The Discovery of a Rare Pink Diamond

From CrimeReads:

A pink diamond is a key into the human heart, where it unlocks the store of delight, love, treachery, and greed that distinguishes us from other animals. I’m a sucker for a pink.

When I lived in London I would go blocks out of my way to check out Laurence Graff’s window in New Bond Street. There they’d be, at least one or two tiny pink stones twinkling away behind the thick glass with stupefying price tags. They looked so delicate—as if someone had leaned in and puffed a mist of pale-pink air into the heart of the jewel. But they’re not delicate. They’re stone-cold crazy. When I decided to switch from reportage to fiction, of course that’s where I’d start.

I knew a pair of South Africans who ran a barge on the Chicapa River in northeastern Angola during the civil war. They suctioned up the diamond-rich gravels by day and traded rocket fire with rebel guerrillas by night. One day in 1995 they hoovered up a 24-carat pink. They chartered a Learjet and took it straight to Johannesburg and sold it on the Bourse for $4.8 million. The buyer flipped it in New York for $10 million and the stone got polished into matching pears that were promptly sold, according to the street, to the Sultan of Brunei’s bother. He paid $20 million. If he’s ever short of cash, he’s in luck. He could flog them now for a quarter of a million dollars a carat. Better than owning shares in Google!

And for what? Nobody’s even sure what makes them pink. The color doesn’t come from the presence of trace minerals, like the boron that turns a diamond blue. Instead, some deformation of the crystal lattice happens while the stone is riding up from the depths in the kind of volcano called a diamond pipe. That imperfection can make a diamond pink. But, boy—not often.

So rare are pinks that the discovery of a big one galvanizes the whole diamond world, and when an 81-carater plonked onto the sorting screen of a barge on one of Brazil’s great diamond rivers—people, I booked my ticket.

I flew overnight to São Paulo and caught the connector to Belo Horizonte. In Belo, an Australian mining engineer named Steve Fabian picked me up. Steve ran a small mining company called Black Swan that had some diamond properties. Black Swan had bought a piece of the pink, and Steve had convinced his partners to let me see it.

We drove out into the beautiful countryside of Minas Gerais. Brazil was once the world’s leading diamond producer. Although its glory days are past, diamond people still love the place. Who wouldn’t? Brazil’s diamond rivers have coughed up eye-popping jewels. Just take the Rio Abate, where the pink I was going to see had been found. Pinks weighing 275 carats and 120 carats have come out of its muddy waters.

When Steve and I got to Patos de Minas, he called his partners, the Campos brothers, to tell them we’d arrived. They gave him a street corner where we were to wait. “They’re going to check you out,” Steve said. We stood outside the car and waited. It was the youngest brother, Geraldo, who finally arrived.

He was a fit, athletic-looking man in his early thirties. He wore the soccer jersey of the local team, faded jeans and immaculate Adidas running shoes. We chatted for a minute, he decided I wasn’t a bandit, and we drove to a three-story apartment building and climbed to the top floor, where Gisnei, the middle brother waited. Gisnei sat down beside me, peered meaningfully at my open notebook, and told me how it was going to be.

“Put down that Gilmar saw it first,” Gisnei told me, identifying the oldest brother. “Put down that Gilmar got to the Abaete first, and was the first to see the stone.”

In fact Geraldo got there first. He got out of his car and the men handed him the stone. He took out his loupe and studied it, then looked away to clear his head, took a deep breath and looked again. “I felt great emotion,” he said, “my feelings were very great.” When Gilmar, the senior brother, arrived, Geraldo handed him the stone. Gilmar, a hard man in his forties, took one look and began to cry. When the pink arrived at the apartment that day in Patos, I could understand why.

It was a knockout—strong color and cuttable shape. It had the frosted skin that river stones get from being rolled around in the rocks for a million years. But there was a great view into the interior. The brothers had polished off an unsightly protuberance on the edge, making a clean window into the stone.

. . . .

Diamond lore is full of stories of a cutter making his way through a pink when, suddenly, as if the diamond thought it had endured enough, the color faded from strong to faint, draining tens of thousands of dollars a carat from the stone before the cutter’s eyes. Steve arranged for a London expert to rate the cutting options. He thought it would remain a strong ink, and said their bottom price should be $130,000 a carat.

Sadly for me, the stone disappeared, a common fate for a multimillion-dollar liquid asset that doesn’t leave a banking trail. No one would tell me who had bought it or how much they’d paid. I dogged the rumor trail to a Hong Kong construction company, but after a few emails they slammed the door and I never heard another word until last year, when a thirty-carat intense pink polished diamond showed up in Los Angeles at a gem show at the natural history museum.

The curator of gems there wrote to ask if I thought the pink in his exhibition might have come from the Brazilian pink. The lender, he said, was uncertain of its provenance.

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