De Beers: “From Discovery to Desire”

[Winner] De Beers: How to create a multi-billion dollar industry from the ground up

The De Beers Group of Companies (“De Beers” or “the Group”), founded in 1888 as a South African company, once controlled some 80% of the world’s supply of rough diamond stones. Although not without its many commercial and socio-political controversies, much of the company’s success and dominance of the global diamond market resulted from a very close alignment of its business strategy and operating model. By 2014, De Beers produced about a third of the world’s rough diamonds by value, generated revenues of ~$6 billion per annum, employed over 20,000 people across six continents and was widely recognized as the world’s leading diamond company.


The De Beers value proposition lies in the exploration, mining and marketing of rough diamonds across the world. Anglo American owns 85% of De Beers, with the remaining 15% owned by the Government of the Republic of Botswana (GRB). The company produces and markets its supply of rough diamonds from its mining operations located in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Canada. As such, the company’s business strategy is primarily driven by its ability to find new sources of diamond supply, manage its shareholder relationships with Anglo American and the various government / joint venture partners and drive sales and marketing in the retail sector.


Exploration: As in most mineral extractive industries, finding geologically extractible resources is a significant operational activity and value driver, and requires continued investment. Current De Beers exploration projects are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Angola, Canada, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Through its subsidiary, Debswana, the company started a $500 million expansion project (Cut-8) at Jwaneng Mine at an estimated cost of $3 billion. This project is expected to provide access to additional 95 million carats until 2025.

Mining: The vast majority of the Group’s production comes from underground and open-pit kimberlite mines. The Group also uses onshore extraction techniques and specialised ships to mine alluvial stones along the south-west African coast.

Marketing: The company sells rough diamonds to world-leading diamantaires through its Sightholder sales and auction sales operations. De Beers manages its sales and marketing activities through Diamond Trading Company (DTC), a wholly owned subsidiary of the company. DTC sells its gems and diamonds to clients, called Sightholders, based principally in cutting, polishing and retail centers of India, China, Israel, Belgium, the U.S., Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The company also markets polished diamonds through the Forevermark brand and sells diamond finished pieces through De Beers Diamond Jewellers, an independently managed retail joint venture with Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH). Over time, it has built significant marketing prowess in this area, having pioneered key campaigns such as its flagship 1947 “A Diamond is Forever” campaign, which maintains and drives the emotional and ego-expressive elements of diamond ring purchases around the world even today. Indeed, such has been the success of this marketing strategy that it has been credited with singlehandedly building the global engagement & wedding ring category in the jewelry sector from the ground up. The company’s more recent slogans such as “The Pursuit of Brilliance” and “From Discovery to Desire” also continue to support this unique capability.

De Beers Marketing Collage

Caption: Select De Beers “Seize the Day” print, online, celebrity endorsement marketing campaigns and retail outlets (above)


Deep expertise in kimberlite and marine exploration: The company’s strong focus on exploration activities strengthens its operational presence and supports its leadership position in the market. De Beers is also a global pioneer of marine/offshore diamond exploration. Further, the company’s unique shareholder relationship with Anglo American allows it to leverage the parent mining company’s much broader exploration and mining expertise beyond the diamond industry to deploy new technologies and improve its mining operational processes (Anglo American’s exploration and mining operations include iron ore, coal, manganese, platinum, copper, nickel, phosphate and niobium operations).

Strong Sightholder relationships and market intelligence: The DTC’s sole purpose is to supply rough diamonds to its diamantaires, known more colloquially in the industry as “Sightholders”. Other than auction sales, being accredited as a DTC sightholder is the only avenue by which any entity can access, view and purchase DTC rough diamonds. DTC Sightholders form the critical mass of the world’s leading diamantaires, collectively handling approximately 75% of the world’s diamonds. DTC Sightholders receive various benefits from their relationship with the DTC, including reliable supply of rough diamonds through supply agreements, consistently high quality (per the “Diamond 4C’s”  – carat weight, color, cut, clarity) assortments of rough diamonds, customized account management capabilities and access to in-depth DTC diamond industry insights. In turn, the relationship with Sightholders affords De Beers downstream access to most of the world’s polished diamond market (thereby protecting brand equity and maximising indirect end-user retail market share). Critically, the DTC also markets other non-De Beers produced rough diamonds (subject to specific terms and conditions) which enhances the company’s overall competitiveness in the sector.

