DIAMONDS IN NORTH AMERICA
n Americans have been the world's top diamond consumers since the 1860s, and now fuel a third of the world's $45 billion yearly diamond-jewelry market. Canada, with 1/10 the U.S. population, is the world's top per capita consumer; 8 of 10 Canadian women own one or more pieces of diamond jewelry.
n Until the opening of high-grade deposits in the Barren Lands of Canada's Northwest Territories in 1998, North America lacked its own mines, remaining captive to the monopolistic South African De Beers cartel . . .
n Prospectors have sought domestic diamond sources since the 1530s, when explorer Jacques Cartier found a “gem” deposit—actually quartz—along the St. Lawrence River. His mistake gave rise to the French proverb Voila un diamant du Canada—roughly, “Fake as a Canadian diamond.”
n In the 1830s and 1840s, gold prospectors and children began finding genuine small, and often flawed, diamonds in the Midwestern and Southern United States. In 1843 a 1-carat stone was found at Brindletown Ford, North Carolina, by Dr. M.F. Stephenson (credited with saying “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!”). Since then stones have turned up in California, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Alaska, Kentucky, and possibly New York, South Carolina, New Mexico, Louisiana and Arizona. The first loose Canadian diamond, 33 carats and heavily flawed, was found near Peterborough, Ontario, in 1920, and later in most other provinces. But no one could find the sources—the ore, called kimberlite--from which these diamonds must have eroded.
n The first Canadian diamond, 33 carats and heavily flawed, was found near Peterborough, Ontario, in 1920, by a worker digging a railroad cut. Starting in the 1950s prospectors began turning up loose stones in other provinces
n An arc of diamonds has been found in glacial debris across the Great Lakes states from the 19th century to the present day. It has long been thought that these diamonds and perhaps others originated in kimberlites in the far north, and were pushed south by ancient glaciers.
n Hundreds of companies have prospected for North American kimberlite and diamonds, including Dow Chemical, Shell, Mobil, Bethlehem Steel, Superior Oil and Gulf. About 80 outfits are currently active in the United States alone.
n Through secret agents, De Beers has secretly prospected the United States, eluding antitrust lawsuits from the U.S. government since the 1940s that supposedly prevent it from doing direct U.S. business. De Beers operates more openly in Canada.
n Diamond hunting has produced numerous false rushes and scams involving nonexistent gems. Most notable was the Great Diamond Hoax of 1872, which took in Charles Tiffany, Gen. William Sheridan, Horace Greeley and many other investors. Many American place names, such as Diamond Peak, Colo., are the result of frauds and errors.
n A diamondiferous kimberlite was discovered in rural Arkansas in 1906, but a mine failed ly due to arson, theft, low grade and, some believe, a De Beers conspiracy. In the 1970s it reopened as the popular Crater of Diamonds State Park, where tourists pay to dig and keep anything they find, including occasional valuable gems. Against environmental objections, onetime Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton paved the way for a (failed) effort for companies to reconvert the park into a strip mine. At Clinton’s first presidential inaugural in 1993, Hillary Clinton wore a 4.25 carat ring from Crater of Diamonds.
n The largest U.S. diamond was the 40.42 carat Uncle Sam, found at Crater of Diamonds around 1918. Second largest is the 34.46-carat Punch Jones, names for the West Virginia boy who spotted it while playing horseshoes in 1928. The largest recent find is the 14-carat Lewis and Clark, picked up by Mrs. Darlene Dennis while walking on a gravel road near Craig, Montana. It is currently owned by Alexander Acevedo, a New York antiques dealer.
n The Barren Lands, Canada’s 500,000-square-mile tundra region at the top of North America, contain the world’s oldest known rocks, at 4.03 billion years. It is thought that diamonds are most likely to occur in such rocks.
n With their long and complex geologic history, the Barrens are rich in other minerals including zinc and gold. Prehistoric Indians and Eskimos mined—and warred over—deposits of pure copper. Legends about such mines first drew European prospectors. However, 9-month winters, lack of navigable rivers and maps, and the vastness of the land kept them out until recently. The Barren Lands still host huge caribou herds, wolves, wolverines, grizzly bears and other extraordinary wildlife.
n The first European to see the Barrens coast was Henry Hudson, in 1610. His mutinous crew set him adrift in a boat to die there. The first European to penetrate the Barrens was Hudson Bay Company copper prospector Samuel Hearne, guided by Indians in 1769-1772. His trip culminated in a massacre. Sir John Franklin, who later disappeared seeking the Northwest Passage by ship, led a largely fatal overland expedition across the Barrens in 1820-22.
n In the 1960s helicopters and modern communications made exploration of the northern tundra more feasible but still dangerous.
n In 1991 two Canadian geologists, Charles Fipke and Stewart Blusson, traced a trail of rare minerals across the Barrens to discover diamonds. This sparked the grandest staking rush since the Klondike. Some 260 companies flew in to claim nearly 100,000 square miles.
n After battling environmentalists, in 1998 the Australian mining conglomerate BHP teamed with the discoverers to open the Ekati Diamond Mine. A competitor, Diavik Diamond Mines, will open another mine nearby in 2003. Together they may provide 15 percent of the world market by 2005. Exploration is expected to continue for the next 100 years.
n Intensive diamond exploration is now also taking place in northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec, and the Wyoming/Colorado state line, where low-grade diamondiferous kimberlites have been found. One minor Colorado operation, the Kelsey Lake Mine, has produced a few diamonds off and on since the late 1990s.
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