Freakish fluke that 187-carat diamond pulled from Canada’s Arctic ice was ever found

, Crisis

Rare diamonds are hot right now, but Foxfire found in Canada’s Diavik mine is a ‘really rare find’ says miner.

Even in the world of rare stones, Foxfire is a freak.

It was buried in a place where big gem-quality diamonds aren’t supposed to exist. A Rio Tinto Group ore processor was configured to discard it. And what saved the diamond’s 187.7 carats from being pulverized was a fluke: Its unusual, elongated shape allowed it to slip sideways through a filtering screen.

“It really is a miracle that it was found,” said Alan Davies, chief executive officer of diamonds and minerals for Rio Tinto, the operator of Canada’s Diavik mine, Foxfire’s former home. “It’s a rare find, a really rare find.”

AFP PHOTO / Lucara Diamond Corporation

That’s the company’s marketing line as it shows Foxfire to prospective suitors on a worldwide tour and promotes it as the largest gem-quality diamond ever found in North America. Luckily for Rio Tinto, rare diamonds are hot, much hotter than bog-standard rough stones. Sales of those fell 18 per cent last year, while their uncommon cousins rack up records. Lucara Diamond Corp. just sold an 813-carat jewel named the Constellation for US$63 million, making it the most expensive of its kind — $77,649 a carat. Next month, Sotheby’s will offer one that could fetch more, the Lesedi la Rona, which at 1,109 carats is the size of a tennis ball.

“There’s a lot of latent demand for good quality that’s large,” said Geordie Mark, an analyst at Haywood Securities Inc. in Vancouver. “The larger you go, the better pricing protection you have, simply because of rarity.”

Supplied

Foxfire may be less than a third the size of the Constellation, which like the Lesedi la Rona hails from the Lucara mine in Botswana, but Davies said he’s banking on its back-story capturing imaginations. “The provenance is just superb.”

Named for an aboriginal description of the Northern Lights — roughly translated to an undulating fox’s tail — Foxfire escaped being crushed 130 miles (210 kilometres) south of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. The Diavik mine is remote, surrounded by rocks and too many lakes to count, with caribou and grizzly bears the nearest neighbours. In winter, daylight lasts fewer than six hours and the temperature can drop to minus 50 Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit). Approaching from the air, the Ice Road leading to the mine appears as a turquoise ribbon snaking across tundra and semi-frozen water. It’s been unseasonably warm in Canada’s north and this year the road was only open for eight weeks. The only other way in is from the sky.

Diavik exists because molten rock called kimberlite forced its way 100 miles up through cracks in the Earth 60 million years ago and erupted miles into the air, scattering diamonds in all directions. Over time, the stones were pushed back down into the volcanic pipes, which were scoured by glaciers and eventually topped with water. Foxfire was hiding where most such gems in the Northwest Territories lurk: beneath a lake.

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