It is here that the most precious treasures of nature await discovery.
In the unbearable heat and the harsh cold, in the full sun and in kilometers of underground corridors—in all those places, humans and machines have one goal—to find the most expensive and beautiful stones in the world. In a few decades, the hardships of the miners will go down in history because the diamond deposits will deplete. Nobody believes in the discovery of a new mega-mine anymore, but those which are still operating all the time have a chance to surprise the world. Karowe, Argyle, Mir… let’s take a look at these fascinating places before they become diamond museums.
A big star
Owned by the mining company Lucara Diamonds, Karowe Mine is one of the world’s leading producers of the highest quality large diamonds (above 10.8 ct). The “Noble Stone”, as the name translates from the local language, was launched in 2012 and is one of the most important mining centers in the country, which economy is largely based on diamond production.
Its success was due to a number of factors, including uncompromised maintenance of the highest work standards. As the Lucara group emphasizes, the mine operates in a transparent manner, in accordance with the most stringent international requirements for sustainable development, health and safety of its staff, environmental protection as well as honest and good relations with the local community.
Throughout the years of its operation, Karowe had many triumphant moments, but November 16, 2015 went down in history. On that very day, the second largest diamond in the world was extracted here. The stone, called Lesedi La Rona, is the largest diamond ever discovered in Botswana. The official data published after mining indicated 1,111 ct and dimensions of 65 mm x 56 mm x 40 mm. The white diamond, the size of a tennis ball, has been classified as a lla stone and is now the largest diamond discovered for over 100 years. After cleaning, the weight of Lesedi La Rona was 1,109 ct. No less dazzling is the Constellation diamond mined at the same time. The 813 ct stone was sold for a record amount of over $63 million.
According to official data, since its establishment, Karowe has sold 180 diamonds for over $1 million each and 10 for over $10 million each, making it the undisputed leader in the category of large high class raw diamonds.
It is estimated that the mine in opencast form will operate until 2026. In later years, underground mining is possible. According to Lucara, in 2019 extraction is expected to amount to over 300,000 carats.
Man versus nature
Located in the Far East of Russia, the Mir opencast mine started its activity in 1957 and is still one of the largest craters created by human hands. Its diameter is about 1,200 m and its depth is over 520 m, which puts Mir in the first place among the largest mines in the former USSR. The mine to this day necessitates a ban on helicopter flights in its area due to the air currents forming in this gigantic excavation.
The extremely difficult working conditions in Mir are evidenced not only by the huge size of the mine but also by the Siberian climate and severe frosts exceeding -50C in this area.
The winter season, lasting there for seven months, transforms earth into a rock that is hard to crush, cracks tires and freezes oil in machinery. Daily, the mine was covered overnight to protect valuable equipment from destruction. In the summer months, on the other hand, the soil turned into tons of mud, which in turn threatened to cause landslides. Therefore, some buildings were erected as far as 20 km from the main crater.
With the collapse of the USSR, Alrosa, the Russian giant which is the largest diamond producer in the country, became the owner of the mine. The mine employed 3,600 people and conducted opencast mining until 2004. In the meantime, work has been carried out to launch underground mining. The bottom of the inactive mine was filled with a 45-meter layer of rubble and flooded with water to stabilize the earth. Currently, the activities for the development of the underground mine are suspended until 2024. During this time, work will be carried out in order to determine the level of profitability of possible further production and the safety of works. Alrosa also does not rule out a complete closure of the mine if the results are unsatisfactory.
The largest diamond obtained from the Mir Mine is the dazzling yellow diamond named after the 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This 342.57 ct stone is not only the hallmark of the mine, but also the largest diamond ever mined in Russia. At present, it can be seen on the permanent exhibition in the Kremlin Armory, next to nearly 900 other rough diamonds that the Kremlin collection boasts. (you can read more about the diamonds exhibited in the Kremlin here)
ARGYLE DIAMOND MINE—WESTERN AUSTRALIA
The Kingdom of Pink Diamonds
This Australian mine, owned by the Rio Tinto concern, is the world’s largest producer of champagne and cognac-colored diamonds, but it is famous for producing the most perfect and rare pink diamonds. More than 90% of the world’s supply of pink stones comes from there.
The history of Argyle dates back to the early 1980s when the first attempts were made to evaluate the profitability of mining the deposits discovered and studied here over the years. In 1983, it was finally decided to start mining operations. Two years later, an opencast mine, built in a year and a half for $450 million, was opened. Although initially the quality of the stones mined was relatively low, the wealth and diversity of the Argyle deposits quickly elevated it to the rank of one of the best and largest mines in the world, never to have found an equal in terms of the scale of the extraction of excellent-quality pink diamonds.
In 2013, the mine ended opencast mining and commenced work underground, resulting in approximately 40 km of tunnels. The size of the venture is on par with the extraordinary technological advancement that makes the Argyle underground mine one of the most modern ones in the world.
Since its opening, more than 800 million carats of rough diamonds have been excavated from the mine. It is estimated that average underground mining will amount to more than 20 million carats per year. In 2018, the world could admire 63 new colorful stones mined in Argyle, which was another record in its history. Among them, apart from pink diamonds, there are also red and purple stones. According to official sources, mining operations will continue on the mine’s site at least until 2020.
The presently inactive opencast mine is partly open to the public, who can see the power of Argyle with their own eyes and admire the nature of the eastern part of the Kimberley region. The brown earth that collides with the blue sky here makes this place truly extraordinary. The majesty and beauty of nature on the surface undoubtedly equals the treasures hidden underground.