Diamonds – Past…Present…Future – Denise Nelson

Denise Nelson

Denise Nelson

Some people take a field trip to the Smithsonian or Calvert Cliffs, The Nelsons trek to the Dark Continent, Africa!

Well, maybe not as dark and foreboding as in the days of Tarzan, Africa is still a daunting journey for most of us in the Washington suburbs.

In this fascinating evening, Denise Nelson takes us along on her magic adventure that most gemologists and gem lovers only dream about.


And to think it began in Tucson! A chance meeting and an accepted invitation began an adventure that carried Denise and Dennis Nelson across the Atlantic for an opportunity to visit the NAMDEB (NAMibia-DEBeers) facilities in Namibia, once known as German West Africa.

After a brief overview of the discovery of diamonds in Africa, Denise took us into some of the most forbidding land in the world – the Skeleton Coast! Lined with shipwrecks ancient and new, the winds blow cold onto the dunes which lead to the sands of the Kalahari Desert. In 1908, the first Aeolian diamonds were found and a diamond rush was started.


The Orange river has washed diamonds toward the ocean for eons, depositing them along the way, and into the ocean beyond the shore. The larger diamonds settle into the ocean bedrock depressions, while the Benguela currents push the lighter stones northward depositing them along the shore, where the ocean is dammed and the seaside pockets are mined in a tactical manner.


Today, an area of land the size of Belgium is cordoned off and under control of the Namibian/DeBeers consortium. To be allowed access to visit these mines is a very rare treat. Pass cards are issued to the visitors along with the instructions that you can look, but do not bend over to pick anything up of the ground. Tie your shoe laces right the first time! The tour took them from the modern alluvial mine, to the helicopter ride to a ship mining operation 65 kilometers off shore, where in 2005, the marine mining operation was more lucrative than the land based operations. How’s that for soup to nuts?!

Not able to hitch a ride on the red helicopter, which carries the mining bounty off to a location more secret than Area 51, and unable to coerce the wild Oryx into giving them a lift out, they finally escaped their captors and the “forbidden zone” of the Skeleton Coast. OK, the captors stuff was a bit of dramatic license.


A once in a lifetime journey, indeed, and we thank them both for coming home and relay their adventures for our vicarious enjoyment.


Meeting notes by Martin Fuller, GG

Meeting photos by Melanie Marts, GG

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