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Myths Vs. Realities

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What are the facts in the story about the mega diamond field in Russia? Are there any diamonds, or is this a myth? And De Beers, is it the same old company, or are the changes real?

A local TV gossip program has a section called “So True/Totally Not.” In it, they confirm or refute gossip stories about celebrities. I was reminded of the segment because we keep getting questions about the report of a mega-diamond resource supposedly found in Russia’s frozen Siberia region.

It is interesting, and occasionally sad, to see how a news story develops. In this case, a reporter who probably does not know a whole lot about minerals, diamonds or mining, but who was likely under a tight submission deadline, wrote a sensational story. The reporter did not understand the terms, did not know the full story and just grabbed some juicy bits and ran with it.

In journalism, the first report tends to frame the story for those that follow, and this one was no different. The general press, economic journalists, trade sites and blogs galore simply re-filed the story, without checking the facts, even though clues to the problems are found in the original story. For example, the “diamonds” are harder than “regular” diamonds.

Most high-school graduates would know that the structure of a substance is a basic part of its definition. Alter it and it’s a different substance, in this case a different mineral.

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&#8220 A typical diamond mine
has between 0.5 carats to
2 carat per tonne (p/t)
to be economical. &#8221

Alrosa called the found mineral “Impactite,” a term used to describe rock created by the impact of a meteorite when it hits the earth. According to Chaim Even-Zohar, this is actually Lonsdaleite, also known as hexagonal diamond, a carbon that has a crystal structure, like a diamond.

Lonsdaleite has a Mohs hardness of 7-8, compared to a diamond’s 10, but this is attributed to impurities and imperfections found in its natural state. A simulate created in a lab (yes, diamonds are not the only mineral with a lab stepbrother) has been found to be 58 percent harder than diamond. This explains the ‘harder than diamond’ part of the report.

Conclusion: “Totally Not.” Even as an industrial quality resource, this is a Totally Not. Mining is a very cash intensive operation. Many diamond (real diamond) resources have been found and abandoned because they were not economically feasible, meaning that the revenue from the goods would not cover the cost of mining.

A typical diamond mine has between 0.5 carats to 2 carat per tonne (p/t) to be economical. In Siberia, with its frozen ground, the cost of mapping, exploring, digging, creating a separation facility, security, etc., would not be covered by a $2 per carat resource, the price of industrial goods. At a mining cost of +$100 p/t, this find will need to have an unimaginable 50 carats p/t to scratch the bottom end of breaking even. Not going to happen, and therefore, impact on diamond industry – Zip!

Next time you hear someone saying there are as much diamonds as sand – please inform them of the facts.

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De Beers Changing Direction

The news that Nicky Oppenheimer decided to sell his family’s stake in De Beers has been viewed as an end of an era. Today, after the conclusion of the transaction, a new era has begun. An Oppenheimer is no longer chair of the company, it is the “outsider” CEO of Anglo American, Cynthia Carroll, a woman, no less.

The news of her appointment followed an internal announcement that the company is realigning its business. CEO Philippe Mellier, another top executive brought in from outside the diamond industry, is acknowledging that the days when the rough diamond business was a supplier-driven market have ended. Recognizing the new era of a demand-driven market, he is now interested in putting customers first. From a De Beers’ perspective, this means consumers, but before that Sightholders – De Beers own customers.

The recent demand by Sightholders to lower prices and supply less rough diamonds may have had its affect, and now the company is saying that the consumer is at the top the pipeline.

In practical terms, this means that beyond a new logo, company names (DTC may be renamed “De Beers Group Sightholders Sales”) and DTC Sightholders becoming “De Beers Group Sightholders”, real changes in the market will be met with a far greater willingness on the part of De Beers to adjust accordingly. The message is that Sightholders stuck with a large stock of polished with limited demand and falling prices will find a much more receptive ear at De Beers.

Conclusion: “So True.” Although yet to be implemented – and Mellier, as well as DTC CEO Varda Shine, are stating that this is a long-term, gradual process – the new management, together with Anglo American’s new firm grip on the company, certainly means corporate changes ahead. The sales model is one thing that currently is not expected to change, so the concerns of a shift to a tender system are misplaced.

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