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Prince Albert diamond cutter to work on Esperenza gemstone

Aug 26th, 2015

Prince Albert diamond cutter to work on Esperenza gemstone

BY ALEX MACPHERSON, THE STARPHOENIX

A Saskatchewan craftsman is preparing to cut one of the finest diamonds ever unearthed in Arkansas. The diamond, dubbed the Esperenza, was found on June 26 at Crater of Diamonds State Park near Murfreesboro. Next month, Mike Botha of Prince Albert-based Embee Diamonds will cut it into a 147-facet gem of his own design.

“It’s going to be one of the most valuable diamonds ever mined in America,” Botha said. “It’s going to be a high-value diamond of very high colour and very high clarity.”

Bill Henderson, assistant superintendent at Crater of Diamonds State Park, was nearby when the 8.52-carat stone was discovered.

“When a large diamond like that is found, it’s like Pavlov’s dog,” he said. “Everybody gets excited.” Henderson said park visitors tend to keep smaller stones and sell larger ones.

Diamonds are “grown” in the earth’s mantle over hundreds of millions of years, and conditions are not always ideal, said University of Saskatchewan geology professor Kevin Ansdell.

“There are flaws or inclusions in many diamonds,” he said. “So having a flawless one is actually quite rare.”

On Sept. 8, Botha will begin transforming the Esperenza, which he describes as “spectacular,” from a carbon icicle into a dazzling gemstone. Nearly all of the work will be conducted at Stanley Jewelers in Little Rock, Ark. – and be open to the public.

“Even people in the industry hardly ever get to see that,” said Laura Stanley, vice-president of Stanley Jewelers and a certified gemologist appraiser. “It’s really fascinating for us.”

Stanley said Embee Diamonds and Stanley Jewelers were recommended to the finder to help with cutting and selling the stone.

Botha was a natural choice. He began cutting diamonds in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1967. He moved to Canada in the late 1990s.

In 2007, in search of a place to “semi-retire” and intrigued by the nearby Shore Gold deposits, he moved to Prince Albert.

“I started working out of the basement of my house,” Botha said. “(When) my son joined us, the basement was too small, so we purchased the old Scotiabank building, and that’s where we’ve been since 2010.”

According to Evert Botha, Embee Diamonds has since grown into a world-class diamond-cutting firm.

“I wouldn’t say it’s an empire yet,” he said. “But we have carved a niche in the market among a group of fine retailers all over the world now, who want precision-cut, highlight performance diamonds.” The elder Botha plans to apply that esthetic to the Esperenza diamond. The finished stone will look like an emerald cut and a trapezoid put together, he said.

“It’s going to have a lot of brilliance.”

After Botha is finished cutting the diamond, it will be mounted in a custom setting and auctioned off. Stanley said it could attract bids in excess of $200,000.

While Botha and his son are eager to have their name attached to the Esperenza, the master cutter recognizes that working on it will be a reward in itself.

“It’s an addiction,” he said. “It’s my drug of choice.”

amacpherson@thestarphoenix.com twitter.com/macphersona

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