final arbiters, but this training in diamond sorting—it was to be
continued for a time in Kimberley—was to be one of the foundations of
Ernest Oppenheimer's career. He was, as far as judgement of stones is
concerned, an expert in his own right, who could more than hold his own
with anyone in the diamond world. 'When a man really understands
something about diamonds', he once said, 'he becomes a diamond
merchant, not a valuator.' It certainly proved to be so in his own case.7
♦ V ♦
1902, shortly after the close of the South African War (peace was
signed at Vereeniging on 31 May), Ernest Oppenheimer arrived in
Kimberley as the representative of Dunkelsbuhler.and Company. His
immediate predecessor had been Leon Soutro. Before leaving England he
had become a naturalized British subject, the date of his
' The December 1960-January 1961 number of Diamant (Antwerp)
published an article 'Memories of a diamond dealer of the Good Old
Days' by M. Etienne E. Fallek of Paris which has some fascinating
recollections of Ernest Oppenheimer in his early days at
started work at A. Dunkelsbuhler and Company, managed by Louis
Oppenheimer, eldest brother of Ernest. Louis Oppenheimer put me at the
table next to his desk, at the left of Ernest, where for three years,
from 1900 to 1903, I enjoyed working with him in sorting the rough
diamonds, that arrived from everywhere. We classified especially the
naats or macles. The other stones we forwarded, crystals and stones to
Wernher Beit, blocks and cleavages to L. & A. Abrahams.
Oppenheimer, always a true gentleman, supervised in all the firms the
classifications and prices. Every month he allowed me—after having
learned their value—in the offices of my father, who was an expert
himself— to choose two or three big white diamonds.
regularly received a great many letters from Africa, sent by Mr. Leon
Soutro, the firm's representative at Kimberley, and by many other
persons, connected with diamond-mining or trading. He gave all these
letters to his brother Ernest, who literally feasted upon them.
had bought a sixpenny book, in which he carefully noted, meticulously
ordered, everything that might conceivably be of some use to him. Was
it his ambition to replace Mr. Leon Soutro . . . who sometimes sent us
stock exchange orders for De Beers shares and who, every time when he
returned to Africa, took with him huge quantities of Gallia milk for
his passage on the Cunard Line [sic] steamer, that at the time took three weeks to sail from England to South Africa?
Ernest used to hand me all the diamonds he had for sorting, without
saying anything else but "You don't mind, Fallek"; this was undoubtedly
his preparation for his future role as one of the captains of finance.
He regularly transferred the contents of his copy-books to a register,
in which figured the mining operations of all fields, their outputs,
depths, returns, and other useful observations and notes.
'I sometimes told him: "You'll emulate Cecil Rhodes", but he did not like my teasing him or my mingling into his business.'
[Ernest Oppenheimer did, indeed, succeed Leon Soutro in Kimberley at a salary of £500 a year. (From the same article.)]