Almost 10 years ago, a love for diamonds sparked a career change for Lisa Levinson. Since swapping management consultancy for the precious gemstones, she has travelled all over the world working with the stones. From folkloric tales to the science behind the gems, her extensive knowledge spans years and continents. We met her to discover more about her longstanding love for these precious stones, ahead of the launch of our new In Detail column, The Diamond Report - a closer look at all things diamonds.
Selecting coloured diamonds
A pile of rough dimaonds
Where did it all start?
When my dad’s mum passed away when I was 10, she gave me her necklace - it wasn’t diamonds - it was semi-precious stones - tigers eye and amethysts. When I was small I would sit on her lap and touch the stones - I was completely mesmerised by it. So there must have been something about stones forever.
What came before the diamonds?
I was a management consultant - very corporate - no diamonds. In 2010, I moved to South Africa with my then boyfriend, and started reading up on South African history. The recent history is very intertwined with the history of the diamond industry - the second introduction to the world of a large volume of diamonds was when they found diamonds in South Africa in 1867.
Where did your diamond journey begin?
I did a rough diamond course in Johannesburg - looking at diamonds through loupes, learning all about the expertise and science. One guy who was going to inherit a diamond mine from his grandmother, one guy had allegedly found a seven carat rough diamond and wanted to know how much it was worth, and then there was one politician, an ANC freedom fighter. It was the most bizarre and fantastic group of people. The politician taught me about why diamonds were important for South Africa, and why he wanted to be involved with them.
Small parcel of rough diamonds
1.63 carat fancy yellow diamond
What is it about diamonds that captures you?
There are really two sides to diamonds; there’s the Indiana Jones part of the industry – the world’s largest treasure hunt – finding diamond deposits under lakes and in the middle of the Kalahari Desert and in Siberian tundra. Then on the other side it is the ultimate symbol of love.
And your diamond career?
It started at De Beers - there I got classic diamond training and learnt about so many parts of the diamond world. With De Beers, I moved down to Botswana and was exposed to the whole diamond chain right from the rough stone in the ground - I was surrounded by diamonds, seeing, touching, and holding them. Next, I established Forevermark, De Beer’s diamond brand, in the UK. Now I work with the Diamond Producers Association - it represents the seven largest diamond producing companies - together they make up 75% of the world’s diamond production.
What makes diamonds so magical?
You intuitively know there’s intrinsic value when you hold a diamond. There’s elements of diamonds present in Buddhism, the Diamond Sutra, and in the Bible. There’s a reverence for them - both rough and polished. The sparkle captures your imagination, it pulls you in. It’s an embodiment and a manifestation of human emotion - love - it makes the intangible tangible - a symbol for something otherworldly.
Close up of Lesedi la Rona - the second biggest diamond ever discovered
Lisa holding Lesedi la Rona diamond mined from Botswanna
Favourite diamond stories?
I once held the Lesedi La Rona, which is being polished at the moment, Graff bought it for 53 million dollars. It was found in Botswana and is the second largest diamond ever recovered - 1109 carats, 200 grams - it’s iconic story-making in progress - I love that. The classic stories - about the Kohinoor, the Hope diamond, they’re amazing - big diamonds share the story of nations - the rise and fall of empires. But, the best diamond stories are the secret ones between couples, between lovers - the ones that people share about their rings, their jewellery - they’re more real, more personal.
Where have diamonds taken you?
My job has taken me all over the place - South Africa, Botswana, tiny diamond mines in Northern Ontario, Canada, the Basel show, diamond manufacturers in Antwerp, the Las Vegas jewellery show - it’s a global industry.
I love brands who are making diamonds more attractive and appealing to another generation - like Messika - accessible, but not devalued - a string of diamonds you can wear with jeans and a t-shirt. Lots of traditional fine jewellery can feel harder to incorporate into everyday life.
A diamond engagement ring
Heart shaped diamond mined by De Beers Group
Favourite diamond fact?
The volume of all polished diamonds mined each year over one carat will fit into two basketballs. And the polished diamonds that are larger than two carats would fit into a football - they’re so rare. All the pink diamonds mined in the world is less than a champagne glass and the mine that produces 90% of them is closing in two years’ time - they’ve run out of diamonds.
How does sustainability come into the industry?
We’re selling an emotional product, there’s consumer desire - people desire things that do well and contribute - products which symbolise love for the community too. The controversial stories get media attention and it doesn’t cover the contributions that diamonds make to the world. There are more than ten million people involved in the diamond industry, all over the world - from scientists to diamond polishers, manufacturers. Diamonds create societal value for countries that really need that.