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De Beers
Industry Mining and trading of diamonds
Founded 1888
Founder(s) Cecil Rhodes
Headquarters Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Area served Worldwide
Key people Mark Cutifani (Chairman)
Philippe Mellier (CEO)
Products Diamonds
Services Diamond marketing and promotion. Community development.
Revenue Decrease$6,1 Billion (FY 2012)[1]
Employees 20,000+

De Beers is a cartel of companies that dominate the diamond, diamond mining, diamond hops, 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.[2] Mining takes place in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Canada.

The company was founded in 1888 by Cecil Rhodes, who was financed by South African diamond magnate Alfred Beit and the London-based N M Rothschild & Sons bank.[3] In 1927, Ernest Oppenheimer, a German immigrant to Britain who had earlier founded mining giant Anglo American plc with American financier J.P. Morgan,[4] took over De Beers. He built and consolidated the company's global monopoly over the 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.[5][6]

Company history

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.[7] He soon secured funding from the Rothschild family, who would finance his business expansion.[8][9] 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.[7][10][11] The name derived from the De Beers brothers, Diederik Arnoldus and Johannes Nicolaas de Beers, Boers whose farm had become the site of a particularly lucrative mine, although they'd sold the claim and had no involvement with the company that came to bear their name. 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.[9][12] 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.[13] Rhodes was concerned about the break-up of the new monopoly, stating to shareholders in 1896 that:[9]

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,[14] 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.[15]

In 1902, a competitive mine named the Cullinan Mine was discovered; however its owner refused to join the De Beers cartel.[16] Instead, the mine started selling to a pair of independent dealers named Bernhard and Ernest Oppenheimer, thereby weakening the De Beers cartel.[17] 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:[16]

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.[17]

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.[5][6]

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.[18]

Diamond monopoly

De Beers is well known for its monopoloid practices throughout the 20th century, whereby it used its dominant position to manipulate the international diamond market.[7][19] 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.[20]

In 2000, the De Beers model changed[20] due to factors such as the decision by producers in Russia, Canada and Australia to distribute diamonds outside of the De Beers channel,[7][19] as well as rising awareness of blood diamonds that forced De Beers to "avoid the risk of bad publicity" by limiting sales to its own mined products.[21] De Beers’ market share fell from as high as 90% in the 1980s to less than 50% in 2012.[22]

In November 2011 the Oppenheimer family announced their intention to sell the entirety of their 40% stake in De Beers to Anglo American plc thereby increasing Anglo American's ownership of the company to 85%.[23] The transaction was worth £3.2 billion ($5.1bn) in cash and ended the Oppenheimer dynasty's eighty year ownership of the world's largest diamond miner.[24][25]


Mining in Botswana takes place through the mining company Debswana,[26] a 50–50 joint venture with the Government of the Republic of Botswana. In Namibia it takes place through Namdeb,[27] 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),[28] 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;[29] this is the first De Beers mine outside of Africa. In July 2008 De Beers opened the Victor Mine in Ontario, Canada.[30]

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%[31] 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.[32]

Business structure

On 4 November 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%.[33] 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.[34]

The Family of Companies

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

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.

De Beers Diamond Jewellers

In 2001, De Beers entered into a retail joint venture with French luxury goods company Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy[35] (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, and since then has opened stores all around the world.[36]


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.[37] In 2000, Advertising Age magazine named "A Diamond Is Forever" the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century.[38]

Other successful campaigns include the "eternity ring" (as a symbol of continuing affection and appreciation),[39] 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).[40]

De Beers is also known for its television advertisements featuring silhouettes of people wearing diamonds, to the music of Palladio by Karl Jenkins. The campaign, titled "Shadows and Lights", first ran in the spring of 1993. The song would later inspire for a compilation album, Diamond Music, released in 1996, which features the Palladio suite. A 2010 commercial for Verizon Wireless parodied the De Beers spots.[41]


De Beers has introduced Forevermark diamonds to markets in China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and the United States. According to the company, forevermark diamonds, "are natural, untreated, responsibly sourced, and cut and polished by a specially selected diamantaire."[42] 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.[42]

Legal issues on monopolising 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.[18] 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.[43]

Gem diamonds

From 2001 onwards several lawsuits were filed against De Beers in US State and Federal courts. These alleged that De Beers unlawfully monopolised 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 totalling $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.[44]

Industrial diamonds

In 2004, De Beers pled 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, which was acquitted of all charges, to fix the price of industrial diamonds.[45][46]

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.[47] In January 2007, the European Commission announced it had closed the file due to lack of Community Interest. The commission decision is under appeal before the Court of First Instance in Luxemburg.[48]


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 despite international economic and diplomatic sanctions being in effect through United Nations Security Council Resolution 1173.[49][50]

In 1999, De Beers claimed to have stopped all outside buying of diamonds in order to guarantee the conflict-free status of their diamonds effective from 26 March 2000.[51][52][53]

In December 2000, following the recommendations of the Fowler Report, the UN adopted the landmark General Assembly Resolution A/RES/55/56[54] supporting the creation of an international certification scheme for rough diamonds. By November 2002, negotiations between governments, the international diamond industry and civil society organisations 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[55] and its own Diamond Best Practice Principles.[56] The Kimberley process has helped restore the reputation of the industry, as well as eliminating sources of excess supply.[57]

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.[58] A campaign is being fought in an attempt to bring an end to what the indigenous rights organisation, Survival International considers it to be a genocide of a tribe that has been living in those lands for tens of thousands of years.[59][60][61] On the grounds that their hunting and gathering has become obsolete and their presence is no longer compatible with preserving wildlife resources, the Gwi and Gana people were persecuted by the government of Botswana in order to make them leave the central Kalahari reserve. To get rid of them, they had their water supplies cut off, they have been "taxed, fined, beaten, and tortured."[62] 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 realising the consequences raised by this scandal, and now support the campaign.[63]

See also


External links

  • De Beers Group official web site
  • De Beers Diamond Jewellers
  • Attawapiskat First Nation and Africa fight Debeers exploitation and abuse

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