Crazy Diamonds from the Argyle Mine
The Argyle Mine is located in Western Australia. It is the largest diamond producer in the world. At least from a volume point of view. It is located just southwest of Lake Argyle near the Matsu Ranges.
This location is remote to say the least. It is 115 miles by road to the nearest town, which is Kunurra. Most of the 520 workers who operate the mine live in a camp set up near the mine. Many of the workers come from Perth, so they work in two week shifts.
The mine covers a total of 110 acres (about 450,000 sq metres). At its deepest point, the open pit, reaches 1,900 ft (600 metres). There is also an underground section.
The mine opened in 1983, and since then has produce close to 800,000 carats of diamonds. Unfortunately, the mine is due to close within the next decade.
Initially the pit operated as an open cast mine. However, by 2001 it was obvious that the open pit method would produce diminishing returns. In 2003, the owners cut an exploratory drift. Open pit mining ceased in 2013. The drift showed that underground mining could extract more stones. In 2013, the underground mine opened, and is currently being mined using the block cave method. This method is extremely safe and economical. However, despite this, it is estimated that the mine will no longer be viable by 2018/19. The price and demand for coloured diamonds may help the Argyle to stay open longer.
The strange diamonds of the Argyle mine
When people think of diamonds they automatically think of the beautiful clear, sparkly stones seen on many of the world's rich and famous personalities. However, diamonds come in many colours. Until fairly recently coloured diamonds were not perceived as valuable. A prime example is brown diamonds that are mined primarily for industrial use. The Argyle mine is full of coloured diamonds. Only 5% of the diamonds produced by the mine are clear enough to be considered gem quality, at least by traditional standards. However, in recent years interest in using coloured diamonds has grown. People are always looking for something different and fashions have changed.
In the past, coloured diamonds were rejected because they got their colour from the fact they contained impurities. This meant they were flawed, so had little value. Recently, consumers said 'hold on a these diamonds are actually beautiful, we want to wear them". Naturally, the industry has responded and actively started looking for this kind of stone, so their value has grown.
For the Argyle mine, this has been a critical development. The owners have been able to develop a whole new market for their product. Today, demand for the pink (polished) and champagne (brown) diamonds from the mine is high. In fact, 90% of the world's pink diamonds come from this mine. The most famous of these unusual diamonds is The Argyle Pink Jubilee. Uncut it was 12.76 carats, cut it became 8.01 carats. Argyle's owners Rio Tinto cleverly rebranded the brown diamonds they mined. They worked with Indian cutters whose low labour costs makes cutting smaller diamonds financially viable, and branded them as cognac or champagne diamonds. A term that sounds so much better than brown or industrial diamonds.
The future of the mine
Unfortunately, the mine is set to close at some point in the next decade. However, we are not counting this mine out just yet. As you can see, the owners have made a mine that only produces 5% gemstone quality diamonds profitable and created a new market for their product. You never know what they have up their sleeve. Perhaps the mine will, in fact, continue beyond 2018/19.