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The Woman Shaking Up the Diamond Industry

The Woman Shaking Up the Diamond Industry

In the seventies, Gren prospected for copper and rare-earth metals close to Yellowknife, in Canada’s wild Northwest Territories. When Eira, his first baby, turned six, she started becoming a member of him throughout her summer time holidays. Gren and his staff needed to be always on the lookout to insure that little Eira was not eaten by a bear. Like her father, Eira was vivid, curious, and outdoorsy. In school, she deserted a plan to pursue drugs and bought a geology diploma as an alternative. In 1991, when she was twenty-two, Gren requested her to chop quick her post-graduation travels, in Africa, to assist him search for diamonds in Canada.

Eira advised her father, “Dad, there’s no diamonds in Canada—everyone knows that.”

In 1991, the business was nonetheless dominated by De Beers, which bought almost 4 billion dollars’ price of tough diamonds that yr—about eighty per cent of the world provide. Most of that “rough” originated in the firm’s personal mines, in southern Africa. There have been additionally productive diamond mines in Russia and Australia. Canada didn’t function on the diamantaire’s map of the world.

Someone writes about their time on a cruise ship as though they've been marooned on an island.
Cartoon by Harry Bliss and Steve Martin

However, for no less than a decade there had been promising indicators that vital diamond deposits would possibly lie in the far north of the nation. Diamonds have been created billions of years in the past, a whole lot of kilometres under the floor of the earth, when carbon-bearing fluid was fashioned into crystals below intense warmth and strain. Over time, a lot of the stones have been dropped at the floor by subterranean volcanoes. The stays of those eruptions took the type of kimberlite “pipes”—cylinders of diamond-rich ore. Around Kimberley, South Africa, such pipes turned referred to as “blue ground,” on account of their bluish tinge, however in different international locations kimberlite deposits are sometimes a grayish inexperienced.

Finding proof of a pipe is an effective begin to discovering a diamond. In the early nineteen-eighties, a number of geologists, together with some from De Beers, found “indicator minerals” suggesting that such pipes existed in vital numbers in Canada. Among the minerals have been lilac-colored, magnesium-rich garnets—stones, present in soil and rivers, that have been fashioned at the identical time as kimberlite, and that point out the presence of a pipe close by.

In 1991, two geologists, Chuck Fipke and Stu Blusson, used indicator chemistry to find a pipe that later turned referred to as the Ekati mine, close to Lac de Gras, in the Slave Craton, an space about 2 hundred miles northeast of Yellowknife. It is a troublesome setting for exploration; in winter, temperatures usually drop to minus thirty levels Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, the discovery prompted a staking rush, with rival firms claiming floor close to Fipke and Blusson’s web site. By the finish of 1991, Gren Thomas’s small firm, Aber, had staked about one million acres of claims. Other companies staked much more floor.

In the summer time of 1992, Eira Thomas travelled to the area with an exploration staff, taking alongside her northern sled canine, Thor, which was half wolf, to guard the group from bears. The animal was not as useful as Thomas had hoped: when a grizzly approached, the canine whined for its proprietor. On one other event, Thor ran off, and was picked up by a rival exploration staff, sixty miles away, whose members suspected that the canine was a part of a convoluted espionage mission. The rivals despatched Thor, by aircraft, to Yellowknife, slightly than permit Thomas to retrieve the animal in particular person.

That summer time, Aber and different mining firms discovered proof of a number of kimberlite pipes. All of the prospectors have been searching for what is called an “economic” deposit: one wealthy sufficient in diamonds to benefit the huge expense of mining in the desolate panorama of northern Canada. In the spring of 1994, Eira Thomas returned to Lac de Gras, as Aber’s chief geologist. She was significantly desirous about a prospect that lay beneath the ice-covered lake. Drilling vertically into the earth beneath a lake is problematic. In summer time, the ice that the drilling tools rests upon melts. Heavy rigs have to be moved earlier than they sink into the water.

At the time, Aber was in some monetary hassle, and Gren Thomas was negotiating a merger with a bigger agency. Tests of the mineral chemistry of the lake satisfied Eira Thomas wealthy deposit was buried beneath the water. She and her staff drilled for samples, and the outcomes have been promising: the form of kimberlite that augurs a plentiful provide of diamonds. But they hadn’t but recognized an financial pipe.

By late May, 1994, the ice was beginning to soften. The drilling crew wanted to maneuver their tools off the lake. But Thomas, looking for a pattern of kimberlite from a prospect referred to as A154 South, requested the miners to maintain drilling. They labored with water sloshing as much as their knees. On the final potential day of drilling, the staff retrieved a pattern. A two-carat diamond was embedded in a single a part of it. It’s nearly unparalleled to search out an precise diamond inside a core—a tiny pattern of the whole materials in a pipe. As quickly as Thomas and the Aber staff noticed the glittering stone, which was the measurement of an M&M, they knew they’d struck pay dust. That night time, Thomas slept with the diamond below her pillow. She then flew to Vancouver. When she met together with her father, she stated nothing, and easily confirmed him the glowing rock in her hand.

“Is this for real?” Gren stated.

The pipes that Eira Thomas found turned certainly one of the world’s richest diamond mines. By 2016, the deposit, now referred to as Diavik, had produced greater than 100 million carats. After the Thomases’ breakthrough, different companies developed their very own property in Canada. Within a decade, Canada was producing sixteen per cent of the world’s provide of gem-quality stones by quantity, and Eira was referred to as the Queen of Diamonds. (Gren, who nonetheless works in the enterprise, and retains his Welsh accent, says that he now asks Eira for recommendation, slightly than the different manner round.) The Canadian discoveries have been a part of a collection of occasions in the nineties that loosened De Beers’s stranglehold on the business.

After that first success, Thomas and McLeod-Seltzer, who met by a mutual good friend, fashioned a brand new firm, Stornoway, which went on to develop Quebec’s first diamond mine, Renard. But they longed to mine diamonds in southern Africa—significantly in Botswana, a secure democracy the place the stones are plentiful and of top quality. Thomas remembers that Stornoway’s principally North American backers have been cautious about investing, believing that southern Africa was a high-risk space. So, in 2007, she and McLeod-Seltzer fashioned Lucara with Lukas Lundin, and started to lift cash for an African diamond play.

Lucara had a bumpy begin: it bid unsuccessfully on a number of websites. Then, in 2009, a web site referred to as AK6, about an hour’s flight north of Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, turned out there. AK6 was close to a famously productive diamond mine referred to as Orapa. De Beers had found AK6 in the seventies however had not developed it, concluding that it might price an excessive amount of cash to extract too few diamonds. When Lucara’s staff examined samples that had been extracted in the seventies, they observed proof that many diamonds had been broken in the sampling course of, and that De Beers’s statistical fashions had discounted these bigger, damaged stones.

Hand covered with gloves person holding diamond
Nobody in the Red Zone ever touches a diamond with a unadorned hand. There are two sorting rooms, by which staff arrange the mine’s produce by measurement and form, utilizing gloves affixed to sealed and glass-fronted cupboards.Photograph by Max Pinckers for The New Yorker

William Lamb, a lean, energetic South African, had been appointed the normal supervisor of Lucara. Lamb and his staff believed that the much less refined processing strategies of the seventies had crushed any stone bigger than ten millimetres in width. Lucara’s geologists knew from finding out the AK6 samples that bigger diamonds existed in the deposit, and so they puzzled whether or not the mine is perhaps a very good funding in spite of everything.

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