In a land known for big cats and bigger expanses, it’s usually South Africa’s epic nature draws in safari lovers. This safari, however, is a little different. Diamonds are forever but this one-day diamond safari offers guests of the boutique Ellerman House hotel an exclusive chance to delve deep into the country’s rich legacy of diamond production, following the journey of an ocean diamond from its humble origin beneath the surface of the sea to its transformation as a valuable jewel.
The trip begins with a chauffeured limousine from the hotel and private charter flight from Cape Town to Port Nolloth on the west coast, aboard a Swiss-designed Pilatus PC12 jet or a Kingair 200 aircraft. The one-hour 15-minute journey follows the coastline and there’s plenty of time to toast the trip with a bottle of bubbly before arriving at your villa directly in front of Benguela’s private offshore concession – your base for the day.
The action really begins with the chance to join the Benguela dive masters under the shallow waters – though a current Padi Open Water 1 certificate is required. Those who choose not to dive can wait on the boat for the seabed gravel to be brought up to the surface, which then runs into a classifier to separate the larger stones from the gravel. The remaining gravel is then ‘jigged’ which means that the diamonds are sorted from the gravel using a vibrating pan system. The heavier gemstones, such as garnets, olivines and diamonds, fall into the pan. Only then does the final sorting and grading process begin.
On your return, a gourmet lunch is served on the terrace of the villa and a private chef will accompany guests for the day to take care of all your culinary needs. Expect a delicious seafood lunch, in keeping with the coastal setting, with fresh line-caught fish and west coast crayfish on offer, depending on the season. The lunch of your choosing will be paired to award-winning South African wines, handpicked from Ellerman House’s exceptional wine collection.
After lunch it’s time to sort through the day’s richest pickings with an expert from Benguela’s sorting team, and learn more about the grading of diamonds. This is the magical moment to select your rough diamond to be cut, polished and set into a piece of jewellery at the design studio in Stellenbosch. While nature determines the colour, carat-weight and clarity of a diamond, only a skilled craftsman can determine the cut, displaying the fire, sparkle and beauty of the diamond. When a diamond is cut to perfect proportions – not too deep nor too shallow – light will reflect inside the stone and disperse through the top of the stone, giving it an inner radiance.
By late afternoon, you’ll be winging your way back to Cape Town aboard their private aircraft. Safely back at Ellerman House, guests round off the day by indulging in the hotel’s signature Dom Perignon Experience. As the sun sinks into the ocean, pop the cork on a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon paired to a delicious bento box-style dinner prepared by the executive chef.
The idea to make the diamond safari accessible to discerning clients began with one man’s dream of expanding the diamond business beyond mining by taking ownership of each step of the process to ensure authenticity, quality and seamless service. The man in question is Wynand Hendrikse, an experienced South African diamond diver for over 20 years, who launched Benguela Diamonds precisely to offer a complete service to his clients at Aphrodite Diamonds, the family run diamond and jewellery design studio he owns in Stellenbosch. Not only does the company mine and dive its own diamonds, operating a private ocean concession on the west coast, it also has its own cutting works and goldsmith.
“Mining our own diamonds gives us a very exclusive niche in a market where traceability has become extremely important. This not only certifies the origin of our diamonds, but is also a guarantee of fair working conditions in our concession,” explains seasoned diamond diver Wynand Hendrikse. To his knowledge, Benguela Diamonds is the only company in the world that controls the entire journey of an ocean diamond, from mining to polishing to setting.
The diamond safari will be available from 1 September 2016, and is strictly dependent on prevailing weather conditions. Available for a maximum of 6 guests, the trip includes the road transfers, return air transfer on a private jet, and all food and beverages including the Dom Perignon Experience at Ellerman House). The safari will cost R215,000 (US$15,733) regardless of whether 2, 4 or 6 guests travel together. Note that the price excludes the cost of any diamonds purchased from Benguela Diamonds and also excludes the cost of designing and manufacturing a piece of jewellery.