July 26, 2015



Among diamonds of unusual colour those of a red hue are extremely rare. Edwin Streeter related that he had bought one weighing just a carat which he sold for £800. It was known as the 'Halphen Red Diamond', presumably because it was at some time owned by that prominent nineteenth century dealer in Paris. Streeter adds that a fine red specimen was found in Borneo but was not of so deep a red as the 'Halphen' diamond. This diamond, therefore, weighing 5.05 metric carats, is probably the largest example of its kind.

In 1913 a South Africian geologist, Dr. H. Harger, had predicted that rich alluvial deposits in an area of the Western Trasvaal awaited discovery. His prophecy was fulfilled in 1926 when he found fifty stones in the river-gravels on a farm near Lichtenburg.

The result of Harger's find was to cause several of the most spectacular diamond rushes in South Africa, in 1926 and 1927. When so many diggers sought to establish claims on the diggings, such rushes were organized on an official basis; an official appeared, read a proclamation, raised his hand and gave the signal to start. With a roar the line surged forward: there may not have been any four-minute milers- sometimes there were men on crutches participating - but within moments the runners had come to a halt and thousands of pegs had been stuck into the ground, each one showing somebody's hope of making a fortune.

The main rush at Lichtenburg took place on 20 August 1926 when 6000 people (the number have been as high as 10,000) ran off in response to the starter's signal to peg claims in the alluvial soil. Within three and a quarter years Lichtenburg had produced more than £10,000,000 worth of diamonds, which were sold by diggers impervious to the current state of the diamond market. Coming as it did then, the production from the Lichtenburg field contributed hugely to the ensuing weakness and almost collapse of the diamond trade in the late 1920's.

One unusual stone at least came from Lichtenburg: it was a 35-carat piece of boart. After some haggling over the price, a diamond broker named Houthakker, who was a regular visitor to the diggings, paid £8 per carat for it. Houthakker showed the stone to Sir Ernest Oppenheimer who, recognizing its unusual qualities, suggested that it might be sent to Amsterdam for cleaving or polishing. So the diamond was sent to the office of the Goudvis Brothers in that city. When it arrived and the brothers looked at it, the youngest brother at once said that the broker must have been crazy to have bought such an object: the eldest demurred and suggested they should examine it more closely. 'I see light' he said, holding the stone up under lamplight.

The firm's master-cutter was then called in and after further discussion it was decided to make two windows on each side of the stone : 2 carats were lost but the stone still remained black. Once more the eldest brother maintained he saw light. Windows were then made on all sides of the diamond which by now had been reduced to 23 carats. The stone remained merely brownish. Then the cutter made a sort of crystal shape out of the stone and he too saw a beam of light within. Under a strong lamp a reddish glow could now be seen in the diamond.

After animated discussion on the eventual shape of the stone and seven months of studying and polishing it there emerged an emerald-cut weighing 5.05 carats. By now all the brothers had become excited. When the diamond was eventually finished they looked at it by candlelight. Except for the candle the room was totally dark and in the flicker of its beam it was as if a drop of blood had fallen upon the hand that held the gem. It was of an extraordinary deep ruby red colour.

There was no dealer in Amsterdam who would make a firm estimate of the diamond's price. The Goudvis brothers themselves thought that it might fetch 100,000 guilders but Hugo Prins, the famous authority on polished stones, placed its value much higher. So the brothers decided to send the diamond to New York in the custody of the youngest. In New York , no one showed any interest, so back it came to Europe. No sooner had it arrived than a cable was received from Tiffany's. 'Have customer for red stone.' Again it crossed the Atlantic to be shown to Tiffany's client who was looking for an expensive present for his fiancee. He offered $100,000. Cables then flashed to and fro: the eldest brother wanted to sell but the others demanded $150,000 - a special price for something extra special. The customer then withdrew his offer and was no longer interested. Once more the diamond made the familiar crossing.

With the onset of the war the 'Red Diamond' was placed in a safe in the city of Arnhem. In 1944, together with all the other diamonds, it was stolen from the safe and disappeared . Two years later the US army found in a saltmine in Germany a parcel which they said contained a lot of diamonds and one ruby. This solitary 'ruby' was the 'Red Diamond'. Its identification was facilitated because of the certainty that part of the parcel had come directly from the Goudvis brothers' safe. The diamond, in turn, helped to identify many others.

By the end of the war all the Goudvis brothers were dead and, as their heirs owed money to the bank, the stone was sold by tender for 57,000 guilders. The buyer was the well-known broker, George Prins. In 1968 the 'Red Diamond' was offered for sale and bought by Asschers's Diamant Maatschappij: they had tried to buy it many years previously. Finally in 1970 Asscher's sold the diamond to a private collector of fancy-coloured stones.

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