Discovered in the Letseng Diamond Mine in September 2008, the "Light of Letseng" recently sold for $18.4 million and is expected to render a 200-carat polished stone. The Letseng Mine, located in Lesotho, South Africa, has produced some of the world's most notable diamonds. Four of the world's 20 largest diamonds have been discovered there, including three from this century. The newest discovery measures in as the world's 20th-largest diamond.
Analyzed by experts in Antwerp, the stone weighs in at 478 carats and possesses outstanding color and clarity. The diamond is a type II D-color diamond with no visible inclusions in its rough form. As such, it is believed to be the most valuable rough diamond ever sold. Safdico, the manufacturing arm of high-end jeweler Graff Diamonds, paid $39,000 per carat for the diamond, outbidding six other parties. Its sale is a testament to the enduring value of the diamonds produced by Letseng Mine, recognized for its outstanding quality and as a result, achieving significant value.
"With our significant expertise in large diamonds, we expect to produce an exceptionally beautiful polished diamond of at least 200 carats," a Safdico spokesperson said of the recent acquisition. The 603-carat Lesotho Promise and 493-carat Letseng Legacy, both of the Lesotho Mines, were formerly acquired by Safdico as well.
The Letseng Mines are known as being one of the most productive mines in history. It is estimated by some sources that nearly 15 percent of the diamonds in the ore are larger than 10 carats in size. Formerly operated by DeBeers, the mine was transferred to the Kingdom of Lesotho, who holds 30 percent of an ownership stake in the mine.
The "Letseng Legacy," recovered in the fall of 2007, was the world's 18th-largest rough diamond. Its name references the growing legacy created by the mine as a producer of remarkable diamonds. It sold at auction in Antwerp for $10.4 million. The "Lesotho Promise," recovered in August 2006, was a 603-carat stone that ranked as the world's 15th-largest rough diamond. The diamond sold at auction for $12.4 million and produced a total of 26 stones totaling 224 carats. The largest cut from the gem is a 75-carat, pear-shaped diamond.
Discovered at the mines in 1967, the "Lesotho Brown" weighed in as the world's 16th-laregst diamond. It was eventually acquired at auction by Harry Winston in Geneva in 1968. The stone was fashioned into 18 polished diamonds totaling 252.40 carats. One of those stones, the Lesotho III, was presented to Jackie Kennedy by Aristotle Onnasis. An exquisite 40-carat marquise-cut diamond ring was valued at $600,000. However, when it was auctioned in 1996 at Kennedy's estate sale, it sold for more than $2,580,000 and was mounted in a ring of platinum by Harry Winston.
The discovery of mammoth rough diamonds is not a new occurrence in South Africa. In fact, the mines there have produced some of the world's most notable gems. To date, the largest rough-gem quality diamond ever found was the Cullinan Diamond at the Premier Mine in 1905. At a breathtaking 3,106.75 carats, it was presented to King Edward VII for his 66th birthday. It was cut into a total of three large parts by Asscher Brothers of Amsterdam. A popular anecdote goes that because technology had not evolved, cutting such a diamond was considered difficult and risky. When Joseph Asscher prepared to cleave the largest diamond known to man, he did so with perfect precision and then fainted dead away. More likely, Asscher celebrated with a bottle of champagne.
From the stone was created the Cullinan I, or the Great Star of Africa, which was the largest polished diamond in the world until the discovery of the Golden Jubilee Diamond in 1985. The Cullinan I is mounted in the Sceptre with the Cross of the British Crown Jewels and has an estimated worth of more than $400 million.
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