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21 January 2009

Following is the address by Nicky Oppenheimer given at the DTC Clients' Cocktail Reception on 20 January 2009

A warm welcome to all members of this special diamond family. I hope all of you have had a very good break over the New Year holiday period, and have returned fresh for the new challenges of 2009.

I always look forward to this, our first gathering of the New Year as it gives me a chance to engage with all of you and to discuss our plans for the year ahead. Of course, this year we gather in exceptionally challenging circumstances.

When we all met last year at the Plaisterers Hall, the talk was all about the new contract period, welcoming new members into the fold, and about our exciting plans for carat expansion.

What a difference a year makes!

As I say, we face exceptional challenges, coupled with the uncertainty of how long this economic downturn will last.

However, in times like these, it is good to remember that there have always been times like these, and many people have asked me whether I can recall such circumstances.

Because I am such an old dinosaur, I do recall previous occasions of tremendous uncertainty - and I recall the tales with which my father and grandfather used to caution me. As a result, two things are clear to me.

Firstly, that we - and when I say ‘we' I mean our industry - did manage to survive previous downturns, including the great depression. What is more, we emerged stronger and ready to take advantage of the inevitable recovery - and let us not forget that, however long they take to arrive? recoveries will inevitably follow a downturn.

How did we do this? We ploughed on in the face of adversity, adapting our business model and adopting change, wherever necessary along the way. We kept changing and kept moving. As Winston Churchill once said: ‘If you're going through hell, keep going'.

Change and the necessity of adapting are constant imperatives - but never more so than during such times.

Secondly, the industry only survived because we were willing to be courageous in the face of those adversities - and this is my overriding message I would like to leave you with this evening.

I believe that we at De Beers have already demonstrated courage and our intention to continue not to flinch from taking difficult but correct decisions.

For example, our decision to spend an unprecedented amount on Christmas 2008 advertising campaign in the United States? showing the boxes to you in a different format and accommodating the needs of you, our valued clients. The tough decisions around our mine planning and staff which you would have read of last week. I am confident that under Gareth and Varda, we will continue to be courageous and innovative - and I exhort you to be the same.

We have a proverb in Africa that says: ‘Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors'.

As the year progresses, we will all be occasionally seduced by the siren voices of quick fix and short-term gain. My advice is to ignore them, secure in the conviction that we are fortunate enough to be working with one of the most desirable products in the world. The unique and uniquely enduring gift of nature that is a diamond.

Equally unique are the thousands of talented and dedicated people from around the world who help to put the ‘forever' into diamonds. This evening, it is right that we should bear in mind that the months ahead will profoundly affect the lives of many in our industry.

Circumstances dictate that we will, regretfully, be losing many good people. People that have spent their lives in service to De Beers, and many other companies across the industry. We must ensure that, whether they are leaving us or staying, they are treated with dignity and the respect they deserve. Finally, recessions may sometimes be long, they may occasionally be harsh, and there may be casualties along the way. However, take courage, face down adversity and never lose sight of the fact that recessions come and they do go, but only a diamond is forever.