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The Kingdom of Gems: Lesotho Diamonds

Lesotho, officially known as the Kingdom of Lesotho, is a landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa. The small country (just 30,000 km2) has a population of roughly two million, and is rich in two natural resources: water and diamonds.

Lesotho’s biggest and most prolific mine, Letseng, consists of two kimberlite pipes. These were discovered in 1957, but according to the GIA website, the “eureka moment” for Lesotho came in 1967, when a 601.26-carat diamond – later called “The Lesotho Brown” – was discovered in the area. The mine has since claimed six of the 20 largest diamonds ever discovered—478, 493, 527, 550, 601, and 603 carats.

Today, Letseng is the world’s highest diamond mine at 3,100 meters above sea level, and is famous for producing huge diamonds, which gives it the highest dollar value-per-carat of any diamond mine. It is owned by Gem Diamonds and the government of Lesotho.

In October 2006, miners unearthed the Lesotho Promise – a 603-carat white diamond later sold for $12 million. In 2007, a 493-carat diamond was found, dubbed the Letseng Legacy, and sold for $10 million. In September 2008, Gem Diamonds announced that it has found a 478-carat diamond of high quality, making it the 20th largest diamond ever found. In 2014, Gem Diamonds discovered a 198-carat, white, type IIa rough diamond at the mine.

According to the KP website, Lesotho produced 346,017 carats in 2014, with a value of $342,617,761.30.

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