THE WOMAN SHAKING UP THE DIAMOND INDUSTRY – by Ed Caesar (The New Yorker Magazine – January 27, 2020)

Eira Thomas’s company has used radical new methods to find some of the biggest uncut gems in history.

At the Karowe diamond mine, in Botswana, the most highly secured section of the compound is known as the Red Zone. This is where the gems are sorted. To enter, you must walk, alone, through a sequence of thick doors activated by fingerprint scans. Inside, there are strict rules. You cannot touch another human being. Everyone must wear a blue, pocketless smock. Phones are not allowed.

In September, when I visited Karowe, I was given special dispensation to carry a notebook and a pen into the Red Zone. I was told that if I dropped my things I should bend down slowly to retrieve them, then stand up and show the recovered items to the nearest camera. On leaving the Red Zone, everyone, including chief executives, is strip-searched.

Nobody in the Red Zone ever touches a diamond with a naked hand. There are two sorting rooms, in which workers organize the mine’s produce by size and shape, using gloves affixed to sealed and glass-fronted cabinets. 

Similar-sized stones are plucked from a conveyor belt and placed in a jar. At the end of the day, the jar is sucked upward to a vault through a transparent pneumatic tube—a process that evokes the Augustus Gloop scene from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” When I visited the sorting rooms, workers pressed their noses to the glass and narrowed their eyes as they performed their duties. A light inside the glove boxes illuminated their faces like a vanity mirror.

Last year, at around 10 a.m. on Good Friday, a sorter named Otsogile Metseyabeng was working at his station when a stone bigger than a baseball tumbled onto his conveyor belt. Metseyabeng is a tall Botswanan man of thirty-seven, with a high, nervous laugh; sorters like him typically earn about twelve dollars an hour. In the Setswana language, his first name means “How are you?” As Metseyabeng examined the stone, a shocked smile spread across his face.

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