De Beers Vacuums Gem-Quality Diamonds From the Ocean Floor

Many eons ago, the Orange River ferried precious diamonds from the center of South Africa westward all the way to the Atlantic coast — eventually scattering millions of carats across the ocean floor.


Today, five massive production vessels operated by De Beers — in partnership with the government of the Republic of Namibia — are recovering those gem-quality diamonds from a remote location more than dozen miles off the southwestern edge of the African continent.

The operation, called Debmarine Namibia, employs a 285-ton vacuum that scours the ocean floor 400 feet below sea level. A seabed crawler uses flexible hoses to bring diamond-bearing gravel to the surface. According to The Wall Street Journal, the mining operation yields a handful of diamonds for every 180 tons of material processed.


The publication described the fleet’s high-security recovery rooms, where X-ray machines help separate the diamonds from worthless gravel. The concentrate is collected in jam-sized jars and taken to De Beers’s land-based sorting operations via helicopter a few times each week.

When the undersea terrain is too uneven for the giant vacuum, the focus turns to the other ships, which use use drills to probe and extract material just 18 inches below the surface. There is no need to drill deeper because the diamonds are scattered just below the top layer of gravel.

A few decades ago, it would have been unfathomable for diamond companies to pursue deep-sea mining. But breakthroughs in technology are making this type of project viable and lucrative.

While sea-based diamonds account for just 4% of De Beers’s annual production by carat weight, they account for 13% by value. This is because 95% of the diamonds pulled from the ocean floor are of gem-quality. This compares to just 20% of gem-quality diamonds coming from De Beers’s top mine in Botswana. Some experts surmise that the diamonds in the ocean have endured such a pounding for so long that only the gem-quality ones could stay intact.


The Debmarine Namibia operation has yielded 16 million carats, so far. De Beers predicts that it will take about 50 years to “mine out” the licensed area that covers 2,300 square miles. It starts about 3 miles offshore and extends seaward 10 to 20 miles.

De Beers has aggressively invested in its sea-based operations. In August, the company added to its fleet the SS Nujoma, a $166-million exploration and sampling ship.

Credits: Images courtesy De Beers. Map by

Diamond Jewelry Worn by Catherine the Great 250 Years Ago Highlights Sotheby’s Geneva Auction

A lavish diamond necklace worn by Catherine the Great 250 years ago is one of the highlights of Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels & Noble Jewels auction in Geneva on November 16.


The jewelry offers a rare glimpse at the grandeur and elegance surrounding the Russian Royal Family and, specifically, Catherine II, Empress of Russia. One of the great leaders in Russian history, Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796) commissioned the diamond necklace and bowknot clasp as two separate pieces between 1760 and 1780.


Catherine the Great was a connoisseur of fine jewelry. Her magnificent collections were crafted by the most highly skilled French jewelers. Sotheby’s noted that stylistically, the necklace with bow clasp is consistent with traditional designs of the late 18th century, which would have been fastened around the neck using a ribbon or stitched directly onto clothing.

The necklace boasts 27 graduated cushion-cut diamonds in open settings on an articulated band. The ribbon bow clasp also features cushion-shaped diamonds in an openwork floral pattern. The jewel carries a pre-sale estimate of $3 million to $5 million.

According to Sotheby’s, the survival of an 18th century jewel of this stature is almost unheard of outside royal or museum collections. Oftentimes, these pieces from the 1700s would have been broken up or reworked to align with later fashions.


At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the Russian Imperial treasure was moved from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and the jewels were stored in sealed cases in the Kremlin. Thirteen years later, a number of items — including the diamond bow necklace — were taken to London and offered at auction at a sale of “The Russian State Jewels.” For the next 89 years, the diamond necklace with the bow-shaped clasp would be possessed by only two private collectors.

Interestingly, the current owner obtained the necklace at a Sotheby’s auction in 2005. At that time, it sold for $1.5 million, which was on the high end of the pre-sale estimate.

Also expected to fetch $3 million to $5 million at Sotheby’s Geneva sale is a suite of colored diamond jewels that date to the early 1700s and are suspected to have ties to Russian royalty.


The jewelry suite — which includes a necklace, brooch and earrings — contains colored diamonds that may have been part of a gift Empress Catherine I of Russia (1684-1727), wife of Peter the Great, gave to Sultan Ahmed III to negotiate the end of the Siege of Pruth in 1711. Apparently, the Sultan accepted the sumptuous gift, leading to a peace treaty between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.

The gemstones were then used by the Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842 – 1918) for the present necklace, which he offered to the wife of Teufik of Egypt, possibly for the birth of the last Khedive of Egypt and Sudan in 1874, according to Sotheby’s.

“These two stunning jewels carry with them a fascinating insight into the luxury and opulence of the Russian court,” said David Bennett, Worldwide Chairman of Sotheby’s International Jewelry Division. “It is difficult to overstate their rarity and historical importance, and I am thrilled to be able to present them side by side this autumn.”

Credits: Images courtesy Sotheby’s.

Smog Free Tower Is Turning Beijing’s Polluted Air Into Fun Jewelry

In September 2015, we reported on a Netherlands-based artist and innovator named Daan Roosegaarde, who was on a mission to install 23-foot-tall “Smog Free Towers” in cities with the most polluted air.


What made the concept even more intriguing was that the super-sized air purifiers conceived by Roosegaarde and his team of experts would be partly financed by the sale of jewelry made from the compressed smog particles captured by The Towers.


A little more than one year later, Roosegaarde’s dream has become a reality as one of his “Smog Free Towers” made its debut in the Chinese capital of Beijing.

According to Roosegaarde, the tower sucks up polluted air, processes it on the nano level via positive ionization and then releases the clean air back into the city. The Towers create smog-free bubbles of public space, which boast air quality 75% more clean than the rest of the city.

Each Smog Free Tower is capable of processing 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour. The device runs on green wind energy and uses no more electricity than a water boiler (1170 watts).

Inspired by the fact that diamonds are composed of carbon, Roosegaarde came up with the idea of using high pressure to form the carbon pollutants into a square black “gemstone” that can be set onto a fashionable ring or cufflink. Each Smog Free Cube is encased in clear resin and measures 8.4mm. The jewelry is made of stainless steel and costs about $270.


Each cube represents the purification of 1,000 cubic meters of air. One Smog Free Tower will be capable of producing 300 Smog Free Cubes per day if it runs 10 hours per day.


“The Smog Free Project is about the Smog Free Tower providing clean air, but it’s also about the Smog Free Ring creating an engagement and making the people in China part of the solution, instead of just feeling part of the problem,” Roosegaarde told Reuters.

“We warmly welcome the Smog Free Project to Beijing. This project is key in our agenda to promote clean air as a ‘green lifestyle’ among Chinese citizens,” said Liu Guozheng, Secretary-General of The China Forum of Environmental Journalists. “Our goal is to guide the public to a healthier lifestyle, low carbon development and to raise awareness amongst the public and reduce smog.”

The Smog Free Project in China has earned the support of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection.

China has earmarked $2.6 trillion for environmental protection between 2016 and 2020, according to state news agency Xinhua. That’s positive news for Roosegaarde, who expects to add hundreds of Smog Free Towers throughout the world’s most populous nation. China’s population stands at 1.36 billion.

Last year’s Kickstarter campaign for the Smog Free Project yielded €113,153 (about $123,000), an amount more than double the initial goal of €50,000.

Credits: Images via