De Beers

De Beers
De Beers
Type Private
Industry Exploration, mining and trading of diamonds
Founded 1888
Founder(s) Cecil Rhodes
Headquarters Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Area served Worldwide
Key people Nicky Oppenheimer (Chairman)
Phillippe Mellier (CEO)
Gareth Penny (Managing Director)
Stuart Brown (Group Finance Director and Board Member)
Products Diamonds
Services Diamond marketing and promotion. Community development.
Revenue increase US$6.8 billion (2009)
Employees approximately 20,000

De Beers is a family of companies that dominate the diamond, diamond mining, diamond trading and industrial diamond manufacturing sectors. De Beers is active in every category of industrial diamond mining: open-pit, underground, large-scale alluvial, coastal and deep sea.[1] Mining takes place in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Canada.

The company was founded by Cecil Rhodes, who was financed by Alfred Beit and N M Rothschild & Sons.[2] In 1927, Ernest Oppenheimer, a German Jewish immigrant who had earlier founded mining giant Anglo American PLC with American financier J.P. Morgan,[3] managed to wrest control of the empire, building and consolidating the company's global monopoly over the world's diamond industry until his retirement. During this time, he was involved in a number of controversies, including price fixing, antitrust behaviour and an allegation of not releasing industrial diamonds for the US war effort during World War II.[4][5]


Company history

Cecil Rhodes founded De Beers in 1888.
Lord Nathan Mayer Rothschild, of the Rothschild family, funded the development of De Beers.

Cecil Rhodes, the founder of De Beers, got his start by renting water pumps to miners during the diamond rush that started in 1871, when an 83.5 carat diamond was found on Colesburg Kopje (present day Kimberley), South Africa. He invested the profits of this operation into buying up claims of small mining operators, with his operations soon expanding into a separate mining company.[6] He soon secured funding from the Rothschild family, who would finance his business expansion.[7][8] De Beers Consolidated Mines was formed in 1888 by the merger of the companies of Barney Barnato and Cecil Rhodes, by which time the company was the sole owner of all diamond mining operations in the country.[6][9][10] In 1889, Rhodes negotiated a strategic agreement with the London-based Diamond Syndicate, which agreed to purchase a fixed quantity of diamonds at an agreed price, thereby regulating output and maintaining prices.[8][11] The agreement soon proved to be very successful—for example during the trade slump of 1891–1892, supply was simply curtailed to maintain the price.[12] Rhodes was concerned about the breakup of the new monopoly, stating to shareholders in 1896 that:[8]

Our only risk is the sudden discovery of new mines, which human nature will work recklessly to the detriment of us all.

The Second Boer War proved to be a challenging time for the company. Kimberley was besieged as soon as war broke out, thereby threatening the company's valuable mines. Rhodes personally moved into the city at the onset of the siege in order to put political pressure on the British government to divert military resources towards relieving the siege rather than more strategic war objectives. Despite being at odds with the military,[13] Rhodes placed the full resources of the company at the disposal of the defenders, manufacturing shells, defences, an armoured train and a gun named Long Cecil in the company workshops.[14]

In 1902, a competitive mine named the Cullinan Mine was discovered; however its owner refused to join the De Beers cartel.[15] Instead, the mine started selling to a pair of independent dealers named Bernard and Ernest Oppenheimer, thereby weakening the De Beers cartel.[16] Production soon equalled all of the De Beers mines combined, as well as yielding the largest rough diamond ever discovered, the Cullinan Diamond. Ernest Oppenheimer was appointed the local agent for the powerful London Syndicate, rising to the position of mayor of Kimberley within 10 years. He understood the core principle that underpinned De Beers success, stating in 1910 that:[15]

Common sense tells us that the only way to increase the value of diamonds is to make them scarce, that is to reduce production.

During World War I, the Cullinan Mine was finally absorbed into De Beers.

