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December 1999

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Diamond Supply Update: The Producers

Mining is on the upswing as new sources around the world and continued strength in Africa keep supplies plentiful

Diamond supplies are in good shape, say experts who spoke at the Gemological Institute of America's International Gemological Symposium this year. Here's a look at where the world's diamonds come from and a peek at their production potential.

Despite the growth of diamond sources worldwide, Africa's leading role will continue, said panelist John J. Gurney, a professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. "There is more knowledge than ever about potential diamond sites, more sophistication in terms of geochemical techniques in exploration, better understanding of diamond size distributions and better ways to assess hidden ore bodies." Gurney suggested the combination of De Beers' production from the Venetia Mine (Northern Transvaal Province in South Africa), Orapa Mine and Jwaneng Mine (both in Botswana) could yield some 30 million carats of diamonds per year. "That will be the core of African production in the next millennium."

The land down under is often described as an anomaly among diamond producers.
"It has upset everything anyone knew about diamond geology. The diamonds are in the wrong place, in the wrong host rock. The mine has low qualities, but also very rare pinks," said A.J.A. "Bram" Janse, a consultant and geologist in Perth, Australia. Of the several kimberlite and olivine lamproites (rare igneous rocks known to bear diamonds) in Australia, only Argyle is economically viable, Janse said. While Australia is "not in the league of production compared to Africa," he says that with underground mining (now that alluvial, open-pit sources have been depleted), Argyle has a potential life of 12 years.

Upstart Canada has huge diamond reserves in its Northwest Territories. "The arctic region is an enigma to most people – it comprises a third of our territory and only a fraction of our people," said Douglas Paget, chief of special projects, Canada Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, Hull, Quebec. "The climate is harsh and there is a dearth of infrastructure. Yet the Ekati mine, which opened last year, is expected to produce 3 million to 4 million carats a year for the next 21 years."

This may just be the start of diamond production in Canada. In the Lac de Gras area south of Ekati, the Diavik Mine will open in two years with the potential of producing two times more than Ekati. With other developing projects, Canada eventually could produce up to 10% of the world's supply of diamonds, Paget said.

Dr. Nicolai Sobolev, director of mineralogy and petrography at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk, shed light on one of the world's least understood diamond sources. He said 20%-25% of the world diamond market is composed of production from Siberian mines. "Of the 800 kimberlite pipes known in Russia, some 150 contain diamonds," he said. Most are undeveloped. Instead, Sobolev concentrated on the production of Russia's largest and most developed mine, Mir, located in the republic of Sakha (Yakutia). Production at Mir is schedule to move from open pit to underground (and more expensive) operations soon.

by Robert Weldon, G.G.


Copyright © 1999 by Bond Communications.


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