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Argyle Muse and Argyle Alpha, the largest vivid pink and red diamonds ever shown in the collection. Image credit: Rio Tinto
Argyle Muse and Argyle Alpha, the largest vivid pink and red diamonds ever shown in the collection. Image credit: Rio Tinto

Thinking Pink: Sunset versus sunrise

One of the world’s most amazing diamond mines is set to close at the same time the diamond industry is in upheaval.

Rio Tinto’s Argyle Mine, located in remote Western Australia about 2,600km from Perth – and billed as the ‘world’s biggest’ mine – will cease production next year. First established in 1983, the mine became famous for high quality ‘pinks’ and ‘reds’.

Argyle is responsible for producing about 90 per cent of the pink diamonds on the market. The mine has had a fascinating history, and not just because of its stones. In the 1990s, Argyle decided to challenge the might of De Beers and was, eventually, the catalyst for the collapse of De Beers’ diamond supply monopoly.

Today, Argyle is an internationally recognised brand, one that garners the maximum premium for its product. The Australian mine is not the only source of pink stones, but it is recognised as the best – without equal.

While the two are unrelated, it is an interesting coincidence that Argyle’s imminent closure (sunset) is happening at the same time the synthetic diamond market is gaining traction (sunrise), although the latter still represents just two per cent of all diamond sales.

Indeed, De Beers helped kickstart consumer attention on man-made diamonds when it launched Lightbox last year, a collection of so-called ‘laboratory-grown’ diamonds. The only surprise about the diamond behemoth’s move was its timing; many people wondered why it took so long.

However, what really threw the cat among the pigeons was the fact that it introduced a linear pricing model; a quarter-carat stone retails at US$200, a half-carat US$400, and US$800 for a one-carat. It makes sense, after all: they are man-made and quality can be controlled.

"In the 1990s, Argyle decided to challenge the might of De Beers and was, eventually, the catalyst for the collapse of De Beers’ diamond supply monopoly"

In addition, De Beers’ ‘laboratory-grown’ diamonds do not undergo grading, further strengthening the view that the quality/ grading variance inherent in natural stones – and for which consumers pay varying prices – further strengthens the argument that quality can be controlled during the manufacturing process just like in any other factory.

The company’s position is simple: one lab-grown diamond is no better or worse than any other in the line-up. Another fair point, however, in order to create a sizeable market niche for man-made stones, many other manufacturers are partaking in a good old-fashioned land grab.

While the mined diamond industry has been held accountable for its practices and ethics for decades, and rightly so, the man-made market has been enjoying a period of unquestioning media coverage – often by consumer media – and celebrities ready to accept any claim made by the many so-called ‘eco-friendly’ brands.

Their claims about ‘lab-grown’ diamonds having superior sustainability and lesser environmental impacts are too often unchallenged. For a start, because something is sustainable doesn’t make it good, in a similar way that a natural or organic product is not automatically good for you.

Swallow some ‘natural’ arsenic or eat a raw potato and see what happens!

Likewise, the claim that man-made diamonds are sustainable, in the sense that they avoid the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance, is highly questionable given the natural resources – that is, fossil fuels – used to run these factories.

And let’s be clear, these diamonds are manufactured under factory-like processes – unlike the impression that the name ‘laboratory-grown’ conjures up.

So, putting aside all the science and nomenclature, the eco-friendly claims, marketing jargon and snake oil salesmen, can anyone rightfully argue that you can compare a one-carat pink diamond, mined from the remarkable red earth in remote outback Australia and whose colour origin is a still a mystery today, to a one-carat synthetic pink diamond bombarded with radiation in a De Beers factory?

If you would like to try, I have a bridge for sale in Sydney!











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Sunday, 18 August, 2019 12:34am
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