Saturday, 27 September 2014

Diamond Mining Companies

Has it ever occurred to you that the sparkling and scintillating diamonds that adorn us, how have they reached us? Or, how have they been unearthed from the structural layers of earth? And who are responsible for bringing them to the markets all over the world?

The answer can be summarised merely in a phrase- The diamond mining companies.

A diamond mining company can be defined as an enterprise which is responsible to excavate diamonds from the potential areas, sort the diamond rough, send them for cutting and polishing and finally are bring them to the markets. The diamond mining companies are required to strike a balance between its economic, social and environmental responsibilities and make a positive and lasting contribution to the environment where it is operating.

This post of SDI talks about the three big players of diamond mining industry:
De Beers
Rio Tinto

DE BEERS: De Beers is a name synonymous with flawless and sparkling diamonds. They are pioneers of diamond mining, sorting, cutting, marketing and sales. The journey of this huge venture started in the year 1888 in the Kimberley region of South Africa by Cecil Rhodes, a British businessman and Barney Barnato, also a British.

This 125 years old enterprise saw many ups and downs in its journey but still managed to top the charts as the world’s leading diamond company. In the year 1905 when the company was under Sir Ernest Oppenheimer, The Cullinan diamond was discovered at the Premier mines. This is the biggest diamond rough ever found and it weighed 3,106.75 cts. Nine diamonds were fashioned from this rough and were called Cullinan 1, Cullinan 2 and so on.

In 1934, the Diamond Trading Corporation was established which is responsible for rough diamond sales and distribution which are mined from South Africa and Canada and from Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania in partnership with their governments. Clients of the DTC are known as sightholders. They are basically authorised purchasers of bulk diamonds. To become a sightholder one has to comply with certain standards listed by the DTC.

In the year 1947 they came up with the most celebrated advertising slogan “A Diamond is forever”.

From the onset of the year 1966 potential mines in Botswana were discovered. Orapa mine was the biggest success they got in that region. De Beers started a new venture with the government of Botswana, called Debswana (50:50) in 1969 for mining diamonds from Orapa. In the year 1972 the Jwaneng mines were discovered, which is considered to be the richest mine in the world. Venetia mines in Limpopo province of South Africa began production in 1992. It is the largest diamond producing mine of South Africa.


Potential deposits were found in Namibia and Namdeb, a joint venture of De Beers with the government of Namibia was started to exploit the mines.

In the year 1998 De Beers started working on Forevermark technology wherein the diamond is laser inscribed with a Forevermark symbol and unique identification number which is invisible to the un-aided eye. Forevermark ensures that the diamond has been responsibly sourced; they are natural and untreated and pertain to certain select standards.

De Beers took the initiative of controlling the supply of conflict diamonds by launching the Kimberly Certification Scheme in 2003. The governments of the nations where diamonds are mined along with the Diamond industry and the United Nations Organisation joint hands to halt the flow of these conflict diamonds which are used to fund illegitimate operations. Under the scheme the rough diamonds are certified stating that they are not financing any rebel group to overthrow the legitimate government and the diamonds are not being imported or exported to a non member of the scheme. For the year 2012 De Beers had revenue of US $ 5.5 billion.

ALROSA: this company is another giant venture which tops the charts in leading diamond mining companies of the world. Their major operations are carried out in regions of Russia.

This company has a glorious history which dates back to the year 1955 when the Mir kimberlite pipe and the Udachnaya pipe were discovered along with 15 other sources. The Udachny mine which operates on the Udachnaya pipe is the second largest diamond mine in the world with estimated 152 Mct (million carats) of diamond reserves as of year 2013. On an average this mine produces 10 Mct of diamonds every year. The Mir mine is the third largest mine in the world with estimated reserves of 141 Mct.


In its early days the company was recognised by the name of Yakutalmaz enterprises and they set up their first unit. Many other deposits were located in the Yakutia region and subsequently diamonds from these markets were being sold all over the world. In the year 1960 they discovered the Aikhal mines in the Yakutia region which is one of the largest mines in Russia and produces 2.5 Mct on an average every year.

Yakutalmaz achieved another milestone with the discovery of Jubilee mines in the year 1975, which is the biggest diamond mine in the world. The production started in 1986. With estimated reserves of 153 Mct as of 2013. The mine produces over 10 Mct on an average every year.

