The Legendary Argyle Mine

Argyle Diamond Mine Processing Plant, Photo Courtesy: Rio Tinto. Argyle Pink Diamond, Photo Courtesy: LJ West Diamonds.

Deep in the wilderness, in the east Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Aboriginal people pass down their history through oral storytelling. One of the stories, Barramundi Dreaming, is a mystical tale of how pink diamonds from the Argyle Diamond Mine got their color. According to folklore, three women were casting nets in the water to catch fish. In an effort to escape the nets, a barramundi fish jumped in the air and flew over the nets. In the process the fish dropped its scales in the water and on the rocks, which the legend says, turned into pink diamonds.

The Argyle diamond mine sits on land that belongs to the Miriuwong, Gidja, Malgnin and Wularr people who are the traditional custodians of this remote area. Diamonds were discovered in the region in 1979 and mining company Rio Tinto began operations at the Argyle Mine in 1983, leasing the land from its owners. The Argyle Pink Diamond Facility is located in Perth, Australia.

Surprise Discovery

During its 37-year lifespan, the mine produced some 865 million carats of rough diamonds. Most of the gems were lower quality brown or industrial diamonds. Then something unexpected and magical happened: Pink diamonds were discovered during production and through its lifespan the mine produced a steady supply of these gems in an extremely limited quantity. About one tenth of one percent of all of the diamonds found in the mine, were pink. Rarer still were red diamonds and even more rare – violet diamonds.

To put that in perspective, each year only about 50 to 60 pink diamonds were found in sizes above a half carat. Pink diamonds from the Argyle mine tend to range in size from 1 to 2-carats, with the very occasional gem reaching 3-carats. According to the miner, the gems are so rare that an entire year’s production of pink diamonds 1-carat and over would fit in the palm of your hand and it would take 15 years to collect enough pink diamonds to fill a champagne flute. Despite these strikingly small numbers, the Argyle mine produced 90 to 95 percent of the world’s pink diamonds. The remainder are found sporadically in Africa, Brazil and India.

Powerful Color

One of the attributes that sets Argyle pink diamonds apart from other pinks is their vibrant color. While they may be small, they have a powerful pop of color that ranges from soft powder puff pinks to vibrant fuchsias and magentas. According to the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), pink diamonds get their color from a distortion in the crystal structure of the gem as it is forming possibly due to the intense heat and pressure of being forced to the earth’s surface. The shift in the crystal structure causes the diamond to reflect light differently resulting in the pink colors that we see.

The rough stones were cut in the Argyle Perth facility by highly-skilled master cutters who carefully cajoled the best color and most sparkle out of each gem. The internal structure of pink diamonds makes them more challenging to cut and the artisans who worked on those stones had to be patient. Due to their internal structure it takes about four times longer to cut one of these precious pinks than it does a white diamond. From the time the diamond is found until the polishing is finished takes over a year.

Pink Diamond Tender

Once the diamonds were ready to sell, the stones were collected into a tender that travelled to major cities in the world to be viewed by about 150 dealers, retailers and collectors at invitation only events. The stones were sold by sealed bid and Rio Tinto never revealed the prices paid. What we do know is that pink diamonds can easily sell for $1 million to $2 million per carat and we could see prices take a leap in the next few years. In November 2020, the Argyle mine ceased production and with its closure the world has lost its one source that provided a steady supply of pink diamonds.

Rio Tinto has helped its Argyle employees make career transitions and it is working with the Traditional Owners and local stakeholders to dismantle the mine and rehabilitate the land, a process that is expected to take about five years. Once it is complete the land will be returned to the Traditional Owners as the custodians of Country to use for cattle grazing, tourism, cultural use and possibly small-scale agriculture.

Authored by Amber Michelle

Creating a New Story

Raymond Yard Golfer Rabbit Brooch featuring a collection of Scott West Argyle Blue Diamonds set in platinum with diamonds and a ruby. Photo Courtesy: LJ West.

Colored diamonds are among the rarest and most sought after of all precious gemstones and their rarity desires to be showcased in special jewelry. Recognizing those facts, Scott West, executive vice president of colored diamond company LJ West, began to create jewelry using its vast inventory of extraordinary colored diamonds. But not just any design will do for these special sparklers. “Coming from a firm that specializes in colored diamonds, we wanted to make jewelry,” comments West. “We started looking at auctions and fell in love with different designers and eras. It’s not just about the look – it’s about how the piece is made and why it’s special.” 

The Raymond Yard Connection

West began searching for the right jewelers and partners to create jewelry inspired by the past, but made for the present. Enter the iconic Raymond Yard Rabbit pins. The rabbits were first introduced by Raymond Yard in 1928 and were composed of all white diamonds with colorful enamel details. As the series of rabbits evolved, Yard began adding in colored gemstones. Today those rabbits are being reimagined with colored diamonds in a collaboration between Raymond Yard and Scott West.

“We started working with Raymond Yard on the rabbits about three years ago,” recounts West, who is the third generation in the family business. “We used pink or blue diamonds from the Argyle Mine for the jackets on the rabbits. It’s an iconic piece with iconic stones.”

The colored diamond rabbits have gained even more importance since the Argyle Mine closed this past year and with its closure comes the end of a small, but steady supply of pink, blue and violet diamonds. “With Argyle closing, it’s impossible to find those stones,” says West, noting that LJ West is an authorized Argyle partner.

Design Fusion

West does create some pieces that are “inspired” by Art Nouveau or Art Deco designs. He does not try to make replicas of vintage pieces, but instead creates pieces in a modern way for today’s consumer.

Creating Art Nouveau inspired pieces in today’s world comes with its challenges. “You have to find the right jeweler with the right skills to make these pieces,” explains West, who has a background in engineering and also completed a diamond cutting program in Florida and earned his GD from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA). “We have pieces made in New York City, Hong Kong and London. We searched the world for people with the right skill set to make these pieces.”

Art Nouveau jewelry tends to use quite a bit of enamel and West notes that getting the right colors of enamel was not always easy because some colors just aren’t made anymore and whatever is available is left over from many years ago. “Jewelry has always danced between an artisan showing beautiful sculpture or trying to showcase a stone,” says West, who notes that it took two years to create one pair of Art Nouveau earrings. “We build around the color of a stone, it’s a balance. We made a pair of Art Nouveau style earrings with a pink diamond. We wanted the pink diamond to stand out in the Art Nouveau earrings so we created an enameled pink sun.”

When it comes to Art Deco inspired pieces, West calls those designs a fusion. “We can be inspired to make an Art Deco piece the way it was made before, but we changed it some. Art Deco has angles, we softened the angles,” concludes West. “You can see the Art Deco inspiration, you can see how the elements of Art Deco, fashion and other components from today fuse.”

Authored by Amber Michelle