This is a story of two men who created a company that would rule an industry and an age. They forged the image that "diamonds are forever” in order to promote the carefully constructed illusion of value. These two men are Barney Barnato and Cecil John Rhodes who together through their exploits in Africa created the diamond and mining company of De Beers Consolidated Mines. This company, cartel really, controlled 95% of all diamond trading in the world. The only other entity history has ever seen that may have rivaled De Beers in power and influence was the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. However, even this analogy falls short of the sheer authority and dominance that De Beers possesses, not just in its industry but in all fields. Two very different men created this empire, and this is their story.
Barney Barnato was perhaps one of the greatest South African legends. He found his fortune and fame as a young man in the quest for the diamonds of Africa. Born Barnett Isaacs on July 5, 1852 in the East End of London, he was the son of a poor second hand clothing salesman. Barnato was not very well educated, dropping out of school at age 13. However, he was incredibly intelligent and shrewd, and thus a perfect businessman. He could change his personality to fit any situation, playing the role of either a powerful man or a helpless fool in order to make a deal. From the time Barnato entered school he would trade anything that could bring him a profit. He, amongst his schoolmates, would trade any number of things, including licorice, lace, toffee, brass buttons and beer bottle labels. Due to his lack of education however he did not enter the professional world directly.
His first job was as a bouncer and tapster at a bar, owned by his sister Kate's husband. Barney's brother, Harry, would perform magic shows there as entertainment and Barney would be his assistant.