The Catoca mine in Angola in Africa in 1997 recovered its first diamonds. It is a joint venture enterprise in which Alrosa has 32.8% share. This mine has an estimated reserve of 130 Mct of diamonds and on an average produce 6-7 Mct every year. In the next few years Alrosa opened its offices in Antwerp, London and Luanda.

With the onset of the new millennium Alrosa found new deposits in Nyurba which is a very rich diamondiferous region. Mining here has unearthed fine quality diamonds. In the year 2007 Yakutalmaz group celebrates glorious 50 years. In the subsequent years Botoubinskaya pipe was discovered, which again is a promising source of diamonds. The production is set to start in 2015 and it is estimated to produce 1.5 Mct of diamonds every year.
Alrosa had estimated revenue of over US $ 4 billion for the year 2012.

RIO TINTO: the word Rio Tinto in Spanish literally means red river. The Rio Tinto group of companies was established in the year 1873 and Rio Tinto Diamonds is the company which looks into the mining and production of diamonds.

Rio Tinto Diamonds marked its place in the diamond mining industry in the year 1972 when Ashton Mining Limited found diamond deposits in the Kimberley region of Australia. Conzinc Rio Tinto of Australia (previous name of Rio Tinto) took over the management of Ashton mining and in subsequent years discovered the diamondiferous lamproite pipes. In 1983, Argyle mine was set up. This is one of the biggest mine in the world and is the leading producer of naturally colored diamonds, mostly pink. This mine has a capacity of producing 20 Mct of diamond rough.



Another important mine of Rio Tinto is the Diavik mine in Canada on an island in Lac de Gras. It is a joint venture between Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. (a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Diamonds-60%) and Doiminion Diamond Diavik limited partnership (40%). The diamonds were discovered in the 1990 and the mine started operation in 2003. The mine operates on three kimberlite pipes. This mine on an average produces over 7 Mct of diamonds every year.

Murowa Diamond mine located in Zimbabwe is owned by Rio Tinto (78%) in partnership with Riozim Limited (22%). The kimberlite pipes were discovered in 1997 and the production started in 2004. The mine produces on an average 2.5 Mct of diamonds every year.

The Bunder project of Rio Tinto, in Madhya Pradesh, India is the biggest diamond project of the country. The area has extremely rich diamond deposits and would beat Panna mines in terms of production. Rio Tinto is soon expected to get a license to commence mining.

Diamond mining companies play a very important role in the industry as they are wholly responsible to bring these awe-striking diamonds to end users like us. In depth knowledge of these companies can not only help one to gain valuable knowledge about the process but also understand the diamond market.

 *The Author is a Colored Stone Graduate from Gemological Institute of America, Mumbai and a Diamond Graduate from Solitaire Diamond Institute, Bangalore. She also holds a Diploma in Jewelry Designing & Manufacturing from Jewelry Product Development Centre, Jaipur. She also blogs at 'The Jewel Affair'

*Picture Courtesy: Google Images

Monday, 22 September 2014

Pearls - Natural and Cultured

Nature has always provided mankind everything for its survival and sustenance. The abundance that nature has bestowed upon us can be seen all around. Not only our basic needs have been taken care of but we have also been gifted with gems and minerals. These gems and minerals have been unearthed by humans for thousands of years now for personal adornment and industrial purposes.


This post of SDI talks about one such gem which has been conferred upon us by nature – Pearl!
Pearl is an organic gem which is found inside a mollusk and is coated with a substance called nacre which is the secretion of this marine animal. Usually the mollusks which form pearls have two shells. And natural pearls are formed without any human assistance.
 The process of pearl formation is one of the most interesting phenomenon that mankind has ever come across. Usually when the mollusks open their shells to feed and take oxygen an irritant or a foreign particle enters. This foreign particle enters the reproductive system of the mollusk and causes irritation.  The mollusk responds by secreting a substance called nacre. Secretion results in creation of many concentric layers of nacre, which in due course creates a pearl. The nacre is made up of calcium carbonate and contains a substance which is able to hold the nacre together – chochiolin. Nacre is what gives a pearl its characteristic lustre. Nacre is also known as mother-of-pearl which forms the iridescent lining of the shell.

