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Canadian Diamonds: Are They Better? (or Just More Expensive?)

Canadian Diamonds Mined Canada

Canadian Diamonds are produced from diamond rough mined from Canada. If you are shopping for a Canadian diamond engagement ring, you're likely to notice that diamonds from Canada are more expensive than diamonds from other countries.

And yet, at the same time, the majority of "Canadian Diamonds" are cut in countries like India where the labor rate is less expensive than it would be in Canada.

So what is all the hype about Canadian Diamonds really about?

Common Questions About Diamonds from Canada:

The best time to discover more about diamonds from Canada is before you buy. That's because knowing more about Canadian Diamonds will enable you to make an informed decision. With that in mind, you'll be a virtual expert on the subject of Canadian Diamonds by the time you finish reading this article.

Once you know the answer to those questions, you'll be able to go on Jeopardy and make Alex Trebek proud (if you dig deep enough, there is more than one joke in that sentence).

Where Do Canadian Diamonds Come From?

To be perfectly honest, it always cracks me up when somebody asks "Where do Canadian Diamonds come from?" because the answer seems kind of obvious:

Canadian Diamonds come from Canada.

The seemingly obvious answer to the next question is that Canadian diamonds come from the ground.

Where Are Canadian Diamonds Mined?

Deep, Deep, Under Frozen Ground (which is also known as permafrost).

This is a picture of the Ice Road that leads to the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada.

Our neighbors to the north have been pulling diamonds out of the frozen tundra since 2002 to the tune of 9± million carats per annum.

What Diamond Mining Companies Operate in Canada?

The two most significant diamond mines operating in Canada at this time are the Diavik Diamond Mine and the Ekati Diamond Mine.

The Diavik Diamond Mine is located in the Yellowknife, Northwest Territories of Canada which is operated in part by the Rio Tinto Mining Group and by Aber Diamond Mines Ltd.

The Ekati Diamond Mine which is also located in the Yellowknife region of the Northwest Territories of Canada and is owned and operated in part by the BHP Billiton Mining Group and geologists Charles E. Fipke and Dr. Stewart E. Blusson (10% each).

Canada is also home to numerous other diamond mining projects including those operated by De Beers, Shore Gold, Tahera, Stornoway (Ashton and Contact), Dianor, Vaaldiam, Southern Era and more than a dozen smaller companies.

Are Canadian Diamonds Better than Standard Diamonds?

There is nothing to suggest that diamonds mined in Canada are any better than diamonds mined any place else. The only thing that dictates whether a diamond is superior to another is the degree of diamond cut quality which consists of the following:

  • The Degree of Optical Precision.
  • Polish.
  • Proportions.
  • Symmetry.

The degree of optical precision and the proportions the diamond are cut to will have the greatest effect on light performance and sparkle factor. Be sure to adhere to my preferred range of proportions to maximize light return.

The gemological laboratories do not take optical precision into account as part of the overall cut grade. We use ASET Scope, Ideal Scope, and Hearts & Arrows Scope images to evaluate optical precision.

Black by Brian Gavin vs Canadamark Diamond from Blue Nile:

Both of the "ideal cut diamonds" that appear below have proportions within my preferred range. The pavilion angle is 40.8 degrees for both diamonds.

The Black by Brian Gavin Diamond has a crown angle of 34.6 degrees. The Canadamark Diamond from Blue Nile has a crown angle of 34.5 degrees.

The primary difference between the two diamonds is the degree of optical precision which can affect diamond prices by as much as sixty percent.

Black by Brian Gavin Diamond
Canadamark Diamond Blue Nile

Diamond clarity photographs like these enable us to see how evenly light is reflecting throughout the diamonds to some extent. However, they should not be used for comparison purposes since differences in lighting conditions and imaging systems can affect our perception of color and sparkle factor. These are clarity images and should only be used for that purpose.

Black by Brian Gavin Diamond ASET
ASET Scope Image Blue Nile Canadamark Diamond

The ASET Scope image for the Black by Brian Gavin Diamond on the left verifies that light is reflecting evenly throughout the diamond. While the semi-transparent sections visible under the table facet in the ASET Scope image for the Blue Nile Canadamark diamond on the right indicate light leakage. Also notice the green (secondary brightness) visible along the outer edge.

Black by Brian Gavin Diamond Ideal Scope
Canadamark Diamond Blue Nile

The Ideal Scope image for the Black by Brian Gavin Diamond on the left indicates a high volume of light return with virtually no light leakage. Notice the even distribution of hue and saturation and how evenly light is reflecting throughout the diamond. There is not an Ideal Scope image available for the Canadamark diamond but we already know it's leaking light under the ASET Scope.

