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IT is hyped as a stone to surpass all stones - save for one. The Sewelô diamond, which weighs an astonishing 1,758 carats, is the second largest rough gem diamond in the world, discovered in the Karowe mine in Botswana in April 2019. The diamond is as big as a tennis ball, and is now in Singapore for viewing at Louis Vuitton Singapore's Island Maison located at Marina Bay Sands for a one-week period only.
Since Wednesday, gem lovers have patiently waited for their turn to view the stone, along with the maison's collection of high jewellery and watchmaking masterpieces. The stone is touring selected cities across the world, and, according to Louis Vuitton, Singapore is selected for a stop because of its sophisticated local clientele that has a deep appreciation for craftsmanship and rarity.
When the stone finally returns to Paris, Louis Vuitton will consider the requests of interested parties and assess the diamond further for its potential to create customised pieces.
The Sewelô measures 83mm by 62mm by 46mm and weighs 352 grams. It is covered by a very thin layer of carbon that obscures its lustre, but initial analysis of the stone reveals "domains of high-quality white gem" that can be used for collectible jewellery. In fact, the full extent of Sewelô's variations in colour and clarity will only be uncovered when the stone is cut.
For now, it's been speculated that the stone may yield one ovale diamond of 900 carats - which would be the biggest cut diamond in the world - or one diamond of 300 carats with multiple satellites of three to five carats.
Whatever the outcome may be, Louis Vuitton's purchase of the diamond from Lucara Diamond Corporation signals the luxury company's serious intention of dominating the high jewellery market. It is relatively new to the sector, having opened a store with an atelier in Paris' Place Vendome - the hub of the high jewellery universe - only in 2012, followed by the appointment of Francesca Amfitheatrof as the Artistic Director Watches and Jewellery in 2018.
For this enterprise, Louis Vuitton is collaborating with Lucara Diamond Corporation which owns the Karowe mine in Botswana, as well HB Company of Antwerp which has the leading-edge technology to study, cut and polish the diamond to exact specifications. Notably, very few companies in the world have the ability to manufacture a rough diamond the size of Sewelô.
Michael Burke, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton, declares: "This rough stone is unique. Unveiling it to a handful of clients is a testament to our daring spirit and our desire to be a major player in jewellery."
Two billion year old stone
The Sewelô was discovered on April 19, 2019, in the mine using Lucara's cutting-edge technology, which allows a diamond to be extracted uncrushed despite being lodged in igneous rock.
Estimated to be about two billion years old, it earned its moniker after a naming contest that drew over 22,000 entries. "Sewelô" means "rare find" in Tswana, a language spoken in Southern Africa by about 4.5 million people.
Located in north-central Botswana, the Karowe mine is famous for being the site of discovery for other large diamonds, such as the Lesedi La Rona which weighs 1,109 carats, the Constellation which weighs 813 carats, and a handful of other diamonds weighing over 300 carats. In fact, the mine has yielded over 1 million carats of diamonds in less than a decade.
But the Sewelô is Lucara's biggest find so far - and would be the world's biggest rough gem diamond in recorded history, if not for the Cullinan, a 3,106-carat stunner discovered in South Africa in 1905. The Cullinan was later cut into smaller stones, the largest of which form part of British royalty's state crown and sceptre.
When the time comes for the Sewelô to be cut into smaller stones, master cutters HB Company will use its leading-edge scanning and imaging technology to analyse the potential of the stone, then plot the cutting points so as to optimise its yield.
Because of the size of the Sewelô, HB will use nanotechnology instead of standard equipment: It will begin by first opening a small window into the stone to assess the material permutation through the stone - and then configure, with Louis Vuitton, how to slice it into "LV-cut" diamonds shaped in the brand's monogram of the rounded flower and star. The entire process is expected to last about a year.
As for the price of the diamond and the costs of the undertaking, Louis Vuitton declines to reveal figures. But, for the purpose of estimation, Lucara previously sold the 1,111-carat Lesedi La Rona for US$53 million and the 813-carat Constellation for US$63.1 million. The Sewelô is bigger than either stone.
Banking on bling
Although Louis Vuitton is an established luxury brand with a history dating back to 1854, its foray into the high jewellery sector started just two decades ago. In 2001, its legendary ex-creative director Marc Jacobs designed its first fine jewellery piece, the Charm Bracelet. Its surprise success convinced the house to expand its range of bling and baubles. And, by 2012, Louis Vuitton had opened its Place Vendome store, and by 2013, launched its jewellery division.
In 2013, Jacobs left Louis Vuitton after 16 years at the creative helm to focus on his namesake line. But the luxury house continued to flourish in the jewellery sector. In 2016, it launched the Blossom collection based on the monogram flower motif originally designed by Georges Vuitton (son of Louis Vuitton) in the 1890s. The collection depicts a blossoming flower bud at various stages of bloom, and inspired the subsequent 2019 series B.Blossom, with the same flower motif reinterpreted for the new generation.
In 2018, it revealed the headline-making appointment of Francesca Amfitheatrof as its new Artistic Director Watches and Jewellery to steer the house jewellery and watches categories into the future. Amfitheatrof, 52, is a highly-regarded figure in the jewellery world, having broken through earlier as Tiffany & Co's first female design director.
Amfitheatrof's debut collection for Louis Vuitton in 2019 was titled Riders of the Knights, and is a ravishing modern-day tribute to medieval heroines, ancient coats-of-arms and bygone architecture. The stunning, intricate pieces were designed to appeal to wealthy, powerful and independent women not afraid of standing out. Her second collection, due to be revealed in November 2020, is also expected to draw raves.
Louis Vuitton's purchase of Sewelô is thus simply the latest in a series of major developments to place the company toe-to-toe with its more established competitors. Allowing its clients the opportunity to create bespoke, custom-cut diamonds is seen as an industry-disrupting move towards greater personalisation. Few companies have offered its clients the exclusive opportunity to determine the shape and size of their jewellery pieces at such an early stage.
As Louis Vuitton's chairman and CEO Burke quips: "We're positioning ourselves for the next 100 years."
- Interested clients who wish to view the Sewelô and Louis Vuitton's collection of high jewellery and watchmaking masterpieces can contact Louis Vuitton SIngapore client service for a private appointment at +65 6788 3888.