De Beers S.A.

▪ South African company
      world's largest producer and distributor of diamonds. Headquarters are in Johannesburg, S.Af.

      Diamonds were first discovered in southern Africa in the mid-1860s on the farm of Nicolaas and Diederick de Beer, near what is now the city of Kimberley. Two diamond mines dug on the farm, the Kimberley and the De Beers, were at one time the world's most productive. They are no longer in operation.

      In 1871 the English entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes (Rhodes, Cecil) bought a claim to the De Beers mine, and with this as a financial base eventually bought up most of the diamond mines in southern Africa. In 1888 he incorporated De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. To keep prices high and demand steady, Rhodes also moved to take control of world diamond distribution. By the middle of the 1890s he had formed the Diamond Syndicate; this was the forerunner of the Central Selling Organization, a more modern group of financial and marketing organizations that came to control much of the world diamond trade. It is now known as the Diamond Trading Company (DTC).

      The discovery of large diamond mines near Pretoria and along the coast of German South West Africa (now Namibia) in 1902 and 1908, respectively, severely weakened De Beers' control of the diamond market. Ernest Oppenheimer (Oppenheimer, Sir Ernest), who had founded the Anglo-American Corporation in 1917, moved aggressively into the diamond industry in the 1920s, gaining control of the South West Africa mines and, in 1925, creating a new diamond syndicate. He bought a seat on De Beers' board in 1926 and became chairman three years later. From this position, Oppenheimer strengthened the diamond marketing monopoly begun by Rhodes.

      Through its selling division, headquartered in London, De Beers markets two-thirds of the global supply of diamonds, including those used for industrial applications. Its mining interests are managed by De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. The company also has interests in explosive and chemical manufacturing; gold, coal, and copper mines; and synthetic diamonds.

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Universalium. 2010.

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