Jagersfontein in the southern Free State was once world-famous for its high-quality diamonds. After a 40-year slump, the little village looks to have a bright future again, as a new mining company begins to work the dump tailings and a local craft project produces world-class Afro-French wire and glass keepsakes.

Did you know?

Jagersfontein once boasted 34 bars and 5 hotels at the height of its diamond boom.

Jagersfontein in the southern Free State is a village with a colourful past and a creative present.

The first air fatality in Africa occurred here, as did South Africa’s most prestigious Victorian-era horse-race meet. King Edward VIII, then the Prince of Wales, spent three days in 'Jagers' (as it’s affectionately known) during a 1925 royal visit.

An hour’s drive south of the provincial capital, Bloemfontein, the dusty streets of Jagersfontein belie the fact that it once held world's attention as a rich diamond mine.

The notorious American gangster Al Capone once wore a diamond (as a tiepin) that was mined in Jagersfontein. The famous actress Elizabeth Taylor also wore a 'Jagers' diamond'.

Jagersfontein is one of the world’s oldest diamond mining towns, with operations having begun in 1870. The 'blue-white Jagers' diamond' has become a standard regarding diamond quality throughout the world. One of the most precious diamonds ever mined (the Excelsior diamond, all of 995,2 carats and valued at R1,2-billion) came from what some claim to be the world’s largest hand-dug vertical open mine: Jagersfontein. (The other contender is the Big Hole in Kimberley, in the Northern Cape province.)

The mine closed down in 1971, but there were still diamonds about. In 1999, a local gardener found a 12-carat diamond in his employer’s flower bed - he was later rewarded with a third of the stone’s value.

The mine will soon reopen as a new company works the tailings dump.

However, Jagersfontein is arguably more famous nowadays for its fine French-African wire-work and stained-glass craftsmanship than it is for its diamonds. The local craft project, Glaasstudio, services a national demand and occasionally exports its top-quality products to Australia and Europe.

Jagersfontein is worth a morning’s visit, to see the Big Hole and the various Herbert Baker-designed buildings – and, of course, to wander through Glaasstudio and pick out a couple of wire-and-glass mementos.

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