African Diamond Safari

June 1999


African Diamond Safari

A diamond importer takes jewelers to the source

Fine wine is made all over the world, but French vineyards have an international image for which customers pay a premium. Why can't jewelers market diamonds the same way, profiting from the romance and caliber of a stone's origin?

They can, decided Chris La Trobe, a South African whose Chicago-based company, S.A. Gems, imports diamonds mined and cut in his homeland. In 1992 La Trobe started organizing group trips to South Africa for retail jewelers. The 10-12-day trips help jewelers differentiate themselves from their competition and learn about the industry first-hand.

About 250 to 300 jewelers and spouses representing 125 stores have gone on the diamond safari since its inception. S.A. Gems now organizes two trips a year, with groups varying from 14 to 48 people each Travelers pay about $3,500 apiece for all airfare, meals and accommodations.

With Their Own Eyes
The groups tour the underground shafts at a De Beers-owned mine, usually near the "big hole" in Kimberley. On the most recent trip this March, jewelers also lunched with De Beers officials at the historic Kimberley Club, toured a nearby gold mine and visited Festdiam, a sightholder and part-owner of S.A. Gems, to watch diamond cutting, pose for publicity photographs beside the diamond wheel and buy diamonds if they chose. The group also took a two-day game safari in Kruger National Park and visited Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Jewelers who have gone on the trip say the experience shapes the way they view and sell their merchandise. "We learned they mine 11/2 tons of ore to yield 1 carat of diamonds; then they lose 60% to 65% of that weight when cutting," says John Joseph of Josephs Jewelry, Des Moines, IA. "When I saw the amount of labor, it gave me a real appreciation for the value of a diamond." He plans to incorporate what he learned on the trip into his employee training sessions.

Once in a Lifetime
S.A. Gems prepares a marketing packet with ad slicks, TV and radio spots, press releases and art for postcards so jewelers can get the most out of the experience. Often local newspapers write articles about the trips. Some jewelers, like Penn Fix of Dodson Inc., WA, prepare their own material. "I used the packet as a source of inspiration, but I wanted to incorporate my own image into the advertising," Fix says.

Before going on the March trip, Fix sent a two-color postcard to about 3,500 customers announcing his plans. His customers were excited about the adventure of his trip, as well as the chance to buy diamonds from the source. In fact, several placed orders with him for South African diamonds.

"The strength of South African diamonds is the cut of the stone," says Fix. "Our store specializes in Ideals and near-Ideals, and 80% to 90% of all the diamonds there were fine cuts. The selection was great, and the price was better than I could get in the States."

S.A. Gems, Chicago, IL, (800) 344-6605, fax (312) 372-3924,

– by Stacey King

Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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