Black by Brian Gavin Diamond Hearts pattern
Hearts image for Blue Nile Canadamark diamond

The hearts pattern exhibited by the Black by Brian Gavin Diamond is more uniform in size and shape than the Canadamark diamond on the right. Which means that the Black by Brian Gavin Diamond is cut to exhibit a higher degree of optical precision and that will produce sparkle factor that is even more vivid and intense. It takes about 4X longer to polish diamonds to this level of perfection.

GIA Diamond Grading Report for the Canadamark Diamond from Blue Nile:

Take a good look at the diamond grading report issued by the GIA for the Canadamark Diamond from Blue Nile.

Blue Nile Canadamark Diamond GIA Report

Why is the diamond not indicated as being Canadamark on the diamond grading report issued by the GIA?

Why is this "Canadamark Diamond" not inscribed with the Canadamark logo?.

This statement by the supplier is the only indication that it's Canadamark:

Dealer Listing Blue Nile Canadamark Diamond

Why is this Canadamark Diamond not Inscribed or Branded?

It is important to recognize that this 1.05 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, GIA Excellent cut round diamond on Blue Nile is not listed as a Canadamark or Canadian diamond on their site.

The only reason we know that it's a Canadamark diamond is because the cutter indicates that as the brand within the listing details on the MLS used by the trade to market diamonds globally.

Which means that we only have the cutters word that this diamond was cut from diamond rough sourced from Canada and that it's a Canadamark diamond. Unlike the Black by Brian Gavin Diamond which is inscribed with Brian Gavin's logo.

Where are Canadian Diamonds Cut?

There are several diamond cutting companies that purchase diamond rough from the Rio Tinto and Aber diamond distribution pipe line, just as there are several companies that purchase diamond rough from the DeBeers Diamond Trading Company (DTC) and then sell their production to a multitude of online diamond dealers and retail jewelry stores.

The majority of diamond cutting companies that source their diamond rough from Canada export the diamonds to manufacturing facilities in India, Israel, Belgium or China.

Where Canadamark Diamonds Cut

The listing details indicate that this "Canadamark" 1.05 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, GIA Excellent diamond from Blue Nile was cut from a diamond cutter located in India.

Which begs the question: "Why is the cutting of Canadamark Diamonds being outsourced to India?"

Doesn't it stand to reason that a "Canadamark diamond" cut from "Canadian diamond rough" should be cut by a diamond cutter located in Canada?

Or maybe I'm just taking the idea of Canadian diamonds too seriously.

Diamond Rough from Canada:

Canadamark Canadian Diamond Rough

This is a photograph of the Canadian Diamond Rough that this 1.05 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, GIA Excellent cut diamond from Blue Nile was cut from. I've got to say that it looks just like any other piece of diamond rough to me.

So, how do you know that it's Canadian? Well, just like the tracking system based on the Kimberley Act of 2003 for standard diamonds, you're supposed to accept that this is a Canadian diamond based on the word and integrity of the cutter.

So, Where's the Beef? What's the difference?

What Makes Canadian Diamonds Special?

Proponents of Canadian Diamonds will tell you that you can rest assured that this is a Canadian Diamond because the diamond rough was sealed in a parcel with a barcode that references the mine of origin and the characteristics of the diamond.

But an industry insider like me will tell you that's the same way that diamond rough from other countries is also shipped under the guidelines of the Kimberley Diamond Act of 2003.

So, once again, what's the difference? What makes this Canadian Diamond cut in India more special than the rest?

Unless you're Canadian and you want a diamond cut from material yanked out of your home turf, I just don't get it.

What Makes Canadian Diamonds So Expensive?

Non-Canadian Diamond

Given what you now about "Canadian Diamonds" like the Canadamark diamond from Blue Nile being cut overseas in India, you might be wondering what makes Canadian diamonds so expensive.

After all, the reason why the cutting of Canadian diamonds is being outsourced to India is probably because of the cheaper cost of labor.

But that doesn't explain why this 1.04 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, GIA Excellent cut round diamond from Blue Nile is less expensive because it was also produced by the same diamond cutter from India.

Non-Canadian Diamond Rough

Just for the record, it's not the diamond rough because the supplier also provides a photograph of the diamond rough that this 1.04 carat, F-color, VS-2 clarity, GIA Excellent cut round diamond from Blue Nile was cut from.

This diamond is also cut to ideal proportions within my preferred range and is accompanied by a GIA diamond grading report that does not indicate brand and the diamond is not inscribed with a logo indicating origin.

The same cutter in India cut this 1.04 carat non-branded diamond and the 1.05 carat, Canadamark Diamond from Blue Nile.

