Saturday 21st October 2017

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Posts tagged ‘britain’

Pomp and plunder

September 23rd, 2017

Indians increasingly dominate diamonds, but their most fabled stone remains elusive

by Greg Klein

Maybe it’s fitting that Indians, said to be the first to truly appreciate the gems, have returned to such prominence in the global diamond trade. The country’s alluvial finds constituted the world’s main source until supplanted by Brazil in the early 18th century. Although Indians originally held rubies and emeralds in even higher esteem, their admiration for diamonds spread to neighbouring cultures and beyond. The story of the Koh-i-Noor shows how one stone came to be associated not only with beauty, majesty and mystery but, more recently, with controversy too.

Indians increasingly dominate diamonds, but their most fabled stone eludes them

By no means the largest diamond ever found, it’s nevertheless been credited with good luck and blamed for misfortune. Some viewers found it dazzling for its brilliance, others were disappointed by its dimness. But it passed through a number of empires, often amid horrific bloodshed, before ending up in Britain’s Crown Jewels. Authors William Dalrymple and Anita Anand recount the rock’s odyssey in their recently published Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond.

While revelling in the myths, legends, propaganda and guesswork associated with the stone, the writers try to set the historical record straight with previously untranslated documents and new gemmological research that reconstructs the Koh-i-Noor as a rough stone.

Ancient accounts refer to a number of large Indian diamonds which could include the Koh-i-Noor. Some were bigger and believed to transmit supernatural power, but the Koh-i-Noor eventually prevailed as the most renowned. Even so, the first definite written reference doesn’t come until the mid-18th century, referring back to northern India’s 17th-century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.

Such was his captivation for precious stones that they all but monopolized his attention at a banquet featuring a dozen dancing girls of “lascivious and suggestive dress, immodest behaviour and posturing.” In 1635 he made the Koh-i-Noor the centrepiece of his Peacock Throne. An especially lavish piece of furniture meant to evoke the Koranic Solomon’s throne, it cost twice as much to build as the Taj Mahal.

Indians increasingly dominate diamonds, but their most fabled stone eludes them

The Queen Mother’s crown features the Koh-i-Noor
within a Maltese cross between two fleurs-de-lys.

Eventually the Mughals dismantled their seat of ostentation and the Koh-i-Noor became in turn a symbol of power for Persians, the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan and the Sikh empire, as each looting victor became a looted victim. Finally an 1849 treaty ending the Second Anglo-Sikh War ordered a terrified 10-year-old Maharajah Duleep Singh to surrender the celebrated stone to Queen Victoria.

Surviving a perilous voyage, the rock went on display to widespread public anticipation at the 1851 Crystal Palace Great Exhibition. It bombed.

Prince Albert tried to enhance the stone’s effect with gas lamps and angled mirrors. That fizzled too, as the props “turned the display into a sauna, causing visitors to swoon after only a few minutes. The press began to blame the Koh-i-Noor for being difficult, as if it were some kind of contrary and disappointing child.”

Albert then summoned experts who agreed that the diamond “was flawed at its very heart. Yellow flecks ran through a plane at its centre, one of which was large and marred its ability to refract light.” The authorities disagreed, however, on whether the gem could be re-cut without wrecking it. Eventually two of the world’s top pros arrived from Amsterdam and set to work with a state-of-the-art steam-powered grinder in a specially designed shop.

Their bill, for a few months of work, amounted to over a million pounds in today’s terms. Despite assurances to the contrary, moreover, they savaged the stone’s size from 190.3 carats to 93 carats. But dazzle it did. With an unusual symmetry of 33 facets each above and below the gem’s “table,” the cutters redeemed both the stone’s beauty and its public image.

Indians increasingly dominate diamonds, but their most fabled stone eludes them

It helped Victoria dazzle too, in those years before she went into morbid mourning. Waltzing with Napoleon III before 1,200 guests at Versailles, she wore a white satin gown and a diadem adorned with almost 3,000 small diamonds. Among them, the great K “gleamed like a third eye.” Other royal figures ordered it mounted and re-mounted on various regalia until the Queen Mother had it placed in its current crown. She sported the headgear at her daughter’s coronation. But for some reason (maybe trepidation about its supposed curse, the authors suggest), Elizabeth II has never worn it.

Since then, calls for its return have come from competitors, among them India, Pakistan and even the Taliban.

“Others have suggested that it be cut up once again and a piece each given to all those countries that make a credible argument for its return—including modern-day Iran and Afghanistan. But it is most unlikely that such Solomonic wisdom would ever be entertained by the British, nor indeed would it satisfy any of the various parties involved.”

