"I had nightmares of it exploding": De Beers' Andrew Coxon On Sourcing Diamonds
Growing up on the British Isles, as a schoolboy I was always interested in minerology, so when my family was posted to Brazil, I was quickly drawn to the world of coloured gemstones after being introduced to my mother’s favourite jeweller. It was my job, according to my father, to stop my mother from adding to her collection, but the jeweller easily distracted me with a sack of uncut aquamarines. After sorting through the pile, she invited me to select five pieces that were then cut and polished. That was the moment I fell in love with gemstones and when I was first told that De Beers was the best diamond company in the world. Fast-forward to today and I’m the president of De Beers Institute of Diamonds.
One of the most outstanding pieces I’ve had the pleasure of working with is a 10.1-carat diamond called De Beers Millennium Jewel 4. It is the largest oval-shaped fancy vivid blue diamond to ever appear at auction, and sold for a record price of US$32 million during the Sotheby’s Hong Kong Magnificent Jewels & Jadeite sale in 2016.
The Millennium Jewel 4 was one of 11 blue diamonds that I chose to form the De Beers Millennium Jewels collection in 2000. All these diamonds were formed at the historic Cullinan Mine in South Africa, which continues to be the best source of exceptional blue diamonds in the world. This says a lot, considering blue diamonds make up less than 0.1 per cent of all diamonds recovered at the mine.
All 11 were extremely complex and the largest was kept in a cardboard box, which had been tied with a pink ribbon and sealed with red wax. It weighed 165 carats before cutting and polishing, and was incredibly deep in colour, with long flaws that criss-crossed inside of it. It was a huge challenge to cleave safely—it could have shattered so easily. I had nightmares of it exploding into a pile of blue dust.
The diamonds were exhibited in London’s Millennium Dome for a year before they became the target of a botched robbery, which was thwarted by Scotland Yard, the headquarters of London’s Metropolitan Police. De Beers eventually agreed to sell all 11 to private collectors. I’ve always hoped that I’d see them again, but only two have since appeared in public.
Rough diamonds vary depending on the mine and country they are from, and they all polish up differently, which is probably because they were born at different times during Earth’s evolution (between 720 million and 3.5 billion years ago). Some suffer through higher temperatures and pressures during their 250 to 500 km journey to the surface and show signs of stress which affect their natural transparency or brightness.
When I bought my first rough diamond when I was just 21, I quickly learned that it was important to look for inner beauty, going beyond the 4Cs, which relate to a diamond’s cut, colour, clarity and carat weight. Whether a piece is rough or polished, the only compromise should be price—never beauty.
Discovering a diamond fills me with excitement. I imagine it’s something similar to what buyers of rare paintings feel. It’s my opinion that all diamonds should be treasured, and I always look forward to seeing them as part of a De Beers creation.
This is the first instalment in a series where we ask jewellery experts to weigh in on industry trends, innovation and more.
See also: 5 Things You Didn't Know About Diamonds
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