Every single day, for over eight years, multiple times a day, I’ve been posting images, videos, and reels and on my social media accounts. I have almost 7,000 posts online, with a single common denominator – they all feature natural diamonds! And yet…until very recently, I had never visited the source, an operational diamond mine, functioning to extract these rare gems from the earth, and bring them a step closer to being able to place them on your finger. So you can imagine my excitement when Grant Mobley from the Natural Diamonds Council
asked if I had any interest in visiting a mine. Well yes Grant. I think so! At that point, Grant had not revealed which mine we could potentially visit, nor which country it was in. Truth be told, there is nowhere I would not have traveled to, that’s how excited I was at the thought of making this lifelong dream of mine - visiting a diamond mine - turn into reality!
Meetings took place in Las Vegas during Jewelry Week with Clara Diamond Solutions, the technology arm of Lucara Diamonds, and JDS Group of Companies, and before you could blink these diamond boss ladies had pulled together a trip to Canada's Northwest territories to visit Ekati diamond mine, which is owned and managed by Arctic Canadian Diamond Company. Let’s have a look at the trip by numbers:
3rd largest producer in the world: Canada is the world’s third largest producer of rough diamonds both by volume and carats
18.6 million carats rough valued $2.25 Billion: size of Canada's Diamond exports in 2019 (NRCAN)
552.74 Carats: largest diamond found in NWT at the Diavik mine.
86 million carats have been produced, more than 90 million tons of ore has been processes, and more than 600 million tons of rock have been mined at EKATI since 1998.
3 visitors came along for the trip – Grant Mobley (Natural Diamond Council) Sam Karmel (Icerock Diamonds) and me!
7 companies collaborated to get us there: Lucara Diamonds, Arctic Canadian Diamond Company, Clara Diamond Solutions, JDS Group of Companies, Buffalo Airways, Diamonds de Canada.
10 flights in three days: what it took to get this Miami girl all the way there!
Now that you understand the scale of this trip, lets dive into the details. We all came together in Vancouver for dinner the night before we departed to the Northwest Territories, and it was there that I met industry legend Eira Thomas for the first time. An icon in the industry, Eira is not only CEO of Lucara Diamonds, but together with her father, Gren Thomas, Canadian geologist Eira is credited with leading the team that discovered Diavik, Canada's second diamond mine. Co founder of Lucara, Catherine McLeod Selzer was also at dinner, as was Tanuja Skerlec of Clara Diamond Solutions.
Despite my flying in from Miami, Grant from NYC, and Sam from Tel Aviv, the three of us were so excited to be in the presence of these industry greats, and had a wonderful evening, filled with anticipation for the following day. At 7am the following day we were wheels up, comfortably ensconced in the JDS Group jet, heading to Yellowknife.
At Yellowknife we transferred to a smaller Buffalo Airways plane to be able to land on the gravel runway at Ekati. Finally…we had arrived!
From the moment we arrived, to be warmly welcomed by Dr Rory Moore President and CEO of Arctic Canadian Diamond Company (and a fellow South African!), to the moment we left, Grant, Sam and I were in a sate of absolute amazement at all we were seeing. Despite our collective thirty plus years of being in the diamond industry, nothing could prepare us for the sheer scale and size of the operation. The most profound observation was made by Grant, who observed that after seeing all this, he is surprised that diamonds don’t cost a whole lot more! I had several “AHA” moments, but for brevity sake, I will try capture the key ones, in no particular order.
1. Scale: the operation is enormous. Set in the remote Northwest Territories, we could travel for miles by air, without seeing any sign of human life below us. The Ekati operation is a mini city – full gym, medical facilities, every needed to meet the physiological and psychological needs of over 1,000 employees working in a remote area. Walking around the plant, seeing the size of the equipment and machinery required leaves you feeling small and insignificant. Can you believe that that one ton of ore yields approximately one carat in rough diamonds? Let that sink in for a moment…and imagine the mining process, moving dirt. Excavating Ore. Transporting ore to the facility to be sorted. Extracting one carat from one ton of ore! Mind boggling!
