On Desolate 'Roof of Africa,' the World's Priciest Diamonds

Beautiful gems go for 20 times the global average, but they're hard to mine
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 23, 2017 8:03 AM CDT
On Desolate 'Roof of Africa,' the World's Priciest Diamonds
A model holds the 'Letseng Legacy' diamond is shown at the World Diamond Center in Antwerp, Belgium, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007. The 493 carat diamond, the 18th largest in the world, was recovered from the Letseng Le Terai mine in Lesotho on Sept. 7, 2007.   (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The world's highest mines, found in an area known as the Roof of Africa in the tiny nation of Lesotho, hold diamonds that are so prized they go for $2,000 a carat—20 times the world average of $100. But the excavation of these extremely precious gems is dangerous and difficult, with high-altitude winds and temperatures that drop to 30 below zero in craggy areas only reachable through steep and narrow mountain passes, reports the Wall Street Journal. What's more, the yield is low compared to other locations, with Bloomberg citing a recent "drought of large stones," for which Lesotho is known. In spite of the many obstacles, places like the Letseng mine, which is owned by UK-based Gem Diamonds, are gaining more attention.

Letseng alone boasts four of the 20 largest diamonds ever found. "It's a mine that mines a jewelry box," diamond magnate Harry Oppenheimer used to say. "He said it produced the most beautiful of all the diamonds," adds Clifford Elphick, Gem’s chief executive. It's home to Type IIa diamonds, for instance, which are the priciest stones. Gem bought 76% of the mine from the Lesotho government in 2006, while Firestone Diamonds now runs the nearby Liqhobong mine, and sold all 76,000 carats offered at its first auction. A single 37-carat diamond went for more than $1 million. Liqhobong "has raised a lot of eyebrows and very well could result in a recurrence of interest in terms of diamond exploration in Lesotho," says an analyst. (In Hong Kong, one diamond went for $71.2 million.)

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