When Rhodes died in 1902, De Beers controlled 90% of the world's diamond production. Ernest Oppenheimer took over the chairmanship of the company in 1927, after buying a seat on the board a year earlier.[16]

Oppenheimer was very concerned about the discovery of diamonds in 1908 in German South West Africa, fearing that the increased supply would swamp the market and force prices down.[4][5]

Former CIA chief, Admiral Stansfield Turner, claimed that De Beers restricted US access to industrial diamonds needed for the country's war effort during World War II.[17]

Diamond monopoly

Russian president Vladimir Putin meeting with De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer in South Africa in 2006

De Beers is well known for its monopolistic practices throughout the 20th century, whereby it used its dominant position to manipulate the international diamond market.[6][18] The company used several methods to exercise this control over the market: Firstly, it convinced independent producers to join its single channel monopoly, it flooded the market with diamonds similar to those of producers who refused to join the cartel, and lastly, it purchased and stockpiled diamonds produced by other manufacturers in order to control prices through supply.[19]

In 2000, the De Beers model changed,[19] due to factors such as the decision by producers in Russia, Canada and Australia, to distribute diamonds outside of the De Beers channel, thus effectively ending the monopoly.[6][18] Current major players in the diamond industry are the African producers Debswana and Namdeb, De Beers, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Lev Leviev, Harry Winston, and Alrosa.[20]

In November 2011 the Oppenheimer family sold the entirety of their 40% stake in De Beers to Anglo American thereby increasing Anglo American's ownership of the company to 85%.[21] The transaction was $5.1 billion in cash and ending the Oppenheimers' De Beers Dynasty's 80-year ownership in the world's largest diamond miner.[22]


The De Beers Snap Lake Mine in Canada

Mining in Botswana takes place through the mining company Debswana,[23] a 50-50 joint venture with the Government of the Republic of Botswana. In Namibia it takes place through Namdeb,[24] a 50-50 joint venture with the Government of the Republic of Namibia. Mining in South Africa takes place through De Beers Consolidated Mines (DBCM),[25] 74% owned by DeBeers and 26% by a broad based black economic empowerment partner, Ponahalo Investments. In 2007 De Beers began production at the Snap Lake Mine in Northwest Territories, Canada;[26] this is the first De Beers mine outside of Africa. In July 2008 De Beers opened the Victor Mine in Ontario, Canada.[27]

Trading of rough diamonds takes place through the Diamond Trading Company via wholly owned and joint venture operations in South Africa (DTCSA), Botswana (DTCB), Namibia (NDTC) and the United Kingdom (DTC). The various DTCs sort, value and sell approximately 40%[28] of the world's rough diamonds by value.

The Family of Companies employs about 20,000 people around the world on five continents, with 17,000 employees in Africa. Over 7000 people are employed in Botswana, over 7100 in South Africa, 3800 in Namibia, 700 in Canada and over 800 in Group Exploration.[29]

Business structure

On November 4, 2011 Anglo American plc and CHL Holdings announced their agreement for Anglo American to acquire an incremental interest in De Beers, increasing Anglo American's current 45% shareholding in the world's leading diamond company to up to 85%.[30] De Beers Investments is the privately held, ownership company of De Beers Société Anonyme (DBSA), and is registered in Luxembourg. It is made up of two shareholdings: Anglo American plc has a 85% shareholding and the Government of the Republic of Botswana owns 15% directly. De Beers Societe Anonyme (DBSA) is the management company of the De Beers group.[31]

The Family of Companies

The De Beers Family of Companies is involved in most parts of the diamond value chain. Companies are as follows:

  • De Beers Canada – mining
  • De Beers Consolidated Mines – mining
  • De Beers Diamond Jewellers – retail
  • Debswana – mining
  • Diamdel – trading
  • Diamond Trading Company – trading
  • Diamond Trading Company Botswana – trading
  • Diamond Trading Company South Africa – trading
  • Element Six – Advanced Materials / industrial diamonds
  • Forevermark – retail
  • Namdeb – mining
  • Namibia Diamond Trading Company – trading

The Diamond Trading Company

The Diamond Trading Company, the rough diamond sales and distribution arm of the De Beers Group, sorts, values and sells approximately 40% of the world's rough diamonds by value. Currently the DTC has a combination of wholly owned and joint venture operations in South Africa (DTCSA), Botswana (DTCB), Namibia (NDTC) and the United Kingdom (DTC).

Diamonds sold by the DTC are sourced primarily from De Beers' own mining operations in South Africa and Canada, and through its joint venture partnerships with the governments of Botswana, and Namibia.

Technicians in London, Kimberley, Windhoek and Gaborone sort these diamonds into approximately 12,000 different categories based on size, shape, quality and colour, for DTC Sightholders.[32] There are 79 Sightholder companies who buy the rough diamonds from the DTC and its partner offices. Sightholders travel to London, Kimberley, Gaborone and Windhoek ten times a year for their Sight. DTC Sales in 2007 were $5.9bn.

