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 categories: “purplish 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 the diamond 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.