The Lesedi La Rona, the largest rough diamond in more than a hundred years, came up for auction at Sotheby’s (NYSE: BID) London evening sale, but “failed to reach its reserve price and consequently did not find a buyer tonight,” said Sotheby’s.
The highest bid was $61 million, below the minimum reserve price, despite a continued global demand for the highest-quality stones, such as the sale of the Oppenheimer Blue for $57.5 million by Christies at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva, in May, which set a world record for any jewel sold at auction. Sotheby’s had estimated the Lesedi la Rona would sell for $70 million, which would have made it the most expensive ever sold at auction. Experts attribute the failed auction to Brexit
“Every aspect of tonight’s auction was unprecedented: no one alive today has ever seen a gem-quality rough diamond of this incredible scale; no rough diamond of importance has ever before been offered before at public auction; and no diamond – polished or rough – has ever been estimated at this price level,” the auction house added.
The failed auction had been heavily promoted by Sotheby’s as “a major event,” for two reasons. First, at 1,109 carats and roughly the size of a tennis ball, this historic stone would make any other gem look diminutive, said Sotheby’s. Second, given that it has already been identified by the Gemological Institute of America as possessing exceptional quality and transparency, “it might make other precious stones look a bit dull.”
The Lesedi La Rona, which means “our light” in Botswana’s Tswana language, was offered at a stand-alone sale. Sotheby’s jewellery division chairman David Bennett calls it “the find of a lifetime,” adding that, “no rough even remotely of this scale has ever been offered before at public auction.”
The Lesedi La Rona diamond was discovered last November by Lucara Diamond Corp. (TSX: LUC)(OMX: LUC) at the Karowe mine in Botswana, its key asset. Lucara is a diamond exploration and mining company operating in southern Africa. The company was founded in 2004 and is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Lucara is a member of the Lundin Group of Companies.
The Vancouver-based Lundin Group is an internationally recognized group of publicly-traded, natural resource companies founded in 1971 by Adolf H. Lundin and led by sons Lukas H. Lundin and Ian H. Lundin. 40 years ago the group began with oil and gas exploration in the Middle East. Today the Lundin Group operates in 25 countries around the world and in virtually every commodity. Well over $3 billion in financing has been raised to develop Lundin Group projects. The 11 companies operated by the Lundins are actively engaged in the exploration, development and production of oil and gas, gold, copper, cobalt, zinc, lead, silver, nickel, diamonds, uranium, iodine, sulphate and nitrate.
“This historic diamond recovery puts Lucara and the Karowe mine amongst a select number of truly exceptional diamond producers,” commented Lucara’s president and CEO, William Lamb. “The significance of the recovery of a gem quality stone larger than 1,000 carats, the largest for more than a century and the continued recovery of high quality stones from the south lobe, cannot be overstated.”
The last time such a momentous rough diamond was discovered dates back to 1905, when the 3,106.75-carat rough Cullinan Diamond was discovered at the Cullinan Mine near Pretoria, South Africa. Presented to King Edward VII two years later, it was subsequently cut, yielding nine polished diamonds of superb quality. One of them, the 530.20-carat Great Star of Africa, became the largest top-quality polished diamond in existence and was set into Queen Elizabeth II’s sceptre. The other eight all became part of the Crown Jewels of Great Britain.
After holding the title of largest D colour diamond for nearly a century, the Great Star of Africa may soon have to relinquish it, as independent reports indicate that the Lesedi La Rona – although weighing less than the Cullinan in the rough – may have the potential to yield the new largest top-quality diamond that has ever been cut and polished.
And if and when, the time eventually comes to cut this spectacular rarity, a full complement of truly diamantine nerves will be required, experts say. For while the art and craft of diamond-cutting has radically improved since the Cullinan was cut, it is still through human ingenuity that the full beauty and light of a gem is revealed. Certainly, the laser scanning, plotting and precision-cutting used today were unimaginable a century ago, and our scientific understanding of the diamond’s optical properties has deepened. But the complex process of cutting diamonds remains intuitive, demanding experience and expertise as well as the ability to look into the heart of the stone; a generally high-stakes profession, it becomes especially charged in cases such as this one.
According to independent reports accompanying the Lesedi La Rona, the craftsman to whom the task of cleaving this stone befalls has the opportunity to cut what may potentially be the world’s largest top-quality diamond.
Only time will reveal the gems the Lesedi La Rona will yield. For the moment, all we know is that its sale tonight failed to come to fruition.