Time almost turned back to what it was 150 years ago – as it is just a few months that passed since an alleged diamond find in Ladysmith triggered a new excavation hype. While looking after his animals, glittering stones fell into the hands of a shepherd, which prompted hundreds of fortune seekers to dig for treasure. Unfortunately, the disillusionment followed immediately: conventional quartz crystals instead of valuable gemstones caused the hopeful to leave the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal in disappointment.
For you, on the other hand, it is still worthwhile to steer your car hire Johannesburg to the foot of the exciting and monumental Drakensberg and go on a search for clues. Because even if you are unlikely to come across a pink diamond worth more than 30 million euros, as it was auctioned by the London Sotheby’s in 2010, you will gain an insight into one of the most interesting historical developments in South Africa that has shaped the country to this day.
Klondike in Kimberley
Not like the shepherd this year, but rather a little boy came across a shiny stone while playing in the fields in front of his house, which he unselfishly bequeathed to his sister – until his parents took over, took the toy and headed to the gem dealers. Not only was the quiet time of playing with cute little rhinestones over, but also the quiet time of all the few villagers who were overrun by the diamond frenzy. More discoveries followed, and the world press spread the sensation.
You will travel a good 400 kilometers in your car hire Johannesburg to visit the place where the country’s wealth began. After the local mountain Colesberg Koppje was ablated within a short time, it went down into the depths. Even today, the “Big Hole”, with a diameter of almost 500 meters and a depth of more than 800 meter the largest hole in the world created by human hands and without the aid of machines, bespeaks the greed and despair of all the more than 30,000 locals, Englishmen and Boers, but also foreigners from all over the world, almost of all ages and both sexes, who wanted to have their financial happiness secured by the mining of diamonds.
Very few have made it rich. Although a total of around 22 million tons of earth were excavated over the next three decades, almost 15 million carats of diamonds with a total weight of nearly 3,000 kilograms were extracted from the excavation in Kimberley alone, only a few families made a profit from the gemstone finds, which had an estimated total value of around 40 billion euros.
From rags to riches
Among other things, an actor named Barney Barnato, who was poor at the time, set off with the many other thousands on the way to Kimberley in 1873, where he earned his first own money with his first diamond. He proofed the story of the famous dishwasher who becomes a millionaire. It did not take long before he, through skillful trading, already owned almost half of all claims and, as a multimillionaire, founded the Kimberley Central Mining Company.
The other 50 percent were not divided among the crowd – rather the owners of the now particularly productive arable land, Johannes Nicolaas and Diederik Arnoldus de Beer, joined forces with the British entrepreneur and later Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, Cecil Rhodes, to form the “De Beers Mining Company”. With the eventual takeover of the shares in Barnato, they continued to build their supremacy regionally, and De Beers Consolidated Mines still dominates the global diamond market today.
A journey into the sparkling past
You will recognize it as soon as you have parked your car hire Johannesburg vehicle in Kimberley and start looking around: There is no longer any thought of diamond mining. Today, the large hole is filled with groundwater up to 175 meters below the ground. The tools that were used at the time to try to get hold of at least a small piece of the cake are on display, as are original photographs and archive documents. After a guided tour along a steel framework with a view of the abyss, you can visit a mining and open-air museum built right on the edge and take a look at the reconstruction of a mine shaft. There is also no shortage of other local museums and galleries that provide information about the city’s history with their extensive selection of historical images, records and exhibits.
In addition to the Big Hole, it is worth visiting the McGregor Museum displaying the natural and cultural history of the region or the Kamfers Dam, a spectacular nature reserve of more than 400 hectares, which is primarily home to up to ten thousand flamingos and, as a pink color image, steal the show of even the famous pink diamond.
Although you received a comfortable car from your car hire Johannesburg company, it is also worth visiting the historic trams in their open wagons or taking a tour of the Belgravia villa park area. In general, as the provincial capital of the Northern Cape, Kimberley has a lot to offer. Later, you can drive across stunning nature and visit the administrative capital of Bloemfontein, before continuing on your journey on the trail of the Diamond Age.
Crown jewels from Cullinan
The Northern Cape wasn’t the only region that diamond seekers were drawn to. Get into your car hire Johannesburg and head back towards the metropolis of Gauteng, the country’s famous Highveld region. Almost 1,500 meters above sea level, around 40 kilometers east of Pretoria, you will come across other exciting historical gems in the small town of Cullinan. Here the hunt for the glittering stones began a little later than in Kimberley: It was not until 1898 that a three-carat diamond was found on the edge of the farm of the landlord Thoms Cullinan, and it was not until 1902 that he was able to acquire the adjoining area on which he suspected diamond deposits. And he did not deceive himself with false hopes: within a few weeks the search for the gemstones began in the so-called Premier Mine near a former volcanic vent, thousands of miners moved in and revitalized the area, dug up to almost 200 meters deep, created a 32-hectare-hole – and just three years later they found the largest diamond ever to officially see the light of day.
