Mosibudi Jo Mathole and Khomotso Ramodipa are two South African sisters who quit their jobs as an investment banker and an optometrist respectively, to start a diamond polishing business, at a time when the price of the commodity was so low and unattractive to investors.
In 2019, while speaking to the VOA, Mathole and Ramodipa said their love for diamonds drove them into the business. The industry in South Africa is still male-dominated and has actually shrunk. Once a booming business, diamond polishing has shrunk from 4,500 polishers 25 years ago to 250 polishers in recent times.
Despite the gloomy picture of the sector, the two sisters were unfazed and opened Kwame Diamonds in 2008. The shop in Johannesburg offers the cutting and polishing of the precious stone.
Interestingly, the company is the only firm in South Africa run by sisters and according to Women in Diamond, the sisters manage the only women-owned polishing business in the world.
“The barriers to entry go beyond just being a woman or being a man because the difficulty boils down to having an outfit like this, you really need a proper capital outlay,” said Mathole, who is the company’s director. “And for women, it becomes a bit tricky because this has always been a very male-dominated industry.”
The year they set up Kwame Diamonds, Mathole and Ramodipa became qualified diamond valuators and have since carved a niche for themselves in the polish and cutting of diamonds. Aside from that, they also ensure that they sourced diamonds responsibly and ethically.
According to co-founder Ramodipa, they are accredited to cut and polish world-renown De Beers Group’s branded diamonds.
“To be able to produce a Forevermark diamond, which according to them, it’s 1 percent of the world diamonds that are produced. … If you are able to polish that kind of diamond, then you are among one of the best,” she said.
The South African sisters employ and train other women in the industry, a move seen as part of their own contribution of increasing female participation in the sector.
Grace Tshego is a diamond polisher at Kwame Diamonds.
“Now I can go out there and say, ‘I’m a diamond cutter,” Tshego is quoted as saying. “I’m even specializing with ‘fancy cut’. It’s something that is so wow, because other people they don’t know it.”
Mathole and Ramodipa have received commendations for their innovation and staying afloat in an industry in decline. “They’re looking at the diamond industry from a different perspective,” says the former president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), Ernie Blom.
“They’re thinking out of the box. And maybe they’re ticking all the right boxes that is giving them the success that they have. And maybe that’s what a lot of the older diamond industry can learn from.”