Securing supply in a safe and sustainable manner
Throughout the pipeline, technology is critical to ensuring the supply of diamonds: in exploration, mining and sorting for diamonds efficiently, and also making sure that these activities are safe and minimise environmental impact.
Geologists rely on technological innovation to help them discover new viable sources of diamonds in locations that are often remote, previously underexplored and difficult to work in, such as near the Arctic Circle. In many such remote areas, traditional approaches to exploration are limited, and geologists therefore need to use new techniques to select targets.
One new exploration technique, in particular, has been made possible by the recent development of SQUID (Super Conducting Quantum Interference Device). This technology provides significant benefits over current exploration methods such as airborne magnetic and ground exploration systems, and has provided geologists with an important new tool.
Another example is improvements in geophysical hardware that De Beers Exploration has developed. These improvements have resulted in the development of new systems with improved signal-processing capabilities, substantial reduction of noise, increased power and more sensitive receivers.
Furthermore, technology is a critical part of reducing the environmental impact of exploration. The development of geophysical down-hole logging tools, for example, will improve the accuracy of 3D modelling, reducing the number of drill holes required.
Technology also plays an important role in the advancement of mining with ever-improving process efficiencies and novel and unique extraction methods. De Beers has been at the forefront of many of these innovations, ranging from process improvements through the adoption of dense media cyclones to the exploitation of new resources by the pioneering of marine mining for offshore deposits.
Technology also enhances the industry by detecting and deterring diamond theft through improved surveillance, smart security systems and access control. In particular, Scannex, a security system developed by De Beers that allows safe, low-dosage, full-body x-ray, ensures that diamonds do not leave with employees exiting the high security areas of the De Beers operations. This technology has also had applications outside mining.
Additionally, several producers including De Beers are using strategic laboratory facilities to add value to production operations by extracting critical data and information required to target, discover and evaluate diamond deposits. Such laboratories may comprise in-house sample treatment, indicator mineral, analytical, microdiamond and macrodiamond capacity and capability.
Technology also helps explorers and producers to manage the safety risks associated with operating in remote locations. Commercially available technologies include SMARTY cameras in vehicles to encourage safe driving, monitor driving behaviour, and enhance overall safety on the road; rollover protection aimed at protecting equipment operators and motorists from injuries caused by vehicle overturns or rollovers; and smaller, safer drill rigs.
In sorting, valuation and sales, De Beers utilises proprietary technology to produce consistent assortments of its diamonds to satisfy the needs of its customers. In order to achieve this at economically viable rates, De Beers has developed and implemented advanced proprietary sorting technology for weighing and shape/colour/quality sorting of the 300 million stones that pass through the business each year. Sophisticated electromechanical feed and dispense mechanisms, and state-of-the-art image-processing, enable the fastest sorting machines to operate at up to 15 stones per second.
Safeguarding the consumer against the risk of undisclosed synthetics
When a consumer acquires a diamond, he or she wants to know for certain that it is a rare and inherently precious natural gem, brought to the surface after lying for hundreds of millions of years within the earth’s mantle.
The inability to distinguish confidently (and therefore disclose) synthetics from natural gem diamonds could lead to a collapse of consumer and trade confidence in the value-perception of, and desire for, natural gem diamonds. This may ultimately lead to consumers abandoning the category, temporarily or permanently.
Several organisations (De Beers included) have been working hard over many years to minimise the risks to consumer confidence resulting from deliberate or inadvertent undisclosed synthetics. De Beers has invested nearly US$65 million in research over the last 30 years (in today’s value) to develop sophisticated technology, including DiamondSure, DiamondView and DiamondPlus, that can readily detect all types of gem synthetics, providing consumers with the confidence that they are not unknowingly purchasing an undisclosed synthetic instead of a natural gem.