The most persistent calls come from Indians. Equally tenacious has been Britain in its refusals. On a 2010 visit to Punjab, the authors relate, then-PM David Cameron said, “If you say yes to one you suddenly find the British Museum would be empty.”

Yet the country where the great diamond first came to prominence returned to diamond prominence itself late last century. Ironically that happened not due to gems of magnificence but through smaller, lower-quality stones originating in other countries and disdained by the rest of the trade. Through such humble beginnings, the west coast city of Surat now handles more than 80%, or even 90%, of the world’s cutting and polishing work. Mumbai, 290 kilometres south, hosts the world’s biggest diamond bourse. In the world diamond-sorting capital of Antwerp, Indians conduct about three-quarters of the business.

As for rough supply, Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO walked out on the country’s best hope for a major diamond mine in February, when the company handed ownership of the Bunder deposit, once anticipated for 2019 production, to the state government of Madhya Pradesh.

Meanwhile the Dalrymple/Anand book has reportedly spawned renewed activity in the search for India’s alluvial diamonds, maybe even another Koh-i-Noor, with all its blessings and curses.

Of diamonds and dynasties

August 4th, 2017

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

by Greg Klein

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

The Dynasty Collection celebrates Alrosa’s revival of Russian jewelry craftsmanship.
(Photo: Alrosa)

 

Legendary diamonds have long been associated with imperial dynasties. Now, just as a new book promises to revive interest in the multi-empire story of the fabled Koh-i-Noor gem, Alrosa has unveiled a suite of five stones commemorating great families of old Russia. In doing so, the mining giant marks a new emphasis not just on extracting exceptional stones, but cutting and polishing them too. The company says it will use state-of-the-art techniques to revive traditions dating back to Peter I.

A near-second to De Beers as the world’s largest diamond miner by value, Alrosa’s overall strategy might be to broaden diamonds’ appeal beyond the maybe one (or two, or sometimes profligately multiple) life events that call for an engagement ring.

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

(Photo: Alrosa)

The company’s new quintet started as a single 179-carat rough with a name that evokes grandeur, but also tragic decline and a horrific ending: The Romanovs. One and a half years in the making, the polished collection’s centrepiece is The Dynasty, a 51.38-carat traditional round brilliant-cut stone “unprecedented in the history of Russia” as the most expensive and purest of all large diamonds cut in the country.

The set’s other four gems recall wealthy dynasties “that played a crucial role in the development of Russian jewelry”: The Sheremetevs (16.67 carats), The Orlovs (5.05 carats), The Vorontsovs (1.73 carats) and The Yusupovs (1.39 carats).

The collection goes on sale online—take that Christie’s, Sotheby’s and U.S. sanctions—in November.

But there’s no association stronger than actual ownership, and in that regard the Koh-i-Noor might be the most esteemed of all diamonds. In a soon-to-be published book of the same name, authors William Dalrymple and Anita Anand track “the history of the world’s most infamous diamond.”

Here’s a rock that gained prominence in northern India’s 17th century Mughal dynasty, was pillaged by 18th century Persians and retrieved from the corpse of their assassinated ruler by Ahmad Shah, who wore the jewel himself while building the Durrani Empire of Afghanistan. His successors lost the gem, along with considerable territory, to Sikh emperor Ranjit Singh. The authors credit this early 19th century ruler with boosting the diamond’s prestige to an unprecedented level. Following his death and the Sikhs’ defeat at British hands, the victors ordered that the Koh-i-Noor “shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England.”

Along with Cullinan I and Cullinan II, the world’s largest top-quality polished stones, the Koh-i-Noor takes its place in the Crown Jewels. Both India and Pakistan want it back.

The book’s publicist promises a saga of “greed, murder, torture, colonialism and appropriation.” But extracting the stones can come at a terrible cost too, and one doesn’t have to delve into history to realize that. Just days after Alrosa unveiled The Dynasty collection, the company reported nine miners missing after a flood at the Mir diamond mine in the far eastern Republic of Sakha.

A steady source of plus-sized rough, Sakha mines gave up gems of nearly 110 carats and 75 carats just last month and, last year, a 207.29-carat stone. The Romanovs was found there in 2015.

A new marketing approach accompanies Alrosa’s new emphasis on polished stones

The Tenner, a £10 flea market
find, sold for $848,000.
(Photo: Sotheby’s)

Size and weight aren’t everything, however, as the 1,109-carat Lesedi La Rona continues to demonstrate. Lucara Diamond TSX:LUC has yet to find a buyer after rejecting a $61-million bid last year for the “tennis ball-sized” Botswana diamond, the largest ever found after South Africa’s 3,106-carat Cullinan that’s since been subdivided and relocated to the Crown Jewels with the Koh-i-Noor. Last May Lucara did sell a piece of its original stone, estimated to have been about 1,500 carats, when cutter Graff Diamonds paid $17.5 million for a 373.72-carat shard that broke off during the mine recovery process.