Cultured pearls can be defined as pearls which have been formed with the help of human interference in the natural process. Almost all the pearls which are used for making jewelry today are cultured. Cultured pearls usually are harvested with the help of a process termed as bead nucleation. Also it requires another mollusk which is called the ‘sacrificing mollusk’ and it lends its lining tissue to the other mollusk in which the bead will be planted. Under this process a bead nuclei which is actually a shell, is surgically implanted in the reproductive system of a mollusk know as gonad along with the lining tissue.  This bead nucleus forms the very core of the cultured pearls. This surgery is conducted by experts and it takes a time of 2-6 years to harvest the pearls.
There are two different categories of cultured pearls – saltwater pearls and freshwater pearls.

Saltwater pearls are cultured in water bodies with relatively high salt content like oceans, seas, rivers etc. and take 2-3 years to harvest. There are three types of saltwater cultured pearls:
Akoya Pearls: Akoya pearls are considered to be first completely spherical pearls which appeared in the market in the 1930’s. These pearls have a mirror like lustre and are cultured with the oyster named pinctada fucata martensii which are usually found off the seas of Japan and China. Their size ranges from 2mm – 7mm in diameter. Classic Akoya pearl is white in colour with a pink overtone. Akoya pearls also come in pink, champagne, silver and gold tones. The highest quality of Akoya pearls is called hanadama pearls.


South Sea Pearls: south sea pearls are majorly cultured in Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines and in the mollusk called pinctada maxima. Their size ranges from 8mm – 18mm and they have a soft, satin like lustre. South sea pearls come in many shades like white, gold, black and black with different overtones.


Tahitian Pearls: these pearls are usually grown in black-lipped oysters called pinctada margaritifera. Tahitian pearls are commonly called black pearls. The body color is usually black with overtones of pink, green, violet and blue. These pearls are usually harvested in Cook Islands and French Polynesia and range from 8mm-17mm.

Freshwater pearls are cultured in freshwater bodies like lakes, ponds and rivers. A freshwater mollusk can produce up to 50 pearls at a time which greatly helps in bringing down the cost of pearls. They are relatively cheaper than saltwater pearls. Also, freshwater pearls do not use a bead nucleus to produce pearls. Rather they use only a piece of lining tissue from freshwater sacrificing mussels, so these pearls are made of 100% nacre and due to this reason they are the closest to natural pearls. The process to harvest these pearls can take as long as 4-6 years. Freshwater pearls have a rather soft lustre. The highest quality freshwater pearls are called freshwater orient pearls. The mussel that produces freshwater pearls is called hyriopsis cumingi and a few other species like margaritifera margaritifera. These pearls are majorly cultured in China and on a smaller scale in US and Japan.


Besides, these saltwater and freshwater pearls one might even come across terms like Keshi pearls, Mabe´ pearls or Abalone pearls.

Keshi Pearls: these pearls are accidental by-products of pearl farming and are supposedly formed both in freshwater and saltwater pearls. These pearls form under two circumstances. Firstly, when the bead nucleus is rejected by the mollusk and what remains is the tissue donated by the sacrificing mollusk. As a result, pearl sac is created. Secondly, the donated tissue gets dislodged accidentally and again the pearl sac is formed.


Mabe´ Pearls: mabe´ pearls are commonly referred to as “half pearls” or “blister pearls”. These are grown in Akoya, South Sea, Tahitian and Freshwater mollusks but the most famous species in which they are grown are- ptera sterna, ptera penguin and pinctada maxima. These are grown in a slightly different manner. The bead nucleus is planted between the outer shell and the inner lining of the shell and hence it grows like a blister. Later, the blister is cut out, the bead is removed and the hollow area is filled with filler and covered with a mother-of-pearl backing. These take 2-3 years to culture and are most suitable for earrings and necklaces.


Abalone Pearls: abalone is a single shelled mollusk and is famous for its unusual iridescent colour. Most abalone pearls are baroque (irregular shape). It is difficult to culture abalone pearls because they are haemophiliac. Natural blister pearls form on the shell. They display a beautiful array of colours like pink, green and blue.


One has to admit that pearls are one of the finest creations of nature. It is a versatile gem and its soft lustre is timeless. Its subdued glow is like the light of the moon and represents delicate emotions like love and romance. Pearls for sure add a magical touch to one’s life.

*The Author is a Colored Stone Graduate from Gemological Institute of America, Mumbai and a Diamond Graduate from Solitaire Diamond Institute, Bangalore. She also holds a Diploma in Jewelry Designing & Manufacturing from Jewelry Product Development Centre, Jaipur. She also blogs at 'The Jewel Affair'

*Picture Courtesy: Google Images