SIR ERNEST OPPENHEIMER
from the business; but to sell in sterling or South African currency
would take the risk from the producers and the Diamond Corporation
Limited, for whom it is a very serious matter, and place it on the
purchasers from time to time of diamonds who are always able to cover
themselves through forward exchange transactions. In this connexion I
may say that there is probably no body of men so competent to handle
the complexities of exchange business as the Continental diamond
dealers and cutters. . . ,
request was granted, though there was to be some subsequent
correspondence as to what precise florin rate should be used in
converting gold prices into sterling prices.
only remaining task was the conclusion of new contracts with the
outside producers: this was handled, as it had been from the
beginning, by Ernest Oppenheimer himself. In addition to all the other
problems facing the industry, a new and dangerous producer was
appearing on the scene—Sierra Leone. This area was inspected somewhat
later by H. T. Dickinson, the consulting engineer to De Beers; he sent
a somewhat alarming letter to Ernest Oppenheimer in August 1935:
In my view this field as a whole will produce more diamonds in value than Angola and the Congo combined. . . .
feel very anxious about the position and feel that some definite
arrangement should be come to as early as possible with the S.L.S.T.
[Sierra Leone Selection Trust]. . . .
feel rather depressed as these fields are a great menace to De Beers
and the corporation, particularly in a moderate market. . . .
Oppenheimer gave a full and frank account of the negotiations with the
outside producers to the board of management of the Diamond Producers'
association on 7 December 1934. There had been friendly discussions
with the Belgians. The negotiations with the Portuguese, who had
difficulties of their own with their Government, had proved excessively arduous and dehcate:
Portuguese came to London and Sir Ernest had to listen to their
arguments for three days, by which time he was becoming exasperated. .
. . Their chief spokesman . . . adopted a most uncompromising attitude.
In the end Sir Ernest said he had lost patience, refused to buy their
diamonds at all and left the conference.
It was none the less of great importance to get an agreement, since the Portuguese
the principal and most dangerous competitors of all the foreign
producers. They produced very cheaply and they would have no