Until late 90s, the existence of Arctic Diamonds was a nature’s secret hidden from mankind for billions of years. Though its existence is no longer a secret to the people in the diamond industry, for people outside the industry, it is a relatively a new term. Here is the story how the “Ice on Fire” joined the family of gem quality diamonds that rose from ancient India.
The Silk Road Diamonds
There is a basic pose used for meditation in yoga called Vajrasana, translated to English read as the “Diamond pose” or the “Thunderbolt pose”. Vajra was the ancient Sanskrit word for diamonds.
Like yoga, the diamonds first came from India. Historical records indicate that diamonds were traded in India as early as 6 th century BC. In fact, until the discovery of diamonds in Brazil in 18 th century, India known to be the only source of diamonds in the world.
“Vijra”, is a Sanskrit word associated with indestructability. Also, the modern term “diamond” is derived from the Greek word “adamas” which refers to indestructability. Those words indicate that humans since the ancient times knew the value of the hardest naturally occurred material in the world. In first century BC, Roman naturalist Pliny described diamond to be “the most valuable, not only of precious stones but all things in this world”.
It is believed diamond found its way out of India through the ancient silk road, connecting oriental world to the Europe. By the 15 th century, diamond jewelry was popular among European ruling elites.
From Brazil to Africa
The first diamonds discovered outside India was found by gold mining workers in Brazil in early the 18 th Century. With the depletion diamond sources in India, Brazil dominated the diamond market for about 150 years.
In 1866, a 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs found a transparent rock in the family farm located on the south bank of the Orange River in South Africa. The rock was later identified as a diamond. The discovery changed the diamond industry forever. The next few years from this discovery saw South Africa supplying diamonds that surpassed the 2000-year supply of diamonds from India.
In 1888, British entrepreneur Cecil Rhodes established De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited in South Africa that dominated the diamond market for the next 100 years. The global annual diamond production sky rocketed from less than one million carats in 1870 to over 100 million carats by 1990.
Alluvial to Kimberlite
Since the diamonds had been extracted from rivers and riverbanks in India and Brazil, the source of diamonds remained a mystery. It was widely accepted that diamonds are only from alluvial sources; that are mined from shallow deposits. The belief remained the same even the beginning of the South African diamond rush.
South African diamond miners discovered diamond deposits few miles away from river digging in South Africa. They initially used the term “dry digging” to extracting diamonds from those sources and paid little attention to those deposits as the river sources were very profitable at the time.
As the yield from river digging declined, miners paid more attention to the dry sources. For their surprise, they discovered the true source of diamond which was later given the name kimberlite, after the mining town Kimberly in South Africa where the first kimberlite pipes were discovered. The discovery of kimberlite was a giant leap in diamond industry as miners found a new way to discover diamond deposits.
With the discovery of the new diamond source, diamond prospectors started searching for kimberlite around the world. Many new diamond suppliers entered to the market as more diamond carrying kimberlite pipes were found. Currently,Russia is the largest producer of diamonds and around 20 more countries produce diamonds at industrial level.
Perhaps the most exciting event in the mining industry for the last 50 years is the discovery of the Arctic Diamonds. The discovery ignited the largest staking rush in North America after the Gold Rush that occurred hundred years earlier. Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson were the two courageous canadian gemological laboratory behind this discovery.
It all began when Fipke and Blusson teamed up to form Dia Met Minerals in 1981 after completion of futile kimberlite search in Colorado. Blusson being a pilot , the two geologists headed to the arctic regions with a floatplane to begin sampling. For eight years, they could not find a diamond. Stocks of Dia Met Minerals were traded for pennies.
In 1991 the canadian gemological identification report found the first Canadian kimberlite pipe in Lac de Gras. BHP Billiton teamed up with Dia Met to open the first Canadian diamond mine, the EKATI mine in 1998. In 2003, Rio Tinto opened Davik mine. Diamond behemoth DeBeers joined the Arctic Diamond club in 2008 opening the Snap Lake mine. In 2016, De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds opened Gahcho Kué the world’s largest new diamond mine. Currently, Canada is the third largest diamond producer in value. Also, Canada is considered to be the only guaranteed source of conflict-free diamond supplier in the world.
EKATI Diamond Mine is the first Canadian Diamond mine opened in 1998. Approximately 63 million carats of diamonds have been mined from EKATI by January 2016. Photo Courtesy: Dominion Diamond Corporation.