As a stylist, I’m used to seeing and borrowing extraordinary jewelry, especially during award season when it’s all glitz and glam. There’s something so incredible about having access to such fine and rare gems, particularly diamonds; the power, the beauty, and the mystery of these stones has always been fascinating to me.
When Forevermark invited me to join them for a trip to Botswana to learn about their diamond practices, my immediate response was: “ Yes!” I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn about the brand, the country, and the business of mining firsthand.
What I experienced on the five days of my excursion was more than I could have ever expected. The trip gave me an even deeper appreciation for how these precious stones are sourced and produced, and how this industry is looking to better our environment and world.
The trip gave me an even deeper appreciation for how these precious stones are sourced and produced, and how this industry is looking to better our environment and world.
For Forevermark and its parent company De Beers Group, responsible diamond sourcing lies at the very heart its business. The company goes beyond being conflict-free; Forevermark diamonds are only sourced from mines that meet exigent business, social, and environmental standards.
Upon arrival, after a 15-hour flight, we descended into Johannesburg, just in time for a quick transfer to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. After a nap and bite to eat, we made our way to the Mokolodi Nature Reserve, a private not-for-profit game reserve in southern Botswana, for a golden-hour game drive.
De Beers Group has been active in rhino conservation for many years, including breeding and relocation programs. Through conservation projects implemented by Debswana (a joint venture between The De Beers Group and the Government of Botswana) and a partnership with Forevermark and Tusk Trust, De Beers supports a significant proportion of Botswana’s white rhino population.
The Mokolodi Nature Reserve is one of the reserves where you can find the protected white rhino. We were fortunate to see two—a mother and her five-month-old baby, which was unbelievable. It was quite a way to kick off our trip, and so incredible to see a species being supported in a natural protected environment. We also spotted giraffe, dik-diks, warthogs, water buffaloes, impalas, hyenas, and zebras.
The next day, an early morning call time of 4:45am had us up and on our way to the airport before the sun was up. We took off and made our way to the Orapa Mine, which is Debswana’s oldest operating mine and the largest open-pit diamond mine in the world. Some of the world’s most precious diamonds have been unearthed here, including the Okavango blue diamond weighing 41.11 carats. In 2018 alone, the mine produced approximately 12 million carats.
It was extraordinary to see how diamonds are extracted from the ground. Diamonds come from kimberlite, a volcanic rock found in deep layers under the earth. The process seems rather expected: lots of drilling and lots of machinery. But what I didn’t expect to see was how many hands touch one piece of kimberlite, and how much care goes into producing a diamond. It’s incredible to hear the employees speak about the mines—the pride and dedication they put into their work is both impressive and inspiring.
Our visit also included a trip to a Tawana pre-primary school. The school was built and open to all of the children of Debswana employees and the wider community. The recovery of a diamond is truly done in partnership with the people of Botswana, working towards the ongoing commitment to make sure the process gives back to the people and environments they come from.
For every acre of land De Beers Group uses for mining, six acres are dedicated to the conservation of nature and the protection of the landscapes and ecosystems throughout the diamond-producing regions. To date, they have set aside about 500,000 acres of land around its mines for this purpose.
The infrastructure that diamonds provide to Botswana’s economy allows for such programs as the national ecotourism strategy aimed at conserving Botswana’s natural resources and wildlife. The game reserves we visited in Chobe National Park on the third and fourth days of our trip were a product of that conservation. We were so fortunate to be able to witness nature in all of its glory: a pride of lions plotting their morning feast on a water buffalo, a herd of elephants bathing in the river, a grazing giraffe. Each game drive resulted in surprise and delight. A highlight for me was taking a boat safari; it was amazing to see the animals by water instead of by land, and it offered such a different perspective.
On day three, we docked for a Braii-style lunch at a floating restaurant in the middle of the river and had the chance to see all the animals—including some humongous hippos and crocodiles.
Day four was another early start. We did a game drive and came close to seeing the last of the big five (a leopard!). After our two full days of safari, it was time to depart for Gaborone, where we would visit the De Beers Group Global Sightholder Sales Headquarters, and one of Forevermark’s exclusive diamantaires.
Here, diamonds are hand-sorted and valued in their rough form before they’re cut, polished, and sold. Hundr of hands will touch each diamond throughout the process. This is an incredible craft, and De Beers trains their staff to ensure the highest standards.
Next, we visited one of the few carefully selected diamantaires certified to cut and polish a diamond to Forevermark’s exacting standards. This is where the diamonds come to life and the brilliance of each stone is revealed. At Forevermark, they go beyond the standard 4Cs (cut, color, clarity, and carat). Diamonds are individually selected against additional rigid criteria to ensure that only the most beautiful are considered. Less than 1% of the world’s natural diamonds are eligible to become a Forevermark diamond, so these are truly one of the most rare, special, and responsible diamonds in existence.
Another takeaway is De Beers Group’s groundbreaking research and development initiative, Project Minera. In collaboration with scientists from top universities, De Beers is investigating the potential for carbon-neutral mining.
De Beers Group’s ambition is to be the first company in the world to have a carbon-neutral mine. Kimberlite has been found to offer ideal properties for carbon storage. It originates within the earth at depths greater than 100 miles, and when brought to the surface, it acts like a sponge, rapidly taking carbon dioxide into its structure and storing it in stable, non-toxic carbonate minerals, using a process called mineral carbonation.
These carbonate minerals form naturally in the ore left over after diamonds are removed; De Beers is working with scientists to look at ways to form them more quickly in order to offset emissions. The potential for the industry is huge—it could usher in a whole new era of sustainable mining.
As our trip came to a close and I was preparing my notes for this article, I spent the time reflecting on all that I learned and had the chance to see. Looking at the expansive mine against the breathtaking countryside of Botswana and the diamond on my left hand wasn’t just eye opening; it gave me perspective and hope. A diamond is so much more than forever—it also holds endless possibility and opportunity.