Canada-based master diamond cutter crafts ‘Esperenza’ gemstone

Saskatchewan-based master craftsman cuts and shapes the largest diamond ever cut in its home state of Arkansas. A.C. Haralson / Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Mike Botha, 67, is an internationally acclaimed master diamond cutter with nearly five decades of experience in the profession. He was recently commissioned to craft one of the largest rough diamonds ever found in Arkansas.

Weighing 8.52 carats (ct) or 1.7 grams rough, the diamond was found at the Crater of Diamonds State Park. It’s the fifth-largest diamond found in the park since it was established in 1972.

On June 24, Colorado native Bobbie Oskarson discovered the gem. Hers to keep, she named the find “Esperanza” for her niece.

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Stanley Jewelers Gemololigst invited fellow American Gem Society (AGS) member Mike Botha to design and cut the diamond during a special in-store event in North Little Rock, Ark.

Botha’s training and subsequent career began in South Africa, where he was born.

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“I started in 1967 in February of that year, and I was trained on the job as an apprentice … and I’ve been in diamonds ever since and that is what I’ve been doing with my life, it’s my hobby, my life and my passion,” said Botha.

In 1997, he came to Canada to cut diamonds in Vancouver and decided to stay. Botha eventually settled in Saskatchewan and in 2009 opened Embee Diamond Technologies, a family-owned diamond cutting and polishing atelier in Prince Albert.

Over 48 years, Botha said he’s lost count of how many diamonds he’s crafted but to cut and polish this particular one in its home state was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“This is probably the most valuable diamond ever found in the United States, so from that perspective, it’s an honour. As far as my career is concerned … it’s probably the most pristine diamond that I’ve ever seen in the state,” said Botha.

“It’s not the largest by any stretch of the imagination that I’ve worked on, but it sure is from the North American or from the United States’ perspective, it’s probably the most important.”

The largest diamond Botha’s ever worked on was 60 ct, in Canada, which was cut from a 300 ct-rock from Brazil.

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Botha says they first had to study the diamond to come up with the base designs, which took the better part of a month. He chose to transform it into a 147-facet triolette shape, resembling a teardrop.

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The cutting process took a few days longer than originally expected. Botha worked from Sept. 9 to 15, putting in around 50 hours.

“Because the diamond is what we call a type ‘2A’ with zero nitrogen in it, it is very hard diamond to cut because whenever you have nitrogen presence in a diamond it tends to make it softer and it’s easier to cut,” said Botha.

Upon completion of cutting and polishing, it will be the fourth largest polished Arkansas diamond and the largest Arkansas diamond ever cut in the state. Esperanza was expected to roughly be five carats after cutting. A photo of Mike Botha and Bobbie Oskarson in North Little Rock, Ark. Stanley Jewelers Gemololigst / Supplied

According to Stanley Jewelers Gemologist vice-president Laura Stanley, the cut was a resounding success.

Esperanza will now undergo a final grading report. Botha expects the report to say it’s of very high clarity, colourless and internally flawless.

“It depends on what the laboratories got to say about it but people that saw the diamond, who are gemologists, love it. It has been very well executed and so we wait,” said Botha.

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Next, Los Angeles jewelry designer Erica Courtney will design a mounting for the stone and craft a necklace featuring the gemstone. The sparkling product will be sold in December at an auction in Dallas, Texas.

But what can the future owner expect to pay for the Esperanza?

Jewelry appraiser Neil Beaty, of Denver, says the Esperanza could fetch anywhere from around $200,000 to well over $750,000.

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