Differentiated retail presence and brand equity: Through the DBDJ network, comprised of over 50 retail stores across the globe, the company effectively participates in the high-end luxury jewelry diamond market and competes with various manufacturers and retailers of luxury goods, diamonds, jewelry and watch retailers, including Harry Winston, Cartier, Boucheron and Tiffany & Co. This is achieved through its Forevermark branded diamonds, which give assurance of quality and integrity through the use of a patented technology to inscribe a unique identification number on the diamond. A critical enabler of this differentiation is the Group’s control of its own diamond supply from the upstream mining business – a particularly key feature given the importance of demonstrating each diamond’s ethical integrity to protect the De Beers brand equity in the market. De Beers also focuses strongly on sustainable development by working closely with stakeholders including customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers and the mining communities in which it operates.

Effective leverage of strategic joint-venture partnerships: Strategic partnerships have been a key source of competitive advantage for the business. Most of the Group’s rough diamond production is derived from joint-venture operations with governments. In addition to requiring government approvals and permits to maintain mining and exploration activities, mining and exploration operations are also subject to various regulations, including local socio-economic development and environmental protection. As these governments continue to increasingly assert their importance to the Group, these relationships are becoming a key driver of corporate strategy. For example, recognizing the strategic importance of Botswana to the Group, in 2011 the company entered into a further agreement with the GRB on a new 10-year contract for the sorting, valuing and sales of the DTC’s entire global diamond product mix. This is transforming Botswana into one of the world’s leading diamond trading and manufacturing hubs as the company has transferred all of its previously London-based rough diamond sales activity to Botswana. This in turn has helped to stimulate the local Botswana economy through the beneficiation and sale of higher-value diamonds and has established Gaborone (the capital city of Botswana) as an emerging diamond destination for global diamantaires.


De Beers Group, 2015. “2015 Diamond Insight Report” [online]. Accessed 6 December 2015.

De Beers Group, 2015. “2015-2018 Rough Diamond Supply Agreement” [online]. Accessed 7 December 2015.

De Beers Group, 2015. “The pursuit of brilliance: Our heritage and the people who are leading us into the future” [online].; Accessed 7 December 2015.

Global Data, 2013. “Report: De Beers s.a”. Global Data Limited: London, UK.

Kolowich, L., 2014. “The Engagement Ring Story: How De Beers created a multi-billion dollar industry from the ground up” [online]. Accessed 7 December 2015. Hubspot: Boston, MA, USA.

Roelf, W., 2014. “De Beers big green machine sucks up diamonds” [online]. Accessed 7 December 2015. Reuters: Cape Town, South Africa.


Enterprise Holdings – Three Brands under One Roof!


MiniLuxe – “Starbucking” the nail salon

Student comments on De Beers: “From Discovery to Desire”

  1. Hey Mondli, thanks for sharing! I have always been intrigued by how De Beers was able to transform the meaning of diamonds through it’s ingenious marketing campaigns. However, I am really interested to know how the company is reacting to the growth of the synthetic diamond market? Do you think this new market is going to take over the traditional diamond industry? Will the manufacturers of synthetic diamonds be able to convince consumers that the diamonds they manufacture are exactly the same as those mined by De Beers?

    1. Thanks Shivani! You touch on a very important issue for the business – in effect the “substitution threat” posed by synthetic diamonds to kimberlite / mined diamonds. Although, as you point out, the two types of diamonds are effectively the same from chemical composition standpoint, the “ego-expressiveness” of jewelry diamonds remains practically unassailable at this point. Also, through its Element Six business, De Beers has effectively been able to have a firm foothold in the market and shape its overall positioning of the sub-segment around industrial applications.

      More about Element Six below if you’re interested:

  2. Very cool! Do you think De Beers needed to go through any major changes to its business or operating models to deal with the transition from providing 80% to providing 30% of the world’s rough diamonds? I could imagine that change in market share could impact relationships with sightholders or power over pricing and supply.

Leave a comment