Price Comparison of Standard GIA Excellent and Canadamark Diamond:

GIA Excellent

Standard Ideal Cut Diamond

$

7,228.38

/PC

  • Ideal Proportions
  • 40.8˚ pavilion angle
  • 35˚ crown angle
  • GIA Excellent Cut
Canadamark

Standard Ideal Cut Diamond

$

7,429.71

/PC

  • Ideal Proportions
  • 40.8˚ pavilion angle
  • 34.5˚ crown angle
  • GIA Excellent Cut

I imagine that you're probably wondering whether the Black by Brian Gavin Diamond is really that much better than the standard GIA Excellent and Canadamark diamond from Blue Nile.

Let me ask you a question.

Does a Porsche GT3 RS offer superior performance over a standard Porsche 911 non-turbo?

The Black by Brian Gavin Hearts & Arrows diamond is cut to a higher degree of optical precision. Which means that it's going to exhibit a higher degree of light return and sparkle factor that is more vivid and intense.

Achieving that level of perfection requires about four times longer on the wheel and incurs a greater loss of diamond rough. 

Porsche 911 GT3 RS in Brian Gavin Orange

Hey, look at that.

The 2020 Porsche 911 GT3 RS is now available in Brian Gavin Orange.

The old adage that time is money and you get what you pay for is as applicable for diamonds as anything else. It must be a sign.

Where Can I Buy Canadian Diamonds?

It wasn't that long ago that you could buy Canadian Diamonds here:

But none of those vendors appear to offer them as a specific classification on their sites any longer.

As you might have gathered, I'm able to search for Canadian diamonds using the multiple listing services (MLS) used by the trade to market diamonds globally.

I'm happy to assist you with your Canadian diamond search and answer any questions which you might have about the available options just drop me a note.

The Diavik Canadian Diamond Mine:

The Diavik Diamond Mine located in the Canadian Northwest Territory is probably the most widely recognized diamond mines in all of Canada. The Diavik Diamond Mine is operated in part by the Rio Tinto Mining Group.

Many of the Canadian Diamonds are manufactured using diamond rough which was sourced from the Diavik Diamond Mine which is located on a 20 kilometer square island, informally called East Island.

It's in a region called Lac de Gras which is located within the Northwest Territory of Canada approximately 300 kilometers as the crow flies Northeast of Yellowknife which is the Capital of Canada's Northwest Territories.

Chronological Hisgtory of the Canadian Diavik Diamond Mine

1991 - 1992

Aber stakes mineral claim.

March 1992

Exploration begins.

June 1992

Aber Resources Kennecott Canada Exploration form Diavik joint venture.

1994 - 1995

Pipes A-21 A154-South A154-North and A418 discovered

February 1996

75-person exploration camp erected for underground bulk sampling.

July 1996

900 tonne bulk sampling of A418 and A154 South pipes completed.

December 1996

Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. created with head office in Yellowknife.

March 1997

Bulk sample transported over winter road to Yellowknife for processing.   Approximately 21000 carats of diamonds recovered.

June 1997

Environmental baseline studies completed.

September 1997

Pre-feasibility study completed.

March 1998

Project description submitted to Federal Government triggering formal environmental assessment review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

September 1998

Environmental Assessment Report submitted and Comprehensive Public Involvement Plan initiated.

November 1999

Federal Government approves project for permitting and licensing.

September 2000

Diavik Diamond Mines Inc. receives all necessary permits and licenses to bring mine into production.

December 2000

Investors of Rio Tinto plc and Aber Diamond Corporation approve $1.3 billion expenditure to build mine.

January 2001

Mine construction begins.

October 2001

A154 dike earthworks completed.

July 2002

A154 dike completed and dewatering commences.

December 2002

Mine virtually complete.

January 2003

Diamond production begins.

May 2003

First million carats produced.

May 2003

1.9 million accident-free hours.

April 2003

Aber’s first sale of rough diamonds.

July 2003

Rio Tinto Diamonds’ first sale of rough diamonds.

As you can see, it took a little more than 12 years of research and development before the mining companies who invested in the Canadian Diavik Diamond Mine were able to realize any sort of profits. Just a little something to think about when you contemplate what factors into the price of natural diamonds.

Lac de Gras the Diamond Mining Region of Canada:

Aboriginal people named the Lake Ekati for quartz veins found in local bedrock outcrops resembling caribou fat.  Lac de Gras is 60 kilometers long and averages 16 kilometers wide with a shoreline length of 740 kilometers.

The lake averages 12 meters in depth and has a maximum depth of 56 meters.  The water temperature ranges from 0°C to 18°C in the summer.  Aquatic productivity is low due to low nutrients, low light during the winter, eight months of ice and low water temperatures. The water quality resembles distilled water.

