The diamond sector may be a volatile industry, as its dramatic ups and downs during the pandemic have demonstrated. But readers have remained interested in diamond news this year — especially when it involves large gem diamonds.
MINING.COM’s top diamond story of the year was actually published at the end of 2020. The story updated the findings of a bulk sample Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO; ASX: RIO; LSE: RIO) completed in 2019 at Star Diamond’s (TSX: DIAM) Star-Orion project in Saskatchewan. At the time, the ninth of ten bulk cutter sample holes at the project had returned 3,534 diamonds weighing 210.68 carats. The haul included 10.13, 8.10 and 7.29-carat Type IIa diamonds, while 25 diamonds were greater than 1 carat. Processing from all holes has since been completed. Ownership of the Star-Orion project – called FalCon by Rio Tinto – is currently disputed, with Rio Tinto claiming a 40% stake and Star Diamond taking the major to court to argue that the terms of their 2017 earn-in agreement have not been met.
Second on our list is an item on an exceptional diamond — a 1.098-carat stone recovered at the Jwaneng open pit mine in Botswana. The mega-diamond is one of only four 1,000-plus carat diamonds ever unearthed. Jwaneng, the world’s richest mine by value, is owned by Debswana, a joint venture of De Beers and the Botswana government. The mine is in the middle of a $2-billion expansion to begin underground mining. The underground mine is expected to deliver as much as 9 million carats per year and extend Jwaneng’s mine life by 20 years.
The year’s third most read diamond story was about Canadian miner Lucara Diamond’s (TSX: LUC) first big diamond of the year. Lucara’s Karowe mine in Botswana is known for large, high-value gem diamonds, including the 341-carat unbroken white stone it recovered in January. The diamond was the 54th stone over 200 carats recovered at Karowe since it began commercial production in 2012. One analyst estimated the diamond could sell for more than $10 million.
There’s something fascinating about coloured diamonds, which made this story about Petra Diamonds’ (LSE: PDL) discovery of a 39.34-carat blue diamond from its Cullinan mine one of MDC’s top diamond stories this year. The Type IIb gem was said to be of “exceptional quality” due to both its colour and clarity. Cullinan, located in South Africa, is known as the world’s most important source of blue diamonds.
Despite holding the unique asset, as well as two others in South Africa and one in Tanzania, Petra’s financial position is weak. The miner put itself up for sale last year and then reversed its decision in favour of a debt-to-equity restructuring. The company also faces human rights abuse allegations at its Williamson mine in Tanzania resulting from the actions of its security guards.
No. 5 on the list detailed a second large diamond recovered from Lucara Diamond’s (TSX: LUC) Karowe mine in January. The miner reported it found a 378-carat, white unbroken gem-quality stone in the same unit – M/PK(S) — of the mine’s South Lobe where the earlier diamond was discovered. Both gems were recovered from the coarse X-ray transmission circuit that Lucara has credited with avoiding breakage of its large diamonds.
Lucara recently approved an underground expansion of Karowe that will extend the project’s mine life to at least 2040.
New diamond discoveries are always exciting, and in June, word emerged of a diamond rush attracting thousands of people to an area near Ladysmith, about 360 km southeast of Johannesburg in South Africa. With videos on social media capturing crowds digging in the ground, the provincial KwaZulu-Natal government expressed concerns about crowds gathering during the pandemic and fears a stampede could occur.
Unfortunately, the find, in one of South Africa’s poorest regions that has been hard-struck by the Covid-19 pandemic, turned out to be not diamonds but quartz crystals.
Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX; NYSE: GOLD) president and CEO Mark Bristow’s interest in troubled junior Rockwell Diamonds made this story the next most popular with readers. In January, Rockwell announced it had made a deal to delist and merge with a B.C. diamond company (Bristco) wholly owned by Bristow.
Bristow, the founder and owner of Randgold Resources (which was acquired by Barrick in 2018), acted as Rockwell’s CEO for six months to May 2011 and later joined the board. At the time of the news, he held about 2.4% of the JSE-listed diamond company.
Rockwell had been in liquidation since the end of 2016 and was awaiting final liquidation proceedings in 2021.
At eighth place was another big diamond story, this time a 113-carat gem-quality diamond recovered from Lucapa Diamond’s (ASX: LOM) Lulo mine in Angola in January. Lucapa noted the diamond is the first found at Mining Block 46, downstream of the Canguige river. The stone is the seventeenth diamond over 100 carats found at Lulo, an alluvial diamond project held 40% by Lucapa. The rest is held by Angola’s national diamond company (Endiama) and Rosas & Petalas, a private entity. Lulo hosts the world’s highest dollar-per-carat alluvials diamonds.
Making a return appearance at Spot No. 9 is Petra Diamonds’ 39.34-carat blue diamond. The June 1 story noted that the diamond, recovered in January, would be sold in a special tender in July, with viewings beginning mid-June in Antwerp, Dubai, Hong Kong and New York.
The diamond, whose quality Petra described as “exceptional” in terms of both colour and clarity, was subsequently sold for $40.2 million.
Bucking the trend of big diamond stories, the last story on our list was a Bloomberg news story reporting on a change in the way De Beers – the world’s largest diamond miner – does business. The item from January explained that some of the company’s buyers or sightholders have lost that status, while others have had their status downgraded. The Bloomberg piece said the changes were designed to “funnel more stones into fewer hands” and to the buyers that could add the most value to the rough diamonds.