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By Prue Bell

The History Of The Argyle Pink Diamond Mines

03 September 2021

The rarest and most precious of diamonds

Pink Diamonds are amongst the rarest precious items on earth.

That is why they are the most collectible stones right now.

To own a pink diamond is to own a piece of Australian and world history.

“Buying a Pink Diamond is like buying a Pablo Picasso while he was alive… In another decade, the Argyle Pink Diamond will emerge as the new Faberge egg, the thing myths are made of. The value of rarity is the most priceless factor” – THE AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS REVIEW.

90% of the world’s pink diamonds have been discovered in the mines of North Western Australia in the Argyle diamond mines.

 “The Argyle pink diamond story has enthralled throughout the years following the remarkable discovery of the Argyle mine in 1979. The 2020 Argyle Pink Diamonds Tender is a collection of rare earthly treasures, intricate works of art and with a potency of colour that will be keenly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs from around the World”, says Patrick Coppens, general manager of sales and marketing of Rio Tinto.

The Pink Diamond found in the rugged North Western part of Australia has acquired an exceptional status.

The value of pink diamonds

Prices per carat range from around $8,000 through to half a million dollars and even more, because of their rarity and potential lack of availability in the future, due to the closure of the Argyle Mine in the Kimberley region of North Western Australia, where the lion’s share of these beauties have been sourced for around 40 years – up until now. 

The mine ceased production on November 3rd, 2020, having produced over 865 million carats of rough diamonds during its epoch as the world’s leading pink diamond source where around 90% of known pink diamonds have been unearthed. 

The general manager Andrew Wilson said that traditional owners and workers came together at a ceremony to mark the historic milestone, commenting that “Many people have given this business a lot of their years and have loved that journey… but getting to the end, something we’ve focussed on is making sure we finish really well and closing with pride”.

Pink diamonds are the other precious stone which have a special place in our people’s hearts, alongside opals. “I think there’s a real romantic feeling around this business”, said Wilson.

It has been known since the Gold Rushes of the 19th century that modest quantities of diamonds existed in Australia, deposited alluvially. This is when gold or gemstones or other precious metals have come loose from their original location due to weather, erosion and water movement. Then the materials are transported by gravity and water over time and are deposited in a new setting – often creeks and rivers – which is why hopeful ‘tinpans’ search for shiny objects at the edge of these waterways. 

Usually, only small quantities of valuable stones can be won in this fashion, and the original source of the bounty will be sought – which is where mining comes in. 

(The original source of a quantity of gold is called a reef. As far as we know, gold reefs formed on this planet millions of years ago from the explosion of a Supernova which scattered gold dusts (amongst others) into the Milky Way, which eventually condensed in our Solar System and settled into the Earth’s soils.) 

From the 1800's through to today

Diamonds are formed quite differently; they are definitely created from within our Earth.

Deep beneath the surface – from carbon atoms – in intense heat and pressure conditions associated with volcanic activity, these treasures are born, then rise to be revealed. This occurs following ‘Kimberlite’ eruptions, which are small yet dynamic eruptions causing the swift ascent of Kimberlites – which is an igneous rock type, also called ‘blue ground’. When this happens, vertical structures which look like pipes stab their way up through surrounding softer rocks. Diamonds lurk in these pipes. 

Home of the Argyle mine, the Kimberley region, is not named after Kimberlite Pipes! The massive area (twice the size of Victoria and 3 times the size of England!) was given this title in 1879 by a government surveyor, Alexander Forrest – in tribute to the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley.

It is thought to be amongst a handful of the very earliest settled parts of the continent; humans arriving around 45,000 years ago.

Europeans first penetrated the territory in 1837, when an expedition attempted to explore the area but was soon beaten back by hostile conditions and inhabitants.

50 years later explorers went in better prepared, and discovered lands suitable for pastoral industries, and so great swathes of country were taken over by graziers.

Soon after gold was discovered. 

Further south, in the Pilbara region, gold prospectors discovered diamonds, but Western Australia was not thought to contain significant diamond deposits. And so, they were left largely undisturbed for another 75 years. 

Jump forward to the 1970’s, the first pink diamonds in the Kimberley were discovered by a group of geologists. In 1979 a cache of pink diamonds was unearthed in the area which was to become the site of one of Australia’s most famous excavations, the Argyle Mine. Rio Tinto officially began its operation there in 1983.

The mining faced all sorts of challenges due to its remote location, rugged terrain and even thievery. They needed to find new ways to find the treasures. The company pioneered new methods of exploring deposits using x-ray technology and getting geologists in and out using helicopters. 

Soon the scale of the pink diamond deposit became evident and accordingly the size of the operation was supercharged. It quickly grew – from what had begun with a start-up budget of only $100,000 – into a multi-million dollar enterprise.

The Argyle mine became the planet’s biggest producer of coloured diamonds, and its signature pink prize was to seduce diamond lovers and buyers everywhere.

The pink diamond tender

The main diamond centres around the world (Geneva, Antwerp, New York) could not get enough of Argyle’s pink diamonds; they were viewed as highly exotic, potentially finite, and therefore much coveted.

Every year the most valuable and rare are offered for sale at the ‘Argyle Pink Diamond Tender’, which is arguably the most exclusive single sale of diamonds in the world.

Pink diamonds have been stockpiled by various individuals, dealers and institutions globally for many years, so when the Argyle Mine closes, supply will not cease. However, it will not last forever either, so now is the time to invest.

In terms of the location, the process of closing the mine and rehabilitating the site will take years. Dismantling plant and equipment will take months, then a five year close-down and rehabilitation plan will come into effect. Rio Tinto expects to have a presence monitoring the area for around a decade, as traditional owners start to restore the land, by planting native seeds.

General Manager Andrew Wilson said, “Our ultimate aim once the closure is completed, is that we support the traditional custodians of the land and we transfer it over to them,” Mr Wilson said.

In the meantime, as many sightseers have been flocking to the site, to witness the end of one era and transition to next, demand for pink diamonds has grown exponentially. For anyone wanting to own a beautiful example of the pink Australian legend, speak with us today.

Our pink diamond buying guide