2. Environment: Ekati is located on one of Canada’s most pristine ecosystems, The Arctic Tundra, means that preserving the environment and minimizing the operational footprint is
of utmost importance to Arctic Canadian Diamond Company. Better understanding the respect for the land was one of my favorite learning during this trip. The land itself is studied for months to establish animal migration patterns prior o an mining, to ensure there is conflict. Proactive land reclamation initiatives are an ongoing priority. Inactive mines are restored to their pre-mining state. Lakes are refilled. All traces of mining activities vanish, at no small cost to the company (an estimated $30,000,000 is set aside annually for land reclamation activities. Further evidence of the commitment to the environment and it’s natural inhabitants were abundantly apparent while we were there. We spotted a grizzly bear roaming free, a mama wolf with four cubs, foxes, and Grant recognized several flying species which I am unable to name!
3. Canadian Diamond Industry: I knew little about the Canadian diamond industry. Being South African, I was always a little snobbish about Southern African diamonds being the best in the world, But I am pleased to say that assumptions has been challenged and laid to rest. Canadian diamonds are produced under one of the most stringent, transparent, and environmentally responsible regulatory regimes in the world. Initiatives launched by the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) such as the TSM (Towards Sustainable Mining) project means you are able to buy Canadian diamonds with absolute peace of mine – knowing they are conflict free, and that their providence has been tracked from mine to market. In fact, while there we visited Diamonds de Canada, a cutting and polishing operation in Yellowknife that cuts many of the diamonds found in the area, using innovative technology.
4. People: while Ekati mine is rightfully proud of its track record in apprenticeship programs,
programs, and employing indigenous locals, what really struck me was feeling of pride I encountered among all I met there. Whether it was mechanics working on repairing ginormous earth moving equipment, the medics explaining their emergency procedures (thankfully not deployed very regularly!), or the helicopter pilot that flew us out to the mines, every single person spoke with immense pride about the activities at Ekati. In fact, many employees work a two week on/two week off shift system, so that they have time to go back and be with their families, and they spoke about how they look forward to returning to Ekati when they are away. Of course, winters are brutal…but I sensed a genuine love for what they do among everyone I encountered.
5. The Mines: Its difficult to describe the motions I felt when flying over the mines. Awe. Disbelief. Surreal. It’s so hard to reconcile the beautiful, sparkly diamonds I share on TheDiamondsGirl with the tons of ore below us. That nature creates such miracles over millions of years, that man then discovers and mines these deposits, and finally that we can refine them into objects of everlasting beauty. And they are down there – miles beneath the surface of the earth. How can anything created in a laboratory over six weeks ever compare with such a miracle?
Elated and on a high, we boarded our Buffalo Air flight back to Yellowknife, to join many of the locals – the OG explorers, miners, diamantaires for dinner, and then on to a local bar to enjoy live music and dancing. It was a superb way to end a magical day, and despite it being long day (especially as the sun doesn’t set this far North!) we were all energized and on a natural high! The next morning, we woke bright and early, and visited the Diamonds de Canada cutting and polishing factory, where I saw some of the most innovative diamond cutting machinery inn the world at work. Diamonds de Canada have been awarded the exclusive right to bring back the iconic Polar Bear trademark back to the industry, and the trademark will be used only for diamonds that are not just mined in one of the NWT’s three producers, but also cut and polished there. From there we visited the NWT Diamond and Jewellery Center, a wealth of information about all things diamond related in the NWT, and then, sadly, it was time to embark upon our journey home.
A whirlwind 48 hours that will have left an everlasting impression on every one of us who had the honor of visiting this incredible part of our world, and the privilege of meeting so many industry greats. Massive thank you to all who managed to make this dream come true – especially Tanuja from Clara, and Kaeli and Hannah from JDS. We are forever thankful!