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The Empire strikes Back: The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Brazilian Diamonds

It is hard to believe now, but Brazil was once a dominant force in the global diamond trade. After the first rough stones were discovered in the South American country, Brazil’s diamond mining industry grew fast and strong. According to brilliantearth.com, Brazil produced between 25,000 and 50,000 carats of diamonds per year in the 1700s, and surged to 200,000 carats by the 1850s. The party came to a halt in the late 19th century, when the Portuguese crown declared a royal monopoly on all diamonds and imposed heavy taxes.

Today, Brazil’s diamond production is still far from its glory days, but the industry has been showing promising signs of recovery in the last years. According to a recent article in Forbes, diamond exploration and mining are picking up in the interior states of Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais and the coastal state of Bahia.

The majority of Brazilian diamonds derive from shallow alluvial mining, performed in deposits found in 11 of the 26 states which make up the Brazilian Federation. In 2000, the government officially banned diamond mining in native Indian territories, which make up 10% of Brazil.

A substantial portion of diamonds produced in Brazil is smuggled out of the country, rendering production and export figures estimations only.
Diamond production in Brazil is largely performed by independent miners, and the state controls only some 10% of the deposits. According to the Brazilian constitution, all mineral treasures in Brazil belong to the people. State and foreign miners are monitored by the Departamento Nacional de Producao Mineral, or National Mineral Production Department, which belongs to the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

In 2014, exports of gemstones, jewelery and precious metals from Brazil stood at about $3 billion, according to Rough & Polished. Brazil is the world’s 11th largest gold producer, the 13th largest consumer of gold, and one of the top three gemstone producers in the world.

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