The lake is habitated by lake trout, cisco, whitefish, artic grayling, burbot, longnose sucker and slimy sculpin.  The lake has a drainage area of about 4,000 square kilometers and together with Lac du Sauvage located to the Northeast form the headwaters of the Coppermine River which flows 520 kilometers from Western Lac de Gras to the Artic Ocean.

The Artic Circle is located about 220 kilometers North of the mine.  The key to operating a mine in Canada's remote wilderness is a private ice road which is shared by various mining companies that are operating in the area.

The road has been in operation for about twenty years and must be rebuilt annually to maintain service.  Approximately 75% of the road is ice and is built over frozen lakes.

 

Geology: The Diavik Diamond Mine was discovered in Precambrian rocks of the Slave Geological Province. Known to host deposits of gold, copper, zinc, nickel, and now diamonds, this ancient rock is among the world’s oldest and was formed about 2.7 to 2.5 billion years ago.

The Slave Geological Province has produced much of the North’s mineral wealth.  Slave Geological Province map courtesy of the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

Granitic rocks predominantly underlie the area, and have been intruded into slightly older meta-sedimentary rocks, originally deposited as sandstone and shale.

The geology of the project area is typical of ancient, 2.5-2.7 billion-year-old Precambrian rocks, with a mixture of metamorphosed sedimentary (metaturbidites) and granitic (e.g. granite, tonalite) rocks.

How Do They Explore and Look For Diamonds in Canada?

Finding diamond deposits is difficult and costly. Rather than look for the elusive and rare diamonds, geologists seek other clues.  Working from tent camps, geologists conduct several types of surveys.

Using geochemical surveys, soil samples are taken and panned for indicator minerals like garnets found in more abundance in kimberlite pipes. A trail of indicator minerals can lead to potential pipes. 

In addition, geophysical surveys are used to differentiate hidden kimberlite pipes from surrounding host rock.  Computer-generated geophysical data is mapped as pictured above.

If a potential kimberlite target is identified, portable diamond drills are used to remove core samples to determine if the target is in fact kimberlite. Further drilling helps define pipe size and shape, and provides additional rock for diamond testing. Not all kimberlite pipes have diamonds.  In fact, of the worlds estimated 5,000 kimberlites only 23 contain enough diamonds to warrant the expense of operating a mining operation.

When diamonds are found in sufficient quantities to suggest an ore body, a small mining operation is conducted to remove a larger, several thousand tonne bulk sample. This sample is processed to remove the diamonds, which are then evaluated for quantity, quality, and size.

Canadian Diamonds Travel Up Kimber Pipes to the Earth's Surface:

The kimberlite pipes at the Diavik Diamond Mine are volcanic cores injected into the much older, granitic and meta-sedimentary rocks a mere 55 million years ago.

Kimberlite is a rare rock type commonly found in carrot-shaped pipes which represent the roots of ancient, small volcanoes.  A drawing of a carrot shaped kimberlite pipe appears above.  Originating from over 150 km below the earth’s surface where diamonds are commonly formed, the kimberlite may bring diamonds to surface.

Globally, kimberlite pipes average 12 hectares in surface area, and may reach depths of several hundred meters.  The kimber pipes used by the Diavik Diamond Mine range in surface area from 0.9 to 1.6 hectares, and extend below 400 metres.

Relatively fresh, often charred – but not petrified – wood found only in China today, has been encountered in drill core at depths up to 400 meters. Reflecting a much warmer climate at that time, the coniferous trees were uprooted and incorporated into the pipes.

The Region Around the Diavik Diamond Mine:

Rolling tundra surrounds the Diavik Diamond Mine. The region was originally named the “Barren Lands” by early explorers due to its lack of trees.  The area includes numerous lakes, bedrock outcrops and glacial deposits of boulders, till, and eskers.

What little soil is found is of cryosolic order – formed where permafrost occurs within 1-2 meterss of the surface – and is characterized by layers that are disrupted, mixed, or broken, by freeze-thaw activity.

Vegetation Around the Diavik Diamond Mine:

Vegetation includes dwarf birch, northern Labrador tea, blueberry, mountain cranberry, and bearberry, with willow, sphagnum moss, and sedge tussocks dominating wet lowlands.

Wildlife Species Near the Diavik Diamond Mine:

Mammal species that inhabit the region include, grizzly bears, wolves, foxes, arctic hare, ground squirrels, and wolverines. In spring and fall, portions of the Bathurst caribou herd migrate through the region. 84 bird species and 16 mammal species are summer visitors or permanent residents.