The Diamond Trading Company develops diamond technology and operates a research and development facility based in the United Kingdom, to support the consistency of DTC rough diamond assortments for Sightholders and downstream industries in the DTC's producer partner countries.

Sightholders are required to comply with the De Beers's Best Practice Principles, which set out various objective standards of conduct within three main areas: business, social, and environmental responsibilities. The Best Practice Principles ensure that the De Beers Family of Companies, Sightholders and applicable third parties operate to an ethical, legal, professional, social and environmental standard, including being committed to the Kimberley Process.[33]

De Beers Diamond Jewellers

In 2001, De Beers entered into a retail joint venture with French luxury goods company Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy[34] (LVMH) to establish an independently managed De Beers diamond jewellery company.

The joint venture, called De Beers Diamond Jewellers Ltd sells diamond jewellery. The first De Beers boutique opened in 2002 on London's Old Bond Street as the brand's flagship store. A year later, the brand expanded to Asia with the opening of their first Tokyo stores. The brand expanded into the United States with a store on 5th Avenue in New York and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills in 2005. De Beers further expanded in the United States in 2007 with stores in Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas, and McLean, VA, coinciding with the launch of a website with e-commerce capability.[35] There are now De Beers retail stores in England, France, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau, Dubai and the United States.


Over the last century, De Beers has been highly successful in increasing consumer demand for diamonds. One of the most effective marketing strategies has been the marketing of diamonds as a symbol of love and commitment.

A young copywriter working for N. W. Ayer & Son, Frances Gerety, coined the famous advertising line "A Diamond is Forever" in 1947.[36] In 2000, Advertising Age magazine named "A Diamond Is Forever" the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century.[37]

Other successful campaigns include the "eternity ring" (as a symbol of continuing affection and appreciation),[38] the "trilogy" ring (representing the past, present and future of a relationship) and the "right hand ring" (bought and worn by women as a symbol of independence).[39]

De Beers is also known for its television advertisements featuring silhouettes of people wearing diamonds, to the music of Palladio by Karl Jenkins. A 2010 commercial for Verizon Wireless parodied the De Beers spots.[40]


De Beers has introduced Forevermark diamonds to markets in China, Hong Kong, India and Japan. According to the company, forevermark diamonds, "are natural, untreated, responsibly sourced, and cut and polished by a specially selected diamantaire."[41] Forevermark diamonds have an icon and identification number inscribed on the table facet of the diamond. The inscription is about 0.05 µm deep and applied using an undisclosed De Beers technology developed in Maidenhead, United Kingdom, and Antwerp, Belgium.[41]

Legal issues on monopolizing and fixing prices

Sherman Antitrust Act

During World War II, Ernest Oppenheimer attempted to negotiate a way around the Sherman Antitrust Act by proposing that De Beers register a US branch of the Diamond Syndicate Incorporated. In this way, his company could provide the US with the industrial diamonds it desperately sought for the war effort in return for immunity from prosecution after the war; however his proposal was rejected by the US Justice Department when it was discovered that De Beers had no intention of stockpiling any industrial diamonds in the US.[17] In 1945, the Justice Department finally filed an antitrust case against De Beers, but the case was dismissed as the company had no presence on US soil.[42]

Gem diamonds

From 2001 onwards several lawsuits were filed against De Beers in US State and Federal courts. These alleged that De Beers unlawfully monopolized the supply of diamonds and conspired to fix, raise and control diamond prices. Additionally there were allegations of misleading advertising. While De Beers denied all allegations that it violated the law, in November 2005, De Beers announced that an agreement had been reached to settle civil class action suits filed against the company in the United States, and in March 2006, three other civil class action suits were added to the November agreement. In April 2008, De Beers confirmed that Judge Chesler of the US Federal District Court in New Jersey had entered an order approving the Settlement, resulting in a settlement arrangement totaling $295 million USD. De Beers does not admit liability. As part of the settlement, persons who purchased gem diamonds from 1 January 1994, to 31 March 2006, may be eligible for compensation.[43]

Industrial diamonds

In 2004 De Beers pleaded guilty and paid a $10 million fine to the United States Department of Justice to settle a 1994 charge that De Beers had colluded with General Electric to fix the price of industrial diamonds.[44][45]

