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Cohort 8 executives experienced a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at Cullinan Diamond Mine on Tuesday. Hosted by underground engineer, Pat, the students toured the mine, which is one of the leading producers of “large” diamonds in Africa. The company’s general manager and supervisory staff joined them on their tour. The mine, which is located in Pretoria, produces 1 million diamond carats a year that range in color, quality and size.

Cullinan officials described the mining process in detail and the role of the miner, then let the students observe the process. It all begins with Kimberlite, a rock with minerals and diamonds embedded. The miners at Cullinan Diamond Mine extract 9,000 tons of Kimberlite each day over rotating nine-hour shifts.

Student Alexandra Mandell asked Pat about the four C’s — cut, color, clarity and carat — that distinguish diamond quality and price point. Pat showed the group different examples by way of a chart and introduced the students to the special “blue diamond,” the rarest form found at Cullinan Diamond Mine. Cohort 8 students held replicas of these very large, multimillion-dollar diamonds — which only had the students wishing the diamonds were real!

After members of the cohort suited up and grabbed their head gear and protective wear, they traveled 763 meters down into the Diamond Mine to see the production process first-hand. They observed the drilling, extracting of Kimberlite, the transportation of rock to the crusher, and the greasy conveyer that sifts and separates the Kimberlite from the diamonds. The Kimberlite and diamonds are mixed with water on the conveyer. Because diamonds won’t absorb water, they drop to the bottom and the grease is removed through a heating process, then the clean diamonds are left for final polishing and tender.

A highlight of the underground tour was speaking to a few of the miners directly. Two miners addressed Cohort 8 student Torrance Johnson in their native tongue while waiting for the shaft elevator. When he indicated he didn’t understand the language because he wasn’t African, the miners were delighted to meet someone from the United States and asked if they could hug him. “That is a moment I will never forget,” said Johnson.

Another miner told student Denise Edelmaier that he prefers mining diamonds over gold any day. Why? “It’s less dangerous! We’ve had no fatalities for years here,” said the miner. “Fatalities happen in gold mining because the conditions are unbearably hot.” Pat explained later that diamond mining is “gentleman mining” because it’s a much safer and cleaner environment than mining gold or platinum.

The conversations with these miners reaffirmed the Cullinan executive team’s position that employees and the safe extraction of diamonds are critical to the company’s success and therefore have the highest regard at the mine, even more so since the 2008 acquisition by Petra Diamonds.

Johnson asked Pat about government regulations and laws pertinent to the workforce. “The miners are so respected that several benefits are provided,” explained Pat. “A free car is awarded monthly to the miner with the best safety idea. If a diamond is discovered by a miner, the miner receives 10 percent of its market value. And employees received a salary increase with improved benefits as a result of the Petra Diamond buyout.”

Additionally, miners said they feel secure in the fact that the mining operation is not expected to change, based on the success they’ve maintained over the years in the production of diamonds. Pat said a recent geographical evaluation revealed that 200 million carats of diamonds are still available for extraction in the mine, further securing the jobs of more than 2,000 employees in Pretoria.

Pat told the group that risks are inherent in any successful endeavor. In diamond mining, the risks include water reaching the Kimberlite making it difficult to extract, overdrawing or unevenly removing Kimberlite from a block in the cave, or not supporting the infrastructure correctly. “These can all be avoided with proper attention to detail and training,” said Pat.

Jason Plas asked Pat the process from extraction to sale. Cullinan sends diamonds for proper valuation, packs the diamonds in parcels for sale, and then sends them off for purchase — of which 25 percent are gems and 75 percent are used for industrial purposes.

The Cullinan Diamond Mine has a large footprint in the market, providing the company sustainability and relevance in the community and environment. The company stays connected to its community by funding local parks and conservation, school learning materials, a sports complex and a band.

A few students are bringing home desirable Cullinan Diamond products to share with loved ones back in the United States, but we won’t mention names so we can avoid ruining any surprises!

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