Last May proved to be a tough month for the second-largest diamond ever unearthed – “Lesedi la Rona” – and for the company that unearthed it, as the remarkable stone failed to impress investors at a Sotheby’s auction.
“Lesedi la Rona” is the largest diamond discovered in more than a century. In size (the stone measures 6.5 cm by 5.6 cm by 4 cm) it is second only to the 3016.75-carat Cullinan Diamond, which was discovered in South Africa in 1905. The stone went under the auctioneer’s hammer at Sotheby’s in London on June 29, but the highest bid – $61 million – fell way short of the minimum the stone’s owner, Lucara Diamond Corp., has set for the gem.
What went wrong for Lesedi la Rona, and for Lucara Diamond Corp? According to a new in-depth piece in Vanity Fair, the diamond failed to sell for a variety of reasons – not the least, according to insiders, the way Lucara chose to sell it.
According to Lawrence Graff, owner of the almighty Graff diamonds – buyers and cutters of some of the biggest roughs ever sold – Lucara went about the business the wrong way: “It’s not nice,” he told the interviewer. “We don’t like it, what they’re doing. It’s just not how it’s done. We don’t want to have to expose ourselves in public [at an auction]. To contend in the open arena, we find it undesirable.”
“When we polish these big stones, we never know what we are going to get,” Graff continued. “The larger the rough, the greater the chance that there’s a defect. It can ruin your hopes by as much as 40 percent. You think you are getting flawless and then find that it’s VVS1”—referring to a technical grade just shy of perfection. “There goes 40 percent. We are not even a hundred percent sure of the color.”
According to the piece, the high-end diamond game “is played on a very small field by only a few players”. Not many diamantaires have the financial means or nerves to purchase and then cut big diamonds. And if these didn’t want to “contend in the open arena,” what chance did Lucara really have?
According to the interviewer, dealers were putting down the big diamond from the start. “The street was awash in poisonous gossip”, she said, and while what most people thought about the diamond wasn’t that important, what a few people thought, people like Graff, certainly was.