European Competition Commission

In February 2006, De Beers entered into legally binding commitments with the European Commission to cease purchasing rough diamonds from Alrosa as of the end of 2008.[46] In January 2007, the European Commission announced it had rejected all outstanding complaints against the Diamond Trading Company's Supplier of Choice sales strategy.[47]


Conflict diamonds and the Kimberley Process

In 1999 a campaign by Global Witness to highlight the role of diamonds in international conflicts led to a review by the United Nations. The initial focus of the UN's investigation was on Jonas Savimbi's UNITA movement in Angola, which was found to have bartered uncut diamonds for weaponry, thereby allowing the civil war to continue in 1998 despite international economic and diplomatic sanctions being in effect through United Nations Security Council Resolution 1173.[48][49]

In 1999, De Beers decided to stop all outside buying of diamonds in order to guarantee categorically the conflict-free status of De Beers diamond, effective from 26 March 2000.[50][51][52]

In December 2000, following the recommendations of the Fowler Report, the UN adopted the landmark General Assembly Resolution A/RES/55/56[53] supporting the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds. By November 2002, negotiations between governments, the international diamond industry and civil society organizations resulted in the creation of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which sets out the requirements for controlling rough diamond production and trade and became effective in 2003.

De Beers states that 100% of the diamonds it now sells are conflict-free and that all De Beers diamonds are purchased in compliance with national law, the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme[54] and its own Diamond Best Practice Principles.[33] The Kimberley process has helped restore the reputation of the industry, as well as eliminating sources of excess supply.[55]

Forceful relocation of indigenous Bushman people in Botswana

In Botswana, a long dispute has existed between the interests of the mining company, De Beers, and the relocation of the Bushman tribe from the land, in order to exploit diamond resources. The Bushmen have been facing threats from government policies since at least 1980, when the diamond resources were discovered.[56] A campaign is being fought in an attempt to bring an end to what the indigenous rights organization, Survival International considers it to be a genocide of a tribe that has been living in those lands for tens of thousands of years.[57][58][59] On the grounds that their hunting and gathering has become obsolete and their presence is no longer compatible with preserving wildlife resources, they were persecuted by the government in order to make them leave the reserve. To get rid of them, they have had their water supplies cut off, they have been taxed, fined, beaten, and tortured as per land clearing requests by De Beers.[60][when?][clarification needed] Several international fashion models, including Iman, Lily Cole and Erin O'Connor, who were previously involved with advertising for the companies' diamonds, have backed down after realizing the consequences raised by this scandal, and now support the campaign.[61]