Another super-sized non-seller is the 709-carat rough found by an artisanal miner in Sierra Leone. He entrusted it to the government, which rejected a $7.8-million bid that failed to meet the stone’s valuation.

But sometimes there’s amazing value to be found among the dross. Thirty years or so after a Brit paid 10 quid for a piece of second-hand “costume jewelry,” the owner got around to asking Sotheby’s for an appraisal. The verdict? “A genuine cushion-shaped diamond weighing 26.29 carats with an attractive colour grade of I and impressive clarity grade of VVS2.”

In dollar terms, that meant a price estimated up to about $450,000. In June the hammer came down on $848,000.

See an infographic about legendary diamonds.

JPMorgan innocent of silver price-fixing claims: court

March 28th, 2014

by Cecilia Jamasmie | March 27, 2014 | Reprinted by permission of MINING.com

A U.S. federal court said on March 27 silver investors failed to show that JPMorgan Chase & Co NYE:JPM violated federal antitrust and commodities laws by having distorted silver prices and so the case against the country’s largest bank should be dismissed.

JPMorgan innocent of silver price-fixing claims: court

The class action from investors who traded COMEX silver futures and options contracts between 2007 and 2010 claimed the bank would amass huge short positions that market conditions did not justify and make “fake” late-day trades when market volume was thin, reports Reuters.

The U.S. bank is not the only one that has been under scrutiny as of late. Authorities around the globe, already investigating the manipulation of benchmarks from interest rates to foreign exchange, have also been studying the gold market for signs of wrongdoing.

Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest lender, said in January it would withdraw from the panels setting the gold and silver fixes. German financial markets regulator BaFin interviewed the bank’s employees as part of a probe into the potential manipulation of gold and silver prices. Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority is also scrutinizing how prices are calculated.

Reprinted by permission of MINING.com

Iron ore price lifted by strong Chinese steel growth

November 20th, 2013

by Frik Els | November 20, 2013 | Reprinted by permission of MINING.com

Iron ore price lifted by strong Chinese steel growth

Hong Kong construction workers on bamboo scaffolding 18 floors up. (Photo: ttstam, Fotopedia)

 

Global steel production rose 6.6% in October compared to output a year ago, with China again setting the pace for overall output, World Steel Association data showed on November 20.

Steel production is a key indicator of activity in global industry and iron ore, the key steelmaking ingredient, is the second most-traded commodity around the world behind crude oil.

China, which produces almost as much steel as the rest of the world combined, recorded growth of 9.2% in October to 65.1 million tonnes compared to last year, while global number two Japan’s production was up 7.7% to 9.5 million tonnes.

World Steel Association data also showed healthy growth outside Asia with U.S. production jumping 8.7% to 7.4 million tonnes and European Union production up 4%, led by a surprising 23.9% output boost in Spain and a 17.9% increase in Britain.

The liberalization of China’s hukou system is expected to be a main driver of a fresh wave of urbanization inside the country of 1.3 billion people.

China’s Iron and Steel Association released data November 19 showing the country’s daily crude steel output for the first 10 days of November rose a further 2.18% from the already torrid pace of late October.

The daily run rate for Chinese blast furnaces is now 2.144 million tonnes and the increase in output follows a rally in steel prices prompted by reforms announced at the Chinese Congress Third Plenum policy meetings.

Amid other market-friendly reforms, the liberalization of China’s hukou system is expected to be a main driver of a fresh wave of urbanization inside the country of 1.3 billion people.

Under China’s 4,000-year-old hukou system, people are registered in their town of birth and can only access government services including education, housing and welfare there.

This led to millions of migrant labourers and especially their children in large cities becoming an underclass without ways to put down roots.

The strength in the global steel industry has offset some of the price pressures brought on by increased supply of the main raw materials for blast furnaces.

The price of iron ore has held up well despite record-setting exports from Australia and a looming flood of new supply through 2017.

The benchmark CFR import price of 62% iron ore fines at the Chinese port of Tianjin climbed to $136.40 a tonne on November 20, up 23% from its lows for the year struck at the end of May, according to data provided by Steel Index.

The price of metallurgical coal has recovered from steep declines during the first half of 2013 but remains relatively soft.

Benchmark Australian premium coking coal was changing hands for $143 a tonne on November 20, up from multi-year lows of $131 struck in early July, but down 2.5% so far in November.

Reprinted by permission of MINING.com