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Feb 14th, 2013


Niarchos Diamond

The Niarchos is a 128.25 carat colorless, flawless pear shape named after the late Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping magnate. In the rough, it weighed 426.5 carat, internally flawless. It was slightly chipped, likely due to contact with the mine’s underground crusher. Sir Ernest Oppenheimer considered that it possessed the most perfect color of any diamond he had ever seen, an opinion shared by others who were fortunate enough to view it.

Unlike the proverbial cat, one may expect the Premier Mine to enjoy only four lives. The first lasted from the discovery of the diamond pipe just before 1902 – and the formation of the Premier (Transvaal) Diamond Mining Company – until the outbreak of World War I when the mine was shut down and operated on a caretaker basis. By January of 1916 it was working again and production continued up to 1932 when mining operations ceased due to the depressed state of the diamond industry.

Working resumed in 1945, but its fourth life really began in 1979 with the opening up of the mine below the ‘Gabbro’ sill, a 70-meter geologic intrusion of barren rock which cuts right through the pipe some 400 meters below the surface. Production from this new source has not only given the mine its longest life, but one that should enable production to continue for another fifteen years.

In the early years of its existence, the Premier Mine produced many large diamonds, including, of course the Cullinan in 1905, and since work was restarted in 1945 the mine has continued to yield some exceptional stones. One of the most exciting moments came early on the morning of Sunday, May 22nd, 1954, when a diamond measuring just under 51 mm long, just over 25 mm wide and 19 mm thick unexpectedly appeared on the grease tables at the recovery plant. It was immediately apparent to the officials present that this was an exceptional find.

Harry Winston and his cutting staff spent weeks debating whether to fashion one large gem or several smaller stones from the rough. In the end they decided on a single diamond, Mr. Winston stating that while it would have proved easier to sell the smaller stones, he felt that the historical value of creating one fine gem was more important.

Bernard de HaanOnce this had been determined, plans were laid to ensure the cutting of a perfect final gem. The cutters made more than three hundred lead models of the proposed finished gem to guide them in their task. The actual operation was performed by Winston’s chief cleaver, Bernard de Haan, who spent the entire year working on the project. The first severance took five weeks: from the 70 carat piece removed, a 27.62 carat marquise was later polished. The second took equally long and produced another 70 carats from which a very significant emerald cut of 39.99 carat was obtained. Thus a rough piece weighing about 270 carat remained. For some 58 days, master diamond cutter Bernard de Haan first ground then polished the great gem. Ultimately it yielded a pear shape weighing 128.25 carat.

On February 27th, 1957, the ‘Ice Queen’, as de Haan had nicknamed it, was unveiled to the world. The April, 1958 edition of National Geographic magazine featured an article on diamonds, in which the Niarchos’ cutting process was shown.

Soon after, the late Stavros Niarchos, the Greek shipping magnate, bought the gem for his then wife, formerly Charlotte Ford, for a reported US $2,000,000. Members of the Ford family were not polite, referring to the diamond as ‘the Skating Rink’, but Niarchos remained unperturbed, having also bought the two other gems that had been fashioned from the original 426 carat rough. For that amount, and after they were divorced, he was surely entitled to bestow his name upon the diamond which he generously lent to many exhibitions. In 1966 the Niarchos returned to South Africa for the famous centennial ‘Jewel Box 1966′ exhibition.

Since his death in April of 1996, no further information about the Niarchos Diamond has been forthcoming- however, the 39.99 carat emerald cut, known today as the Ice Queen, was auctioned by Sotheby’s of New York in October of 1991. Having earlier been graded by the Gemological Institute of America as s D VVS1 , it was sold for $1,870,000 to Sheik Ahmed Hassan Fitaihi.

Famous Diamonds
Cape Town Diamond Museum
Diamonds – Famous, Notable and Unique by GIA
National Geographic Magazine

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