Most valuable U.S. diamond visits Bucks County – Philly.com




The most valuable diamond ever found in the United States was on display Friday at a Southampton jewelry store, accompanied by the master diamond cutter who designed, cut, and polished the stone from the rough form in which it was discovered.

Found in June in the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas by a Colorado woman, it has been called by experts the most valuable diamond ever found in this country. The 4.62-carat triangular triolette cut, known as the “Esperanza Diamond,” is the size of a popcorn kernel.

“There were no imperfections. It’s the most pristine diamond I’ve seen in 48 years,” said Mike Botha, 67, the master diamond cutter.

“Any girl would like that,” he said.











But bad news, Romeos: The diamond is leaving town, headed to auction valued at about $500,000.

Botha was hosted Friday for a customer event at B&E Jewelers by the store’s owners, siblings Shari and Marc Altman.

The bearded and bespectacled Botha, speaking softly and with the modulated and crisp accent of his native South Africa, explained the intricacies of diamond cutting to customers, and even let them try their hand at it with a real diamond.

The cutting and polishing took place on a spinning cast iron wheel the size of a platter, coated in diamond dust – as only diamond can cut diamond. A small, one-carat diamond was placed at the end of a hammer-shaped device.

“It’s like landing an airplane,” Botha told customers. The handle end of the tool – the rear wheels of the metaphoric plane – is first lowered onto a flat surface. Then the diamond – the front wheels – is slowly lowered onto the spinning wheel.

“I don’t know how in the world he can see what he’s doing,” said Bob Toughill, of Southampton, who was invited to the store along with his wife, a frequent customer.

Toughill was focused as he sat at the cutting station, looking up only briefly to smile as Botha snapped a picture on Toughill’s iPhone.

Noelle Rosado, 39, of Jamison, not only got to try cutting a diamond, but got to wear the Esperanza.

“It’s beautiful,” she said. “It looks like it is worth a lot more” than $500,000.

Shari Altman was tasked with looking after the Esperanza while it was in the store. The best way to do this, she decided, was by wearing it in a gemstone holder on her finger.

“It’s such an honor to have it here,” she said. “It’s an incredible thing. To even see it is a crazy thought. But to wear it all day . . . ” She paused and simply held up her hand.

“It’s a museum piece is what it is,” said Marc Altman, who called the diamond “internally flawless.”

Marc Altman arranged Botha’s visit through his position with the American Gem Society, a consumer protection group that evaluates and values diamonds.

Botha, a grandfather of four who lives in Canada and serves as CEO of Embee Diamond Technologies, worked on the Esperanza for 130 hours. To properly cut and shape the diamond meant reducing it in size from its original 8.52 carats – the fifth-largest diamond ever found at the Arkansas park, according to park officials. Analyses showed that it had nitrogen levels of less than one part per billion, meaning the diamond is almost completely colorless – an especially valuable trait.

Botha said he conducted the cutting and polishing in Arkansas, where the diamond was found, because he wanted it to be “a true American story.”

The diamond is owned by a consortium that includes Botha’s company; Bobbie Oskarson, who found the diamond; Arkansas-based Stanley Jewelers; and a person who wished to remain anonymous.

Botha said his goal with every diamond, since he began his apprenticeship in South Africa at 19, has been to bring out as much beauty as he can.

“I try to do my best,” he said. “This has been very fulfilling, to create something of beauty. . . . I’ve always had this penchant for perfection.”

mnussbaum@philly.com

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@MatthewNussbaum


BY THE NUMBERS

$22 billion

Worth of global diamond cutting and polishing industry in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available.

40%

U.S. share of global diamond sales.

$5,000

Average cost of a diamond engagement ring.

8.52

Carat size of a diamond found by a Colorado woman in Arkansas in June. It was the fifth-largest found in Crater of Diamonds State Park since it opened in 1972.

Sources: Bain & Co., New York Times, American Gem Society, Associated Press.