From Canada to Antwerp, diamond explorers, miners and traders serve a thriving market
by Greg Klein
For giant miners and junior explorers alike, diamonds upheld their market lustre in 2013 and show further encouragement this year. So it wasn’t quite an industry-wide shock when one record-shattering sale fell through. A group of investors fronted by New York diamond cutter Isaac Wolf defaulted on last November’s $83.2-million bid for the Pink Star, Sotheby’s revealed late last month. Now the auctioneer’s out the $60 million guaranteed to the anonymous seller. But the company retains the stone, to which it attributes an “inventory” value of $72 million. Meanwhile, undeterred by the caprice of the super-rich, efforts continue to find, mine and market opulence for the affluent.
This month Rio Tinto NYE:RIO heads to Antwerp and Israel for the company’s first rough diamond tender of 2014. Rio says this offer of 124 lots “showcases a unique combination of white and fancy-coloured rough diamonds” from its mines in Australia, the Northwest Territories and Zimbabwe. Among notable stones from the NWT’s Diavik, Rio’s peddling a 70-carat white diamond, several purple diamonds and some “fancy and intense” yellow diamonds.
Once pulled out of the ground, about 80% of the world’s diamonds go to Antwerp, the undisputed capital of global trade since the 15th century. The city handles about $11.2 billion worth of rough stones annually, out of a global total of $14.2 billion, according to the Antwerp World Diamond Centre. Vying for a piece of the action are some 1,850 local companies crowded into their own fabled district with “Flemish, Orthodox Jewish and Indian diamantaires working alongside manufacturers, rough and polished dealers, buyers and services providers from almost every country in which diamonds are mined, processed, bought and sold.”
The centre characterized last January as an “excellent 2014 kick-off” in which the value of exports jumped 27.7% and imports 21% over the same month last year. Exports showed “an all-around increase, principally to the usual consumer markets India, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong.”
Polished diamonds picked up too. January exports improved 9.69% and imports 13.79% in value over the same month in 2013.
Although the stones’ esthetic vagaries complicate matters, diamond prices remained relatively stable last year, avoiding the declines seen in precious metals. Giants did well, with Rio reporting a 15% increase in diamond revenue over 2012. De Beers proclaimed 2013 “a strong year of growth” for its Forevermark diamond brand, “driven predominantly by continued consumer demand in core markets, China, U.S., India and Japan.” Many Canadian-listed juniors and mid-tiers rose well above the malaise suffered by their counterparts in other commodities.
Among activity within Canada, Kennady Diamonds TSXV:KDI continues working towards a maiden resource for its eponymous project in the NWT. Infill drilling began last week, according to a March 6 statement, part of a plan to better define the Kelvin kimberlite body prior to a mini-bulk sample of 25 to 30 tonnes. Last year a 4.3-tonne sample from Kelvin showed 5.38 carats per tonne with the three largest diamonds comprising “a 2.48-carat off-white transparent octahedral, 1.06-carat off-white broken aggregate and a 0.9-carat off-white transparent irregular,” Kennady stated.
The March 6 update also reported an amended exploration agreement with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation and receipt of a five-year land use permit and seven-year water licence.
The same day Shore Gold TSX:SGF announced a “target for further exploration” for its central Saskatchewan properties. A TFFE uses exploration data to disclose potential quantity and grade that might not be realized in an eventual resource estimate. On that basis, Shore’s TFFE for seven kimberlites “is estimated to include between 983 million and 1.17 billion tonnes of kimberlite containing between 52 and 90 million carats.”
The seven kimberlites spread over two properties, Shore’s wholly-owned Star-Orion South project and the adjacent Fort à la Corne, a joint venture shared 67%/33% between Shore and Newmont Mining Corp of Canada TSX:NMC.
A 2011 feasibility study showed a probable reserve for the Star and Orion South deposits:
- Star: 165.89 million tonnes averaging 12.3 carats per hundred tonnes for 20.386 million carats of diamonds
- Orion South: 113.09 million tonnes averaging 12.4 cpht for 13.994 million carats
- Total: 278.98 million tonnes averaging 12.3 cpht for 34.38 million carats
The two deposits also have inferred resources totalling 9.1 million carats.
In other Canadian diamond activity, North Arrow Minerals TSXV:NAR closed a $5-million private placement late last month to fund three projects, two of them 80% options with Stornoway Diamond TSX:SWY. The Qilalugaq property in Nunavut is slated for a 1,500-tonne bulk sample and an Antwerp valuation next summer. Pikoo, a Saskatchewan project heralded for its diamond discovery in November, is expected to undergo till sampling this year to seek out additional kimberlites.
On the earlier-stage Redemption project in the NWT, North Arrow holds a 55% option with Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD. This year’s plans include till sampling and geophysics at the 11,493-hectare project, 32 kilometres from the Ekati mine and 47 from the Diavik mine.
Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC looms large in the region, holding an 80% interest in Ekati, 58.8% of the mine’s Buffer zone and 40% of Diavik. Chuck Fipke and Stewart Blusson, two pioneers of Canadian diamond exploration, each hold 10% of Ekati, while Rio holds 60% of Diavik. Dominion ranks fourth worldwide for diamond production by value.
An Antwerp report that came through in late February evaluated a 1,013.5-carat parcel of commercial-size stones for Peregrine Diamonds TSX:PGD. Taken from the CH-6 kimberlite pipe in Nunavut, the gems were priced at an average of $213 per carat for a total of $215,605. Peregrine has a resource scheduled for CH-6 by the end of Q2.
The valuation was conducted by WWW International Diamond Consultants, a company that’s familiar with Canadian projects and currently evaluating diamonds for Gahcho Kué in the NWT. JV partners De Beers (51%) and Mountain Province Diamonds TSX:MPV (49%) plan to use the data in a feasibility update scheduled for release by the end of March. Gahcho Kué’s expected to become Canada’s next diamond mine.