Argyle Diamond Buying Guide – The Demise of a Great Artist
Rio Tinto’s Argyle diamond mine, also known as the Argyle AK1 Pipe, is found in the north of the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. It is famously known for supplying 90% of the world’s pink diamond supply. As mining operations come to an end the industry is going to feel this loss. Akin to the world losing an artist who will never produce another great work of art, we will never again anticipate the arrival of a new suite of Argyle fancy colored diamonds. This guide will attempt to explain the differences between natural fancy pink diamonds and Argyle pink diamonds.
As natural fancy colored diamonds go, each is incredibly
unique, rare, and valuable. But it was not until the Argyle began consistently
producing vibrant colored diamonds into the market that the global population
started craving them. Before the Argyle contributed to the global supply, pinks
were incredibly rare and hard to come by. Pink is by far the most popular and in
highest demand globally of natural fancy diamond colors, and Argyle pinks have
commanded the highest price points consistently over the past 40 years.
What Makes Argyle Pinks Different?
The pinks that emerged from this deposit display a superior saturation of color when compared to pinks found elsewhere. Unlike the faded pinks found elsewhere around the globe, these stones display a bubblegum-like vibrancy that is instantly recognizable to many. This superior saturation of color is thanks to the process by which the stones are formed, at least that is what the geologists think. The accepted theory is that this deposit was formed deeper inside of the Earth’s mantle than most diamonds. Therefore, the amount of force and pressure was greater than normally needed to push these stones closer to the surface, to a depth where they could be mined.
The color may also be some consequence that the Argyle pipe
is the first successful commercial diamond mine which found diamonds inside of
Lamproite, a volcanic rock that is like Kimberlite. Some theorize, though
research is inconclusive, that this type of host rock plays a part in why the
Argyle produces pink diamonds in small sizes and at elevated quantities. The
average size of stones mined are smaller than expected, most exit the mine at
around 0.10 carat.
This may also explain why many believe that Argyle diamonds
are harder and denser than diamonds from other origins. The additional stress
placed on the diamond seedlings was enough to cause the pink color.
Whereas most colored diamonds attain their color from impurities, pinks are
only made by duress inside of the crystal structure at the atomic level due to
amazing amounts of heat and pressure.
The additional stress inside of the stone is noticeable to
diamond cutters who are accustomed to working with this material. They often
compare cutting colorless diamonds to Argyle pinks as working on butter versus
knots of wood. The diamonds are harder to polish and are more delicate than
other varieties of diamond material. Another interesting feature is that 70% of
diamonds that come from the mine exhibit some degree of blue fluorescence when
viewed under ultraviolet light.
The Argyle has excelled in creating their own color grading
system specific to the range of material they provide. Their color chart
includes a color classification system like that used by the Gemological
Institute of America (GIA) which includes a color hue designation combined with
a grade for intensity of color. The Argyle pink diamonds are divided into 4
pink” (PP), “pink
rose” (PR), “pink”
(P), and “pink
champagne” (PC). Once the color designation is
assigned each stone receives a number value between 1 – 9 to convey the
intensity of color, 1 being the highest and 9 being the lowest. This 1 – 9
system is true for purplish pink, pink, and pink rose, but pink champagne only
has a 1 – 3 variation.
It is common to receive both a diamond grading report from
GIA and The Argyle when purchasing
and important not to be confused by the separate color systems. GIA might grade
as a “Fancy Intense Pink” while The Argyle system reads
“P3”. Argyle diamonds come with their own certificate, a color grading report,
and a laser inscription on all stones above 0.08 carat.
Fancy colored Argyle diamonds are considered so valuable
that the mine reserves 40 to 60 of its finest discoveries each year to auction
them off to a private group of about 150 diamond buyers. This exclusive annual
event is called the Argyle Diamond Tender. There will only be one more event in
2021 to release the last exclusive suite of diamonds unearthed during the final
year of production.
Life After the Argyle
Since its opening in 1983, The Argyle has supplied the world
with an incredible 865 million carats of natural diamond material. However,
only 5% of that number are gem quality. The rest fall into industrial grade
diamonds that find their final place on a worker’s saw blade or drill bit
instead of meticulously set into a piece of jewelry. Inside of that 5%, 80% are
some variation of a brown diamond, 15% are yellow hues, 4% are colorless
diamonds, and 1% share the spotlight in pink, red, blue, and violet hues.
Stones that weigh more than 0.50 carat are so rare that they only find a few
each year. The whole year’s production would fit in the palm of your hand.
We can pretend that annual production is even across each
year to add some context to the above numbers; 865 million carats over 37 years
works out to be an annual production of 432,500 carats of Argyle pink, red,
blue, and violet hue rough diamond material. Rough is a term used for all gem mined material before any
finishing process of facets or polishing to create the final gemstone or
diamond product is performed. Once the finishing process is completed on a
natural diamond there is waste product. The diamond dust that was polished away
to create each strategic facet or natural features that would detract from the
durability or beauty of the finished diamond is removed. Depending on the
shape, size, and inclusions of the stone it could lose much of its weight. Let
us conservatively say 1/3 of the material is waste product, that means that the
world’s largest pink diamond supplier has only introduced a little over ¼ of a
million carats (288,333.33) of natural fancy pink, red, blue, and violet
colored diamonds to the world in 37 years of operation. That means each year
the market grew by about 8,000 carats from this supply alone, and now that the
party is over, we will be lucky to see 800 carats introduced from various
sources around the planet annually. Even smaller is the amount of those gem
quality stones that feature the pink hues with a saturation of color that would
rival what Argyle pinks are treasured for.
It is unlikely that global supply would be affected if any
colorless diamond mine closes, however you can be certain that the closing of
this producer is going to be felt throughout the industry and bring higher
values to those that can trace their origin back to the Argyle diamond mine.
Building a Bright Future
Rio Tinto has always made a commitment to mining socially
and environmentally responsibly, it will be interesting to see how they
facilitate the closing of this mine. They pride themselves on operating with
closure in mind. In 2017, their Kelian gold mine in Indonesia was transformed
with aid from the Indonesian government and the World Wildlife Fund into a
sanctuary for the highly endangered Sumatran Rhinoceros. Part of the site has
been designated a Protection Forest and is being used for housing and breeding,
with the aim of eventually releasing them into the wild.
Rio Tinto’s plans for the Argyle mine include working with
the Australian government to support entrepreneurship opportunities to those
communities that have relied on the infrastructure created by the mine over the
past 40 years. The plan is to provide career support and training to the
workforce as operations slow down. They also work with indigenous groups to
ensure that the land is repaired and looked after for future generations, as
well as ensuring that their presence will lead to sustainable opportunities
once they have left.