When it comes to a remarkable mineral discovery in Australia, the search for the Argyle Diamond Mine in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia stands out. The discovery of the Argyle Diamond Mine was unparalleled in every aspect of the project.
Episode 115 of Samso Insights is all about Ewen Tyler and how he narrates a discovery of a lifetime.
Ewen Tyler is the man who is credited as the "Father of the Argyle Diamond Mine". I will have to say that as much as all Discovery Journeys is a team game, there had to be a driver and a man to take the heat.
The diamond project in Australia was not only the largest and highest quality, but also marked a significant milestone as the first major diamond deposit discovery outside the De Beers cartel and the Russian Federation.
A History of the Argyle Diamond Mine
The Argyle Diamond Mine (Figure 1) was a diamond mine located in the East Kimberley region in the remote north of Western Australia. Argyle was at times the largest diamond producer in the world by volume (14 million carats in 2018), although the proportion of gem-quality diamonds was low. It was the only known significant source of pink and red diamonds (producing over 90% of the world's supply), and additionally provided a large proportion of other naturally coloured diamonds, including champagne, cognac, and rare blue diamonds.
Mining operations ceased in November 2020, after 37 years of operations and producing more than 865 million carats of rough diamonds. Mine operator Rio Tinto plans to decommission the mine and rehabilitate the site at least through 2025.
The Argyle diamond mine is also notable for being the first successful commercial diamond mine exploiting a volcanic pipe of lamproite, rather than the more usual kimberlite pipe; much earlier attempts to mine diamonds from a lamproite pipe in Arkansas, United States, were commercially unsuccessful. The Argyle mine is owned by the Rio Tinto Group, a diversified mining company that also owns the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada and the Murowa diamond mine in Zimbabwe.
My Fascination for Diamonds and Diamond Exploration
This episode of Samso Insights will be remembered as one of my favorites. It was a true privilege to have the opportunity to hear Ewen Tyler's remarkable story. His ability to persevere in the search for a diamond source is truly extraordinary. I have been fascinated by diamond exploration since my time working on my Honours Thesis at the University of Western Australia.
In fact, my interest in gems predates my university experience. As Ewen eloquently stated, "Only Fools Will Explore for Diamonds." This sentiment is shared by those who have experienced the challenges and hardships of diamond exploration. It is safe to say that only passionate explorers can truly appreciate the immense difficulties faced by diamond explorers, often with little to no reward.
Sit back and prepare to be captivated by one of the most compelling tales of persistence and gamesmanship in the pursuit of a "potential" diamond find.
This interview has largely been guided by Stuart Kells' book, "Argyle - The Impossible Story of Australian Diamonds" shedding light on the previously unknown business aspects of the Olympic Dam discovery. Kells' narrative provides invaluable insights into the boardroom dynamics that shaped this remarkable journey.
Purchase the book on our Amazon Affiliate link:
Today, the diamond exploration industry is virtually non-existent, with only one noteworthy active company remaining. The focus has shifted to existing miners, as the cost of exploration has become prohibitively high. In the realm of mineral exploration, the risk-reward ratios are no longer worth discussing.
The story of Argyle is inspired by the renowned pink diamond, but as Ewen Tyler explains, these stones were not initially considered. The success of Argyle lies in its remarkable marketing efforts, which effectively conveyed the value of the stones and made the mining process viable.
In my view, nothing surpasses the beauty of a well-coloured stone (Figure 2). While some may argue that a high-quality white stone is superior, a truly stunning stone is one that makes a statement. Its value lies in the story it tells and the history it carries. By watching this interview, you will understand that the value of the Argyle stones was primarily derived from the captivating Argyle story.
00:01:00 The Ewen Tyler Story - The beginning
00:13:02 Rex Prider Factor
00:14:46 Start of the search for diamonds in Australia
00:17:21 Introduction of Rio Tinto
00:18:22 Path to Ellendale
00:20:14 Business of Ellendale
00:20:52 Discovery of diamonds in Smoke Creek
00:21:25 Bringing context into the search area
00:22:16 Team Argyle
00:24:41 Arrangement with the Western Australian Government
00:28:27 The Rio Tinto Lifeline
00:29:42 Early signs of the discovery of Argyle
00:31:34 Waiting Game - The Process and The Secrecy Game
00:33:53 Ewen earned the title of The Father of Argyle Diamond Mine
00:37:02 Arriving at Argyle
00:38:05 Unbelievable Grade of Diamonds
00:39:43 Smoke Creek and Limestone Creek - First sighting of the Argyle Pink Diamond
00:40:42 The Mythical Value of the Pink Diamonds for Argyle
00:42:50 Economic Study of the Argyle Diamond Mine
00:43:17 Funding the mining of Argyle Diamonds
00:50:08 First Nation Discussions
00:53:47 The Birth of the Marketing Gunnies of the Argyle Diamonds
01:00:31 Webb Diamond Project
01:01:28 Other sources of diamond projects
01:03:49 Ewen Thoughts on Mineral Exploration
01:05:34 Importance of the Team in Mineral Exploration
01:07:04 Is there an Impossible Exploration Discovery?
Zimnisky, Paul (21 May 2018). "Global Diamond Supply Expected to Decrease 3.4% to 147M Carats in 2018". Kitco. Retrieved 9 November 2020.
Rachminov, E. (2009). The Fancy Color Diamond Book: Facts and Secrets of Trading in Rarities. New York: Diamond Odyssey. ISBN 978-9659149902.
About Ewen Tyler AM
Born in England in 1928, Ewen was educated in Western Australia and completed an Honours Degree in Geology at the University of Western Australia in 1949. He went to Tanganyika in 1950 as a geologist at the Geita Gold Mine, then the largest producer in East Africa.
He left as the Underground Manager in 1958. He went to London in 1959 as an economic geologist doing mining valuations. The affairs in Africa brought about by independence led to him to bring a delegation of Belgian mining men from Union Miniere du Haut Katanga to Australia, to look for investment opportunities. He returned to Australia in 1969 to see how they were getting on, and amongst other things start a search for platinum and diamonds on a low-key basis. Platinum was a failure but after ten years of searching, he found the Argyle Diamond Mine.
He was the Technical Director of Ashton Mining from its foundation. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1991 for "Services to the Australian diamond mining industry and the community.
In 1992 Ewen Tyler received The Clunies Ross National Technology Award for The Outstanding Application of Science and Technology. He was subsequently asked to chair a number of exploration companies.
Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Award
The Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Award was first awarded in 1991, and was established under the Ian Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation. The Award is presented to people who have made major contributions to science and its application for the economic, social or environmental benefit of Australia.
From 2002 the Award was administered by the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering: the Award is sometimes referred to as the ASTE Clunies Ross Award.
Between 1991 and 2015 multiple Awards were presented each year. In 2015 the Academy reorganised the Awards into three categories: the Clunies Ross Entrepreneur of the Year; the Clunies Ross Knowledge Commercialisation Award; and the Clunies Ross Innovation Award.
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