The Emperor's New Diamond
Albert Jolis was in a quandary. It was late 1977, and the crazed president of Central African Republic, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, had just decided to crown himself emperor. Bokassa was your stereotypical African warlord-turned-monarch, with very grandiose ideas for himself. He wanted a lavish coronation styled after that of Emperor Napoleon of France, which would impress the world with his greatness. Jolis was president of US-based Diamond Distributors, Inc., the largest diamond mining company in Central African Republic. His mines were among the only places in the world were the exceedingly rare "carbonado" black diamond is found. Bokassa let it be known to Jolis that he was expecting a stupendous diamond as a gift from the company in honor of his historic coronation. Anything smaller than a golf ball would be a major insult.
This put Jolis in an untenable position. Carbonados, the type of diamonds mined by Diamond Distributors, Inc., are mostly opaque, rough, porous diamonds. Almost all of them are intended for industrial purposes. Although they are diamonds, they cannot be made into gems. A diamond of the sort Bokassa coveted, one that could rival the jewels of the British royal family or the Shah of Iran, would bankrupt Jolis' company. There was no way to explain that to the mad dictator, though, and if Jolis failed to satisfy Bokassa, his mining company would be closed. Eventually, Jolis decided he had nothing to lose by trying a risky ploy. One of his aides identified a large, 70-carat chunk that roughly resembled the African continent in shape. Normally it would be sold for $140 to be crushed into powder for industrial use. Instead, Jolis had it polished to mimic a gem-quality black diamond. The chunk was mounted in a large ring and a white 1-carat diamond was affixed to the spot representing the location of the Central African Republic within Africa. Then the ring was placed in an attractive gift box with a certificate declaring the "black diamond a one-of-a-kind, unmatched anywhere else in the world. Days before the coronation, a nervous Albert Jolis presented it to the soon-to-be "Emperor."