Uncovering hidden diamonds in the rough
Among one of nature’s most precious and beautiful creations, diamonds have been an object of desire for a very long time. Though they are the hardest known naturally occurring substance in nature, they tend to render the person looking at them speechless and in awe of their glittering exquisiteness.
The first known instance of diamond dates all the way back to 4th century BC, India. Right from being worn for their sheer brilliance and strength, to being used to ward off evil, as a good luck charm during wars and as a cure for illnesses, diamonds have captured the fancy of the human mind for centuries.
The origin of the diamond
The diamond is a precious gemstone, and what makes it truly distinctive is its composition i.e. it is the only gem that is 99.5% carbon. The rest are trace elements that can influence its colour or shape.
Diamonds are obtained in their rough, unpolished forms when mined, and no two diamonds uncovered from earth are same. Much like our fingerprints, each natural diamond is unique in its nature, colour, cut and quality. A newly discovered natural diamond, formed over a billion years ago, usually has an octahedral shape. It looks like two pyramids placed back to back.
Thanks to its versatility, a diamond can be used in just about any type of jewellery design but that’s not all. Only about 20% of the diamond mined is suitable for gemstone use. A diamond can have more functions like being used to treat certain types of cancer, as a cavity filling, an industrial grade tool, as a semiconductor in computers to replace silicon and in high-end speakers.
How are diamonds formed?
Diamonds were formed over 3 billion years ago, under intense heat and pressure. This heat and pressure crystallized the carbon atoms, leading to the formation of diamonds. Found at a depth of approximately 150-200 km below earth’s surface, diamonds rise to the surface due to volcanic eruptions. As the magma erupts to the surface, it carries with it diamond bearing rocks. On the surface, magma hardens to form kimberlite in vertical structures known as kimberlite pipes. These pipes are a significant source of diamonds.
The diamond mining process is long and arduous, with diamonds being mined through kimberlite pipes. After the diamonds are mined, they are sorted to be categorized as jewellery-grade.
How are diamonds mined?
Diamonds can be mined through a variety of techniques, foremost being Conventional Open Pit Operations where one can extract diamonds about 250m below the surface. Another technique is Pipe Mining wherein large volumes of soil are dug up before being transported off-site for processing to uncover raw diamonds. People also use another technique known as Underground Mining Operations where tunnels are constructed at 2 levels with connecting funnels.
Once centred in Africa, diamond mining is now spread across the world with some of the most famous mines being found in Canada, Russia and Australia too.
Famous diamond mines
Let’s find out more about the famous diamond mines around the world:
Situated in Russia, Aikhal is the world’s largest diamond mine. Operated by Alrosa, a world leader in diamond mining, it is estimated that Aikhal’s diamond deposits are close to 175.56 million carats.
The Jwaneng Diamond Mine in Botswana, a country in southern Africa, is an Open Pit Mine. It is expected to hold a diamond reserve of 166.6 million carats. In terms of value, the Jwaneng Diamond Mine is said to be the world’s richest mine.
With mining activities beginning as early as 1976, Udachny is one of the deepest Open Pit mines in the world. Udachny is located in Russia
One of the youngest enterprises of Alrosa, Nyurba in Russia began its operations in 2000 to extract kimberlite through Open Pit Operation.
Canada’s first surface and underground diamond mine, Ekati crossed a total production level of 50 million carat diamonds in 2011. ‘Ekati’ is a native word, meaning ‘fat lake’, which is attributed to the white veins of quartz found around the mine that look like reindeer fat.
Orapa stands second among the world’s biggest diamond generating kimberlite mines. Located in Botswana, it currently produces approximately 2,200 kg of diamonds per year.
The Debmarine Mine
A leading marine diamond mining company, Debmarine explores the seas off the coasts of Namibia, where some of the highest quality diamonds are found.
One of the world’s largest suppliers of natural coloured diamonds, Argyle can be found in western Australia. The Argyle Mine is home to the world’s rarest pink and red diamonds. Since its operations began back in 1983, it has produced over 500 million carats of rough diamonds.
Since pink and red diamonds are so rare, it has been reported that Argyle will stop production sometime in 2020 after exhausting the supply of economically viable stones.
Located in the remote Northwest Territories of Canada, the success of the Diavik Mine lies in operating a mine in the most forbidding places. With production commencing in 2003, annual production of Diavik is 6-7 million carats of large, gem-quality diamonds.
Our planet’s spotted with magnificent diamond mines, and now that we’ve taken a quick glimpse into them, let’s briefly discuss the diamond extraction process. It all begins with the ore being extracted from mines, which is then processed to produce rough diamonds. Once these diamonds are cleaned, weighed, packaged and dispatched, a course of cutting and polishing begins, finally leading to the gemstone-grade diamonds we love and adore. Did you know that India is star hub for diamond cutting and polishing process? Yes! Almost 90% of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished in Surat, aptly known as the Diamond City of India.
What we see as a beautifully sparkling jewel has a long and intense journey behind it. The road to exquisiteness that a diamond takes, right from being exposed to extreme heat and pressure to being meticulously unearthed over hours and all the way to finding itself on display at a store. Diamonds are universally coveted for their rarity, sparkle, distinctiveness and eternal beauty. It is these singular qualities that make diamonds so precious to buyers worldwide.