So…what does it cost to operate a Diamond Mine?
A question that surely weighs heavily and inexorably on the
minds of the readers of Tidbits–and any other breathing human
being for that matter–is unquestionably this: Is there a cost
versus location situation when it comes to operating a diamond
mine? In other words…is it more or less expensive to operate a
diamond mine in the valley than on the mountain top? The answer
to this tantalizing rebus is that it makes no difference at all.
The reason is in the final product. Unlike gold or iron or copper
or lead…we don’t need enormous carting facilities like
railroads and pipe lines to ship out the day’s yield. One
hundred million dollars worth of product can weigh only a couple
of pounds at most…and can be hauled away in a light aircraft.
South Africa. Land of the lion, the leopard, the cheetah, and
the diamond. Our gem is in good company. Ten thousand feet up,
over the Lesothan mountains, our plane heads directly into a
mountain wall. Mists hang heavily in the air. Suddenly,
micro-seconds before what is surely destined to be a crash, a
landing strip appears and we touch ground with little bump.
Brigadoon? Well…close, but no cigar. We’re in
Letseng-La-Terai–the highest diamond mine in the world. We’re
in the roof of Africa. Welcome my friends. Let’s stroll about,
Against the side of the mountain is a square tower–a citadel of
iron reaching through the fog. It’s the separation plant. Large
stones are the mainstay of this operation…large being defined
as any rough diamond weighing over 14.8 carats. This plant
produces about 200 such stones a year, and it is only one of two
where large stones are regularly gleaned, the other plant being
in Sierra Leone. Hit a forty carat rough gem, you got a half a
million dollars coming into the coffers.
It’s the fifteenth of the month. A bell begins to clang with
grating persistence. A large diamond has just been found…the
first one this month, and it is for it the bell tolls. There’s
excitement in the air. The mine needed a find like this in order
to remain solvent. There was an ever increasing belief that the
mine was tapped out with larger goods. Everyone hurries to the
sorting house. Relief is in the air. For now, the mine will not
have to be closed…though it needs two or three such finds a
month in order to survive.
It weighs fifty eight carats. It’s is top grade color quality.
How much will it bring in? As a rough…about 340 thousand
dollars. Maybe a little more. This money will support the mine
for two weeks…then that’s it. Another one better be found soon.
This enterprise employs 800 workers at an average salary gross
collective salary of 20 grand a week. If you take in the salaries
of the engineers and other support crew…supervisors etc., cost
of fuel and machinery…our little mine residing as close to
heaven as a mine can get…cost about 150,000 dollars a week to
operate. One diamond a month, clearly, doth not do it. The
logistics are overwhelming. This mine needs to sort through three
to four tons of kimberlite–the material in which diamonds are
found–in order to glean one single carat of diamonds.
And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
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