See also


  1. ^ "Exploration and mining". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "New Mining Target: Anglo American". Forbes. 
  4. ^ a b Janine P. Roberts (2003). Glitter & Greed. The Disinformation Company. ISBN 0971394296. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  5. ^ a b Theodor Emanuel Gregory (1977). Ernest Oppenheimer and the Economic Development of Southern Africa. Arno Press. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  6. ^ a b c d Tobias Kretschmer (2003-10-15). "De Beers and Beyond:The History of the International Diamond Cartel" (PDF). New York University. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  7. ^ Edward Jay Epstein (1982). The Rise and Fall of Diamonds. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671412892. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  8. ^ a b c Lilian Charlotte Anne Knowles (2005). The Economic Development of the British Overseas Empire. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0415350484. 
  9. ^ Martin Meredith (2007). Diamonds Gold and War. New York: Simon & Schuster, Limited. ISBN 0743286146. 
  10. ^ John Hays Hammond (1974). The Autobiography of John Hays Hammond. Ayer Publishing. p. 205. ISBN 0405059132. 
  11. ^ Edward Jay Epstein (1982). The Rise and Fall of Diamonds. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671412892. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  12. ^ Colin Walter Newbury (1989). The Diamond Ring. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198217757. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  13. ^ A Handbook of the Boer War With General Map of South Africa and 18 Sketch Maps and Plans. London and Aldershot: Gale and Polden Ltd. 1910. Retrieved 2008-10-02. 
  14. ^ Ashe, E. Oliver (1900). Besieged by the Boers; a diary of life and events in Kimberley during the siege (1900). New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.. 
  15. ^ a b Tom Zoellner (2007). The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire. McMillan. ISBN 0312339704. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  16. ^ a b De Beers S.A.. Encyclopedia Britannica. 
  17. ^ a b Janine P. Roberts (2003). Glitter & Greed: The Secret World of the Diamond Empire. The Disinformation Company. pp. 115–121. ISBN 0971394296. 
  18. ^ a b Jane S. Lopus (2003). Capstone. National Council on Economic Education. p. 61. ISBN 1561835161. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  19. ^ a b Campbell R. McConnell, Stanley L. Brue (2005). Economics: Principles, Problems, and Policies. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 456. ISBN 9780072819359. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  20. ^ "''From Mine to Mistress - Corporate Strategies and Government Policies in the International Diamond Industry'' by Chaim Even-Zohar". Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  21. ^ AFP (November 04, 2011). "Oppenheimers leave the diamond race with $5bn sale". Mail and Guardian. Retrieved November 05, 2011. 
  22. ^ "Anglo American Ends Oppenheimers’ De Beers Dynasty With $5.1 Billion Deal". November 4, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Debswana". The De Beers Group. 2009-08-12. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  24. ^ "Namdeb". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  25. ^ "De Beers Consolidated Mines". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  26. ^ "Mining: Snap Lake Mine". De Beers Canada. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  27. ^ "De Beers Canada". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  28. ^ "Apr08_May08". Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  29. ^ "Reports". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  30. ^ Anglo American agrees acquisition of Oppenheimer family interest in De Beers Announcement on de Beers wesite, retrieved November 4, 2011
  31. ^ "The Family of Companies". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  32. ^ "Sights and Sightholders - The De Beers Group". Archived from the original on 13 June 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-24. 
  33. ^ a b Best Practice Principles - The De Beers Group[dead link]
  34. ^ "De Beers ties up with luxury goods firm". BBC News. 2001-01-16. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  35. ^ "About De Beers the Diamond Authority". Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  36. ^ Cele Otnes, Elizabeth Hafkin Pleck (2003). Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding. University of California Press. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0520236610. 
  37. ^ "'A Diamond Is Forever': How Four Words Changed an Industry". 2007-03-22. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  38. ^ Edward Jay Epstein (February 1982). "Have you ever tried to sell a Diamond?". The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 2010-11-02. 
  39. ^ Jessica Michault (2005-02-28). "In a show of power, women raise a glittery right hand". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-02. 
  40. ^ "AdFreak: Verizon does Big Red, De Beers ad parodies". Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  41. ^ a b "Forevermark". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  42. ^ Edward J Epstein (1982). "18". The Rise and Fall of Diamonds (The Diamond Invention). Simon & Schuster. 
  43. ^ DeBeers Settlement
  44. ^ "De Beers pleads guilty in price fixing case". Associated Press via 2004-07-13. 
  45. ^ Margaret Webb Pressler (2004-07-14). "DeBeers Pleads to Price-Fixing: Firm Pays $10 million, Can Fully Reenter U.S.". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  46. ^ Alrosa Purchasing Commitments - The De Beers Group[dead link]
  47. ^ "News - European Commission Clears DTC of Outstanding Complaints". 2007-01-31. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  48. ^ Michael Fleshman (January 2001). "Targeting 'conflict diamonds' in Africa: Security Council seeks to enforce sanctions against rebels, arms suppliers". UN. 
  49. ^ "Final Report of the UN Panel of Experts ("The "Fowler Report")". Global Policy Forum. 2000-03-10. Retrieved 2010-03-20. 
  50. ^ "De Beers: Come Clean to Be Clean". Mail and Guardian via Global Policy Forum. 2000-03-24. Retrieved 2010-03-21. 
  51. ^ De Beers Group De Beers Report to Stakeholders 2005/6 - Ethics, "Conflict and Instability" De Beers Group. Retrieved 11 February 2007.
  52. ^ "FAQs". The De Beers Group. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  53. ^ "Kimberley Process Certification Scheme". UN. 2004-05-18. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  54. ^
  55. ^ Joe Nocera (8 August 2008). "Diamonds are Forever in Botswana". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-15. 
  56. ^ "Bushmen". Survival International. Retrieved 2010-07-17. 
  57. ^ "De Beers battles with Survival". Telegraph (London). 2005-07-17. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  58. ^ Leithead, Alastair (2003-02-24). "Bushmen 'moved for diamonds'". BBC news. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  59. ^ "Botswana diamonds lose their sparkle". Mail and Guardian. 2005-07-08. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  60. ^ Monbiot, George (2003-08-05). "Driven out of Eden". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  61. ^ "Kalahari Bushmen win ancestral land case". The Independent (London). 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 

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