Digging into stones

What Louis Vuitton’s purchase of the Sewelo diamond means for the jewellery market

In April 2019, a 1,758-carat diamond – the largest rough diamond discovered since 1905 – was revealed to great fanfare. It was named the Sewelo in July 2019, and after months of relative silence, it has been announced that the diamond in question has been purchased by Louis Vuitton, the brand known more for luxury handbags than prized jewelry, and which as a matter of fact has spent less than ten years in the jewelry market.

In many ways, the move to buy the Sewelo is a clear statement from LVMH – the parent company of Louis Vuitton – that it intends to stake a claim and ultimately stamp its authority in the jewelry market. This comes after LVMH purchased Tiffany for $16.2 billion in late 2019. However, representatives of Louis Vuitton have declined to reveal how much was spent in acquiring the stone.

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Buying the Sewelo diamond attracts a great deal of credibility to the Louis Vuitton brand, but this does not come without risks. At the moment, it is covered with carbon, looking like a big lump of coal, and there is the danger that its value may be significantly less than the amount it was purchased for. Nevertheless, LVMH has bought the stone, which not only holds the potential of significant profit, but also serves up bragging rights in an industry where mythology bears just as much weight as the pecuniary worth of jewels.

The Sewelo diamond was discovered at the Karowe mine in Botswana, which is owned by Lucara Diamond Corporation, a Canadian miner. It is the second-largest rough diamond ever mined since 3,106-carat Cullinan diamond was discovered in South Africa in 1905. Upon its discovery, Lucara organized a competition to name the stone, a competition which about 2,200 citizens of Botswana participated in. Sewelo  means “rare find” in Setswana dialect.

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From a continental perspective, it is interesting to see mining and the excavation of precious stones in the spotlight again, only this time there is a clear (and positive) departure from the dark past associated with gold and diamond mines, the diamonds of Sierra Leone being a case in point. This time, there is a strong emphasis on clean and responsible mining, the Karowe mine at the forefront of the cause. Incidentally, it was at Karowe that the 813-carat Constellation and the Lesedi La Rona diamonds were discovered in 2015 and 2016 respectively.

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