by Greg Klein | August 28, 2015
It all started when a vacationer spotted a nice-looking rock lying in the dirt. That turned out to be a truly exceptional diamond that’s to be transformed by a Saskatchewan master cutter in a four-day public event. Next month Mike Botha, a renowned craftsman based in Prince Albert, travels to Little Rock to apply his skills to the Esperanza, an 8.52-carat gem found last June by Bobbie Oskarson in Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park. After setting up a mini-factory at Stanley Jewelers Gemologist he’ll offer the public “a unique opportunity to watch a master craftsman’s precision as he cuts and shapes the rough stone to bring out its inherent beauty, value and luminosity,” according to the retail store.
Speaking to ResourceClips.com, Botha extolled the qualities of Oskarson’s chance find. “The stone is absolutely colourless,” he enthuses. Quite unusually, an analysis found zero parts per billion nitrogen. “So we have reason to believe this is one of the most colourless diamonds you could ever find. And the clarity is phenomenal. There are absolutely no inclusions [impurities] from what we could see.” Further analysis found no stress zones, “which is also a good indicator of it being absolutely inclusion-free. It’s a pretty pure stone.”
His craft calls for “planning, planning, planning,” he explains. “It’s like doing wood, but measure 10 times, cut once. It’s very painstaking.
“We did 3D solid modelling of the rough crystal and out of that we chose a design called the triolette that would maximize the visual appeal as well as maximize the material. It’s like an elongated teardrop but it has angles instead of being a smooth curve, unlike the briolette. But the angles are very obtuse and there’s a mixture of emerald and trapezoid configurations in the diamond.”
Could there be any risk? “Through stupidity, yes,” Botha responds. But with no apparent stress zones, “we have reason to believe it’s a very healthy diamond so we do not foresee problems with the stone breaking spontaneously.”
The result will inevitably weigh less than the original. But he anticipates finishing up with the “magic five” carats, considered an optimal size for jewelry.
The gem then goes to a lab for final grading before being mounted in a custom-designed pendant. It’s expected to go on sale this autumn.
Oskarson sold Esperanza to a consortium in which she retains an interest, Botha says. “We believe there’s a lot of blue sky in the project.” He’s not at liberty to discuss his own remuneration, however.
As for having an audience throughout four days of painstaking work, “it doesn’t bother me, as long as I don’t have to do the talking. We’ll have some spokespeople to do that.”
Botha began his career in South Africa and briefly worked in Russia before coming to Canada in 1997. His first contract here had him cutting some exceptionally large stones, “a 314-carat and a couple of 100-carat diamonds” from Brazil. The Northwest Territories, the world’s third-largest rough diamond producer by value, recruited him to write a curriculum and provide training, as well as do consulting work for the government.
There had been some diamond cutting in Yellowknife “but I don’t know what the status on that is,” he says. Although the territory tried to encourage home-grown professionals, “it’s not cost-effective,” Botha maintains. “Just to run an operation in the Arctic is senseless. Everything’s so expensive. You cannot compete with countries like India and China in that respect.”
Canada currently has “one outfit in Vancouver, one in Montreal, more than one in Toronto. But these are not large facilities. The largest at the moment is HRA in Sudbury.” His family business, Embee Diamonds, describes itself as a “world-class diamond cutting and polishing atelier” located in Prince Albert. “The reason we’re surviving is most of our business is with United States jewellers, so we don’t go through a middleman. It’s direct to the retailer.”
As for diamonds mined in this country, almost all go to Antwerp. “The Diamond High Council in Belgium did a phenomenal job to recruit all the mining companies to put up distribution and sorting facilities in Belgium.” From there, “probably 90% of Canadian stones go to India for cutting and polishing.”