WOYIE RIVER

September 16, 2015



WOYIE RIVER



What was he doing, the great god Pan, Down in the reeds by the river? asks Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her poem 'The Musical Instrument'. To which one can only guess that if the river chanced to be the Woyie in Sierra Leone, then it is more than probable that Pan was on the look-out for diamonds, for this particular river has been a very productive source of large stones. In reality the Woyie is neither quite one thing nor the other; at some sections it gives the appearance of being a very small river, while at some other sections illegal mining has turned it into a morass where the outline of the original stream has been wiped out.

During the 1940s the recovery plant operated by Sierra Leone Selection Trust Limited unearthed three expectional diamonds from the river gravels. The first, weighing 249.25 carats, was found in March 1943, and the second, weighing 532 carats, was found in the following June. The third and largest weighed 770 carats, was discovered on 6 January 1945. As well as becoming known as the 'Woyie River' diamond it was also called the 'Victory', in memory of the ending of the war in Europe four months later. There were also suggestions at the time that the stone might be called 'The Star of Sierra Leone'; however, that name was to be kept on ice and not to be confered until more than a quarter of a century later when the great 968.9 carat diamond was found. Nevertheless, until the discovery of 'The Star of Sierra Leone' the 'Woyie River' remained the largest alluvial diamond to have been found.

The diamond was somewhat lozenge-shaped and measured 71mm (2.8inches) broad and 32mm (1.26 inches) thick. It was clean internally, possessing numerous black spots, but it was of the finest colour. A striking feature of the stone is the presence of pronounced triangular pits, known as trigons, on one of its faces. This was one of the points underlined in the very thorough and interesting account of the three large diamonds of Sierra Leone, written in 1945 by the late Professor W.T. Gordon, then Professor of Geology, University of London. He wrote as follows;

"As with diamonds from other localities, the crystal faces are pitted. Octahedral faces have triangular or, rarely, hexagonal pits and the triangles are equilateral in shape; cube faces have square pits with their edges diagonal to the cube edges ... The largest and latest to be found (in Sierra Leone) has one octahedral face with triangular pits that are larger and deeper than any previously recorded. Some of them measure nearly 6mm (O.23inch) on edge and are about 1mm (0.04inch) deep. They are arranged in parallel position as usual and set with their sides towards the points of the ideal octahedra. The spacing of the pits is such that the areas between them assume raised shield-shaped, triangular forms; the points of the shields and those of the pits are in ranks facing opposite directions".

Another unusual feature of the 'Woyie River', an exceptionally smooth face, drew this comment from Professor Gordon:

"The area of this cleavage face is 11.5 sq.cm. (nearly 1.8 square inches), and it is so clean a fracture that the blow which produced it must have been a sudden, sharp impact in precisely the correct direction. The surface is very smooth, whereas most cleavage faces show a certain stepping from layer to layer while keeping in the same general direction. The blow need not have been a heavy one, but the marvel of the smoothness of the facture-face can only be appreciated by those who have tried to cleave a diamond using the cleavers' tools".

In conclusion, Professor Gordon suggested that the stone might have once been larger, but that there was no sign of it having been merely the smaller piece of a much larger diamond.

The Diamond Trading Company subsequently purchased the Woyie River and included it among a display of rough diamonds shown to Queen Mary when she visited the Company's offices in October 1947. The public was given an opportunity of viewing the stone when it was exhibited at the British Industries Fair of May 1949.

Eventually the task of cutting the 'Woyie River' was entrusted to the London firm of Briefel and Lemer. They had previously cut the rose coloured 'Williamson' diamond, presented to Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Eliizabeth 11) on the occasion of her marriage in 1947. As had been the case with other large diamonds, prolonged study of the stone was necessary and a cement model of it was made; a special machine for the sawing operation was also devised.

Because of the number of internal impurities the 'Woyie River' was destined not to be one of those diamonds fashioned into one principal gem. Instead, initially it was separated into 30 different pieces weighing 695.71 carats, from which 30 gems weighing a total oof 282.36 carats were cut; this represented 36.67 per cent of the weight of the original diamond - a very fair yield for a stone containing so many flaws and a tribute to the skill and expertise of Sidney Briefel who was in charge of the cleaving operation. Ten of the gems weighed over 20 carats, seven between 5 and 10 carats and thirteen less than 5 carats; they comprised ten brilliants, eight emerald cuts, five marquises, two pear-shapes and five others of various fancy shapes. All the gems, which were of the finest colour, were sold privately.

The largest gem cut from the 'Woyie River', an emerald cut weighing 31.35 carats, has retained the name 'Victory'. It reappeared at the jewellery sale held in New York by Christie's on 11 th April 1984, as part of the jewels owned by Florence J. Gould. The diamond was bought by a Saudi Arabian buyer for $880,000, which represented a price of $28,070 per carat.

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