is an admirable one, as Sierra Leone is long overdue for a boon. Its beautiful diamonds have benefited many outside of the country, but not those in it. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world.
“We hope the sale of the Peace Diamond encourages other artisan miners to not allow their stones to be sold on street corners for peanuts,” said Saquee. “We hope this is the dawn of a new day where the diggers will have full benefits. The sale of the Peace Diamond will improve the lives of people.”
Pastor Momoh, meanwhile, explained that the president of Sierra Leone actually thanked him and his community for not smuggling the stone out of the country and for agreeing to put the diamond in an open tender to be sold in a transparent manner.
“This is the beginning of a new day in our nation where we have the opportunity to get a fair price for the diamonds in our country,” he said. “By buying this diamond, you will be improving the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, in places with no paved roads, schools, or medical facilities. The Peace Diamond represents peace and progress.”
To date, the diamond has been on quite the world tour. The Peace Diamond spent three weeks in Israel and three weeks in Belgium, and will spend several weeks in New York City, all in an effort get expert opinions on how it should be cut and to drum up interest in the auction. The stone was front and center yesterday during the press conference, and attendees had the opportunity to hold it. Of course, I did, and it was magical.
A rough diamond that big is an extraordinary sight, and it had a calming effect once placed in my palm. This was not just another pretty rock—the Peace Diamond is literally a life-changing one. Can you imagine not having electricity or fresh water? That’s hard for Americans to fathom, but this is the reality for many in Sierra Leone. It’s about time this country rises up and takes charge of its own wealth to steer a better path to its future. “It’s not up to NGOs or charities to decide what happens to Sierra Leone—it’s up to Sierra Leone,” said Rapaport.
When the rough is purchased, it will, of course, be cut into myriad stones, but all—no matter the size—will be sold under the provenance of the Peace Diamond name. This is no longer the Sierra Leone of its civil war days. “Our narrative has to change,” noted Saquee. “Yes, there were blood diamonds, but we have moved away from that.”
“Our diamonds now are for development,” added Momoh.
Another member of the press—a descendant of Sierra Leonean parents—spoke up during a question-and-answer session. “I want to thank you for erasing the stigma of blood diamonds,” he told the panel in a quiet, steady voice.
Momoh smiled broadly. “It’s the beginning of new era where diggers will get fair market value.”
Finally, and God be praised! (God is a recurring reference in Momoh’s conversations since he is a pastor.) This is what natural, mined diamonds do for communities far away that are living in abject poverty the likes of which Americans will never know. This is a diamond story that everyone needs to hear; natural diamonds are life changing, and each one represents a life-giving force as beautiful as their sparkle.
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