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Dec 4 / Dave Schumaker

Wired Magazine on Canadian Diamonds

This month’s edition of Wired Magazine has two interesting articles on Canadian Diamonds. The first article is about Canadian geologist Chuck Fipke and his discovery of diamonds in Canada’s Northwest territory in 1991.


He’d been surveying for eight years. He hadn’t found a single diamond. Superior had abandoned the diamond business. Dia Met’s stock was trading at pennies a share. But based upon a few samples, Fipke estimated a diamond concentration at Lac de Gras of more than 60 carats per 100 tons — with about a quarter of the stones of good quality or better. (In kimberlite pipes that have gem-quality stones in commercial quantities, a concentration of 1 carat — 0.2 grams — per 100 tons can be profitable.) After six months of sampling, Fipke went public. It was 1991, and he had found a kimberlite pipe (buried under 30 feet of glaciated sediment) with a concentration of 68 carats per 100 tons — the first Canadian diamonds ever found. Shares of Dia Met rocketed to $70. Fipke had partnered with mining giant Broken Hill Proprietary Company (now BHP Billiton) to get the diamonds out; BHP opened the Ekati mine at Lac de Gras in 1998. Soon Dia Met’s 29 percent share of the mine was worth billions. Fipke would go on to sell his chunk to BHP for $687 million, retaining 10 percent ownership in the mine, worth another $1 billion.

Today Canada’s diamond business is soaring. The country’s four working mines produced 17 million carats in 2007, up 23 percent from 2006. Diamonds from Canada now account for 10 percent of all diamonds by carat sold in the world. And the addition of more diamonds to the global market hasn’t driven prices down. Average carat value has actually risen 15 percent, and the gems from the far north are untainted by the bad publicity that comes from an association with African wars.

The second article is about a diamond mine in Northern Canada, located at Snap Lake.

Source: Google Maps – Location of Snap Lake Diamond Mine, Canada.

Source: De Beers – Snap Lake Diamond Mine in Northern Canada.

Snap Lake is unusual — instead of blowing straight up to the surface, the magma followed a crooked path through fissures in the surrounding granite. Snap Lake’s kimberlite is a 9-foot-thick, 2.5-by-1.6-mile seam angling slightly downward. It’s also about 200 feet under a lake that’s frozen most of the year. So all of Snap Lake’s mining is underground — a cold, wet, black world of rising and falling tunnels constantly leaking water from the lake above.


Eventually the conveyors pass into a more secure building-within-the-building, the Red Area. It’s accessible only via a room the size of a closet; when the door behind me locks, cameras confirm that I’m alone. A green light tells me to proceed through zigzagging rooms that would be difficult to, say, kick a diamond through.
The ore passes down through another tower of sorters — x-rays illuminate diamonds. A secondary (and secret) process uses lasers to further refine the stream. At the end of the line, past an 8-inch-thick steel door and a set of steel bars, is the vault itself, a small room with half a dozen cameras and a big, rectangular glass box shot with glove-lined holes, like an incubator for premature infants. Stones — some the size of pin heads, others the size of gum balls — drop into a jar. Sometimes five minutes pass with nary a gem, and then two or three tumble out at once. Over the course of a year, there will be 1.2 million carats. Some are opaque; some are as clear as glass. Of the 430 men and women working here, no more than 60 will ever see this vault — or any diamonds. Ever. I slip my hands through the holes and into gloves, and pick up the biggest rock I see, a perfect 5-carat octahedral crystal three times older than the human species, formed during the age of the mastodons. A chunk of pure carbon, beautiful and banal. I ask how much it’s worth. “Not allowed to say,” Mooney says. “Put it this way: That’s a hell of a lot of diamonds.”

Here is another fascinating story from Wired Magazine in 2003 about synthetic diamonds. I honestly thought I’ve posted this before on Geology News, but I cannot find it.

[Via Daily Geology Links via Wired Magazine]

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