On Saturday night I returned from a week in the DRC. Despite an E-Boli outbreak and the violence and military problems in the East of the country, the capital city Kinshasa was quiet and serene. In the past, Kinshasa was a garbage dump of a city. Now, the government of the DRC, with the financial support of the omnipresent Chinese, have completely rebuilt the main boulevard into an eight lane street.
In October, Kinshasa is hosting a major international conference and the government is leading a campaign to clean up the city. They have removed tons of debris and garbage from the streets, alleys and walkways and the city looks pretty darn good. It just goes to show that towns and cities around the world that live in filth do so out of choice and not necessity.
They still have a long way to go. The road out to the airport is a disaster. We left 3 hours early for the approximate 12 mile trip. It took us two hours to go 4 miles. Fortunately, in the morning, we had gone to the Air France’s office in one of the hotels downtown. You can drop your luggage off and get your boarding pass at this location. Good thing for our group we elected to utilize this service.
The clients I was working with are well connected with a particular embassy and the ambassador’s staff was wonderful to us during the trip. They were kind enough to drive us to the airport. As I said, two hours into the trip and we had only traveled four miles and we had only one hour left before boarding. It was a dark night, with no street lights and there were cars ahead of us for as far as we could see. The exhaust fumes were overwhelming, and the smell and noise of all the honking cars, trucks and buses was absolutely maddening, the stench of hundreds of sweating people adding to the misery. People were screaming at each other and a cop beside us started beating the crap out of someone who obviously had not responded in the way the cop thought he should.
Hundreds of people were leaving their minibuses and walk-running in between cars and lanes with the knowledge and skills that only come with experience. Our driver told us it was hopeless, there was no way we could make it to the airport unless we abandoned the car in the middle of the street and were prepared to walk the ¾ of a mile to where he believed traffic would open up again. We would then have to try to pay someone to drive us the rest of the way to the airport, but it was our only chance.
It is funny, sometimes in life, a side event can be the determining factor in your decision making process. Before we left the embassy, I had had two cups of tea and one of my clients had a very large can of Fosters Beer. There was nowhere to relieve ourselves on our trip to the airport and both of us were very much aware of this fact. We looked at each other and said simultaneously; “Hell yes! Let’s go for it!”
We jumped out of the car, grabbed out brief cases, locked the doors and left the poor people behind us to deal with another major obstacle. We would have to zig-zag in and out of lanes and often towards oncoming traffic. There was not even enough room between the cars to carry your bag by your side. My bag contains my computer and all my gemological equipment. It weighs about 35 pounds. I threw it up on top of my head and we headed into the insanity.
Somehow we manage to keep in sight of one another and in twenty minutes of walk-running we had come to the source of the traffic nightmare. It was caused by the oncoming traffic taking up all of the lanes of the whole road and only going to their side of the road when the road itself forced their compliance. I would have asked; “Where are the cops?” Except I already knew they were ¾ of a mile back beating that guy and were obviously too busy to take care of the traffic problems.
Now that we were past the jam up, we ran up to a number of cars who were waiting off to the side of the road for people like us, and we negotiated a ride in a Lexus SUV that already had six people in it. We were stuffed so close to each other that had I been any closer to the passenger next to me, I would have had to propose marriage.
The driver was a mad man! He drove in and out of traffic like he was fleeing a thunderous volcano. Though we were sure we were all going to die, we loved him for it. We got to the airport with just a few minutes to spare. The boarding gate was going to close and we ran to the terminal where the wonderful officials helped us to get through customs and security for a reasonable ‘remuneration’ that was being negotiated while we were running. You gotta love this place!
At this point, you are probably wondering what this has to do with buying white rough diamonds in the DRC. This is part of what you can expect when you go to this and other African countries to buy diamonds. Expect it, don’t bitch about it, and be happy you are there, craziness and all.
Before we arrived in the DRC my clients had arranged with several suppliers to see quantities and qualities of diamonds that fit their criteria. I had expressed my view that Kinshasa was not the best place to buy diamonds in the DRC, but my clients had legitimate reasons to believe in their contacts. When we were sitting in the exporter’s diamond office, our hopes were high. However, after two days of viewing diamonds that appeared to be the rejects from other parcels, we moved on to their other suppliers.
We had an appointment at the very lavish home-office of a very interesting supplier of Portuguese-Congolese ancestry. His large estate was surrounded by 15 foot high walls, topped with 3 inch, razor sharp, spear points protruding defiantly skywards. Only the extremely stupid or highly skilled would dare to climb these fortress walls.
