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Monday, September 14, 2015

The ‘Esperanza’ Diamond Story

The 8.52-carat Esperanza diamond as it is being cut into a rare Triolette shape. Photo credit: Gretchen Friedrich 

Gretchen Friedrich Jewelry News Network’s social media manager, spent two days watching a rare 8.52-carat diamond found in an Arkansas state park, as it was being cut and polished at Stanley Jewelers, North Little Rock, Ark. This is her first-hand account. 

By Gretchen Friedrich

I fully buy into this song lyric, “Diamonds are a girl's best friend.” For Bobbie (Brooke) Oskarson, this famous line rings very true.

The story begins in June with the Colorado resident heading south to Arkansas with her boyfriend, Travis, at the wheel. They are traveling to see a family friend of his in the Northeast corner of the state. Their vacation budget was limited, and fun was concentrated around inexpensive activities.

Travis is a mining enthusiast. It was his idea to visit the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Ark. to dig in the dirt.

Diamond cutter Mike Botha working on the Esperanza,  Photo credit: Gretchen Friedrich 

They paid the state park fee of $8, received the customary introduction to the park and education on diamonds. This is likely the only open-to-the-public diamond mine in the world. It is actually a field, not a dark, cavernous hole in the earth. The bad part about the mine not being a cave is that it is hot in the summer months.

Twenty minutes into their digging, Oskarson is searching for shade. As she makes her way to an area of the park near a tree, she noticed a clear stone. Oskarson had never seen a rough diamond before, so she stuck it in her pocket thinking it was quartz—another mineral abundant at the site, along with calcite, garnet, and a plethora of other semi-precious stones.

Photo credit: Gretchen Friedrich

She hands the stone to Travis, regroups after her break in the shade and keeps digging. Hours later they take their findings to the state park rangers for inspection. The ranger on duty takes the stone and excuses herself. She comes back several times telling the couple to please wait. Needless to say, their patience paid off.

The ranger finally returns to congratulate Oskarson on her find. It was indeed a diamond. A large diamond weighing 8.52 carats. Oskarson’s initial reaction was a combination of colorful phrases not suitable for work. She promptly apologized to the people gathered around her and immediately went into shock.

Fast forward to September, 2015. Oskarson has assembled a crew of professionals to help auction the Esperanza diamond (Spanish for Hope), named for Oskarson’s niece.

Bobbie Oskarson with the Esperanza diamond. Photo credit: Gretchen Friedrich

Oskarson is auctioning the diamond (which will be turned into a jewel) in December to fund her dream of becoming a homeowner. She works as an administrative professional for a non-profit in Denver. They help mentally disadvantaged adults find caring homes. Her pay is small compared to the stacks of good deeds she does on a daily basis.

Oskarson’s new diamond family consists of Neil Beaty, certified gemologist and appraiser in Denver, his wife Sheri Allen, Mike and Evert Botha, a father and son team (respectively) who own Embee Diamonds, Prince Albert, Canada, and the Stanley family, owners of Stanley Jewelers, North Little Rock, Ark. The one thing they have in common is they are members of the American Gem Society, a jewelry trade association.

This is where the fun begins. Neil and Sheri Beaty have taken Oskarson’s dream to heart and are helping to maximize her “big bag of money” as Neil states, at the end of this process. Neil taps into his AGS connections to continue this American story.

Mike Botha gives someone an up close look at the the diamond.  Photo credit: Gretchen Friedrich

Neil reaches out to the Bothas, who are willing to temporarily relocate to Arkansas with all their cutting gear in tow. Mike is an expert diamond cutter with more than 20 years of experience. He likes to tell jokes while delicately shaping a priceless gem. I asked him why he chose diamond cutting. His response: “Because accounting is boring.” He says this while dressed like every accountant I know.

The father and son are camped in the showroom at Stanley Jewelers with the public invited to view the process. This family business is in its third generation, and exhibits an extensive knowledge of jewelry with a flair for making everyone feel welcome.

Loyd Stanley, representing the jeweler’s second generation, can be found smiling at everyone, coffee cup in hand, telling stories of his years in the business. Laura Stanley, Loyd’s daughter is shifting her time between design and operations. Her sister Caroline Stanley flew in from California to be part of the show. Caroline owns Red Jewel, jewelry industry marketing firm. Their brother Steve is also on board, occupied constantly with the stream of clients walking through the doors.

Shirley Strawn, the woman who discovered the 3.09-carat Strawn-Wagner diamond in 1990 at Crater of Diamonds State Park with two park officials. Photo credit: Gretchen Friedrich

It's a packed house and a bevy of activity. Media from all outlets, plus curious customers, and the park rangers from the Crater of Diamonds make for a constant buzz. There was even a diamond reunion on September 10. The Crater of Diamonds park rangers arrived with some of the prize winning diamonds found at the park.

Shirley Strawn, a fourth generation diamond digger, was there with her Strawn-Wagner diamond, a D color Internally Flawless gem she had mounted into a ring. She told me that day, “Every diamond has its own energy and its own place.” It’s a perfect summary for my experience with Esperanza.

Oskarson, who had only been in a jewelry store once before, found her destiny in Esperanza and set off a domino effect of events. The culmination resulted in one of the cleanest diamonds Mike Botha said he’s ever seen in his years as a diamond cutter. The energy that all the players brought to the table was one of excitement and camaraderie. Information exchange was constant as were laughs and stories.

Another look at the 8.52-carat Esperanza diamond as it is being cut into a rare Triolette shape. Photo credit: Gretchen Friedrich 

When my time to depart arrived I was sent off with hugs, an invitation to Denver, a coffee mug identical to the one Loyd Stanley uses and a treasure trove of education, memories and new friends. Esperanza is well on her way to becoming a one-of-a-kind gem.

Please join me on the Jewelry News Network Facebook Page, on Twitter @JewelryNewsNet and on the Forbes website