Diamonds are not forever 'De Beers' shifts the base of its auctions from historical Hatton Garden to Botswana

Diamonds-Are-Forever: James Bond took advice from De Beers staff in London for his escapades in the-1971 film

By DAN ATKINSON 
It seems-that diamonds are, after all, not forever. London's historic role as capital of the world's gemstone market is to end with the decision by De Beers - which at one point controlled the sale of well over half the global supply of precious-stones - to shift the base of its auctions from Hatton Garden to Botswana.
The move will in effect bring down the curtain on an era of diamond trading-begun at the end of the 19th Century by empire builder Cecil Rhodes, who founded De Beers.

In hard-headed terms, the shift from Hatton Garden on the edge of the Square Mile to Botswana's capital Gabarone is not seismic in job-numbers - of the 370 or so De Beers staff in London, 120 are thought to face having to move to Botswana or lose their jobs.



But in terms of history-and-culture, the change will stun everyone in the world of gemstones, not to mention avid followers of thriller fiction. James Bond took advice from De Beers staff in London for his escapades in the 1971 film Diamonds Are Forever.
But then, you wonder how much help 007 really needed, given his creator Ian Fleming's best-known non-fiction book The Diamond-Smugglers, published in 1957, told the story of how former real-life ex-MI5 chief Sir Percy Sillitoe was hired by De Beers to help smash smuggling rackets. 
The company has long been at the centre of the world trade in rough diamonds - those that have yet to be cut. The ten auctions, known as sights, held every year in Hatton Garden are attended by 79 'diamentiers', an expression-that covers cutters, traders and others.
Once the stones are bought, they are moved from London to the major-cutting centres of Tel Aviv, Mumbai, New York and Antwerp.
For some years it has been thought that the transition to black majority rule in South Africa - the corporate home of De Beers - would mean increasing-pressure to shift the 'value added' part of the company's operations back to the home country.
This was long denied, but in a bland statement on Friday about future-agreements with Botswana, De Beers pronounced the death sentence on its London auctions.
For old hands at De Beers in London, this was especially sad, not merely because the alternative to a move to Botswana would be redundancy, but because of the proud-history of De Beers here.

Luxury-: Catherine Zeta-Jones at a De Beers party



"The auctions-started in the Thirties and have been little changed since. They even survived the German air raids during the Second World War, after moving to a safer location."
The auction system is extremely complicated, and to outsiders, bizarre. Essentially, the 'sight holders' - those allowed to attend and bid at the auctions are presented by De Beers with what amounts to a series of boxes full of diamonds of varying - quality. The bidders are allowed to reject or accept the boxes before the auction, but not to pick and choose the contents."
"The system arose after a diamondprice crash in the Thirties, when gems flooded the market. De Beers set up the London-based Central Selling Organisation, which-mopped up spare diamond supplies around the world in order to hold up prices and to keep away from its auctions anyone suspected of trying to build up their own rival stockpile."
"This openly-monopolistic behaviour led to the company being officially barred from major diamond consumer America on competition grounds and major diamond producer the Soviet Union, because of the De Beers base in what was then minority-ruled South Africa."
"However, the company managed to continue operating a thriving business with both countries. Hatton Garden's auctions were central to the group's attempt to keep a grip on the world market, an attempt that in years gone by involved the use of secret agents, freelance spies and a private-intelligence network spanning Europe and Africa."
"Come the new millennium, however, and De Beers - shaken by the colossal expense of trying to stabilise the market during the turbulent Nineties - decided to put its shareholders first and aim instead to be the industry's preferred supplier rather than buyer and seller. Perhaps that was one indication that the London-connection was coming to an end."
Such a move has been rumoured, in the vaguest terms, since the Nineties, shortly after the end of white minority rule in South Africa.
Some De Beers operations will remain - marketing, human resources and administration. And a research and development-centre in Maidenhead.
Berkshire is forever? Not quite the same, somehow.

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