Inside the 12 foot high, iron, view-proof gate was a well-cared for and beautiful garden. As we entered, we were greeting by the smiles of armed guards, some with bullet proof vests. We were escorted into an entry room of light brown marble floors and light yellow walls filled with pictures of our host. In front of the two tanned, overstuffed leather couches was a 4 foot by 5 foot painting of our host. Seeing all these photographs of our host was in itself quite interesting. It was made more interesting because under nearly every picture, was his captioned title “Prince So and So.” (It would be imprudent to give his name.) However, what made these pictures truly fascinating was that they were all photo shopped, and photo shopped badly! Every location was a picture in which he had superimposed his image. In addition, in every picture he was wearing an overly tight, white, or light beige suite unsuitable to his massive 350 pound frame. On his very large, bald head, he sported a Texas cowboy hat, on his face, large dark sun glasses, in his hand, a massive cigar.
He welcomed us with a smile and told us to sit down to talk. My clients had been assured by their contact in the DRC that all suppliers had been informed of our coming and knew exactly what we were looking to buy and had already approved our buying and payment procedures. The first question out of the mouth of the Prince was; “Who are you, what do you wish to buy, in what quantities and in what qualities and how do you plan to pay for the goods.”
Okay, no surprise there, this is Africa after all. After explaining our needs and desires, he ushered us into another large, elegantly appointed room, with of course, many more pictures of our host. We sat down in his office next to the large room and started looking at his rough diamonds. He had, rough white diamonds in the sizes, colors and clarity which we desired, unfortunately, they were all very strong blue fluorescence. (If you do not know the significance of this statement, please go to my website and view the article on “Fluorescence and its Affect on Rough Diamond Pricing’.) We explained to his great and easily seen aggravation, that we could not use strong blue fluorescence. He sighed deeply and asked us to return tomorrow when his son would be returning from the bush to Kinshasa with new goods.
The next day we returned and his son was there with the father. He barely greeted us and did not offer us some of the Crown Royal other people in the room were drinking. I do not drink, but it was rude not to offer and it was definitely meant as an insult as the Congolese are a very hospitable people. Once again we made our way past the pictures of the prince and I began to go through the goods he brought out for me. They were beautiful, exactly what we were looking for, and without fluorescence. I priced out 5 stones and gave the value to my clients.
My clients asked him about a particular stone and its price. It was a Sawable One, F color, VS clarity, 5 carat piece of rough. The Prince told me it was an F color VS stone and asked if I agreed. I did agree, and told him so. Actually it might very well be an E color. I of course, did not say that to him. For those of you who use Adtec to value rough diamonds, the Adtec price listed is $3400 per carat. When you buy in New York or Geneva, most buyers will buy 40-45% below Adtec. It is cheaper in source countries.
To the surprise of my clients and to me, the Prince said he could not sell it for less than $6,000 per carat. Even in the safety of New York or Geneva you would not pay more than $2000 per carat. My clients made him an offer and he promptly starting screaming at us to get the hell out of his house! As I was leaving, as is my custom, I thanked him for seeing us and was sorry our business could not be worked out. I extended my hand and he screamed again for me to get the hell out of his house. The armed guards were no longer friendly or smiling and we left the very large prince and his massive ego forever etched in our minds and our hearts.
We were not able to buy what we came to buy. My clients paid dearly for trusting their contact. The contact made no money and only I benefitted financially from this experience. This does not make me happy. I never want my clients to waste money. The only thing worse than my clients losing money is me losing money. Sometimes no matter what you do, you cannot win. My clients did their due diligence and their contact has a good reputation. Sometimes it is enough and sometimes not. The one truth I have found to hold true always, is that no matter what someone tells you, no matter whom they are, you cannot know if the white rough diamonds have value until you are looking at them.
My advice to anyone going to Africa to buy rough diamonds, is line up as many suppliers as possible before you go, send your rough diamond gemologist in-country by himself first to make sure the goods have value, and that indeed, they are really there. Better to pay for only one plane ticket, one hotel room and one mouth to feed. Just make sure you have the entry visa already taken care of for the rest of your team so they can fly in immediately to complete your deal. If your rough diamond gemologist is afraid to go to the DRC, Guinea, Angola, Sierra Leone and other wonderful vacation spots, then maybe you need to look for a gemologist who is not afraid to be lonely in Africa.
Louis Pearl G.G.
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