Where De Beers Hid Its $5 Billion Diamond Stash

The potential sale of De Beers's London HQ offers a rare glimpse inside the mining giant, from subterranean vaults to a rooftop helipad.

Number 17 Charterhouse Street, a fortress in the heart of London, has been De Beers’s headquarters since 1979, but the street has been its home since the 1930s. At its peak 90 percent of the world’s diamonds passed through this structure. That’s now coming to an end. De Beers’s owner, Anglo American Plc, is leaving the building and moving staff across the capital as part of a wider cost-cutting plan.

The building, in London’s Hatton Garden jewelry district, offers unique amenities. Like subterranean vaults, that once held some $5 billion of uncut diamonds. A famous modern art collection decorates the walls. On the roof is one of the only private helipads in London north of the River Thames. Here’s a look inside the industry’s most iconic address.

Photographs by Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Charterhouse
Charterhouse

The building is between St Paul’s Cathedral and Smithfield Meat market in central London.

During its monopoly De Beers would stockpile diamonds here to control the market.

The Foyer
The Foyer

A commemorative stamp decorates the floor of the reception of the De Beers headquarters.

Philip Oppenheimer was the nephew of Anglo American founder Ernst Oppenheimer. Ersnt became chairman in 1929, followed by his son Harry in 1957 and Nicky in 1998.

A Private Art Gallery
A Private Art Gallery

Offices and hallways are covered by works of modern art including works by David Hockney and Damien Hirst. Many of the pieces were gifts from De Beers’s handpicked customers, known as sightholders. Being a sightholder carried prestige in the diamond industry, and many customers sought to win De Beers’s favor.

The Vaults
The Vaults

At the height of De Beers’s monopoly as many as 90 percent of the world’s rough diamonds were stored, sorted and sold in its London offices. There are about 10 vaults spread through the building, including these main vaults in the basement.

Rough Diamonds
Rough Diamonds

De Beers mined 27.3 million carats of diamonds last year and had sales of $6.1 billion. The company mines in Botswana, South Africa, Canada and even from the seabed of Namibia’s Atlantic coast.

Eyes Everywhere
Eyes Everywhere

Security monitors its operations across the globe from the London HQ. Antwerp, Surat, Tel Aviv and Dubai are the $80 billion industry’s most important hubs for the the trading and manufacturing of diamonds.

Mapping a Diamond
Mapping a Diamond

Where once a diamond loupe was used, now computers are the tool of choice to decide how to cut polished stones from a rough diamond.

The Helipad
The Helipad

The building’s rooftop helipad is one of the only private helipads north of the River Thames. The Billionaire Oppenheimer family used the pad to commute in from their home in the affluent Thames Valley.

Emergency Response
Emergency Response

Firefighting equipment is near the helipad entrance at the De Beers headquarters.