After changing hands several times, the 3106-carat-stone was finally handed over to the British King Edward VII by the government of the Transvaal and split into different parts. The largest still adorns the royal scepter, a second one the crown. As the British crown-jewels they achieved worldwide fame – should you wish to look at these two stones, you have to exchange your car hire Johannesburg for a flight to London and visit the tower of the English capital – but it is worthwhile to linger a while longer in beautiful South Africa.
The mine in Cullinan is still mining at a depth of up to 765 meters. Visit a lifelike model of an underground tunnel, mine shaft, and elevator room on the surface tour, and experience the hard but fruitful mining of mine first-hand on a 90-minute underground mine-tour. As an alternative, you can stay underground for around double the time and slowly lower yourself to the lowest level in overalls, safety shoes and a helmet. You will initially walk back empty-handed, but the nearby Cullinan Diamond Mine market offers ample opportunity to purchase diamond jewelry for yourself or as a gift.
Hard facts about hard rock
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but they are much more than that: an important economic factor, a sign of love or admiration. Looked at soberly, the globally so popular, valuable and respected material is initially simply carbon, which first crystallized in the deepest earth due to maximum pressure conditions and extreme temperatures and finally saw the light of the surface as magma through various volcanic activities from the earth’s crust. An average of up to two carats or 0.4 grams of diamonds can be extracted from a good ten tons of the magma rock kimberlite. Diamonds are considered to be the hardest known natural substance and the most valuable commodity in the world. Long before the finds in South Africa, they attracted their admirers in ancient Greece as well as in India.
From raw to cut diamonds
Grinding a raw diamond – the proverb often used figuratively for uncouth characters who, after special care, ultimately mutate into gallant charmers, does not come from the manufacturing process of a diamond for nothing. Because it is not always easy, even for experts, to identify and grind flawless pieces.
But first things first: A little more than fits in your car hire Johannesburg vehicle, namely exactly 250 tons of mother rock, are required to obtain a gemstone with a single carat. The color palette is extensive and ranges from green to purple and yellow to rose and diamonds with a tinge of blue.
The smaller the stones, the easier it is to work on: the natural, irregular rough shape of the stones is first tackled with the help of special saws and splitting tools and then ground into round tops. They are then melted down and pressed against a rotating steel disc with pliers and rubbed in with a mixture of olive oil and powder. This creates the so-called facet, through which the seemingly colorless surface is initially divided into rainbow colors and reflected many times over. This is followed by the next facet, until at the end several 20 or 30 give the diamond its so-called fire. Only experts are able to use a gemstone magnifier to analyze the finished stones for their cleavage and possible impurities.
Four times C
This is also what you should consider if you want to take a diamond home with you from South Africa as a souvenir. You don’t necessarily have to go to Kimberley or Cullinan to make a purchase – if you plan to explore the wine region and capital of the Western Cape with your car hire Johannesburg, you will also find exquisite dealers in Stellenbosch or Cape Town. But pay attention to the four c’s, the most important components by which the value of a diamond has been determined worldwide since 1939: cut, color, clarity and carat-weight.
Cut: Of all four, the most important feature is the cut of this popular donkey stone – and can be changed by human hands. Depending on it, the diamond sparkles sometimes more, sometimes less, the more proportional, the more symmetrical, the more perfect the prism, the more optimal the refraction of light, the higher the brilliance and thus the price. The optimal cut was calculated by the Belgian jewelry designer Marcel Tolkowsky and is considered a benchmark that is recognized worldwide.
Color: Yellowish or brownish shades are undesirable, the whiter the better: at least that is the general creed of enthusiasts. But not only do multicolored diamonds in natural orange, pink, green or blue tones find numerous followers due to their rarity. Even among the most expensive diamonds in the world there are only two transparent ones, the palette ranges from blue to pink to: brown-yellow!
Clarity: If there are traces of other minerals in diamonds,
these can act as markings and shadows and impair the flawlessness of the stone. The clearer a diamond shines, the more you’ll have to hand over the counter for it.
Carat: With carat, the following applies: size matters – or: weight. One carat is equivalent to a weight of 200 milligrams. As the size of the diamond increases, so does the price.
The journey is not over yet
Neither your trip through South Africa in your car hire Johannesburg vehicle nor your journey into the country’s past and into the facets of the multi-faceted gem. Finds will be reported again and again, and not all of them will turn out to be false reports like that of the shepherd from KwaZulu Natal. This year too, the third largest white diamond in the world was found – in the neighboring South African country of Botswana. The 1,100 carats are said to be worth several million euros. Even if you do not come across any valuable natural resources on your vacation, do not be despaired. As the saying goes: The best things in life are free – or priceless. Like the memories you will take home from your holidays!