Friday, July 2, 2010

Ever been down a Diamond Mine...?

As we sat around the dinner table last night we decided that we would check-out the Diamond Mind Tour in our nearest town of Cullinan. Diamonds have been found and mined for over 110 years in Cullinan, and the mine is most famous for the discovery of the largest diamond ever found, (called the Cullinan Diamond, 3,106 carets or 621 grams), which was gifted to the British Royal family, and used in Crown Jewels.

The mining company offers a comprehensive series of tours of the Mine including an underground tour which sounded quite interesting, so we turned up this morning and signed up. I guess we were a little unaware of exactly how involved this tour would be, so when we were presented with full overalls, helmet, boots, socks and a small backpack, we started to get a clue that this would be the real thing... After suiting up and walking through security, we were even more surprised when we had a full safety briefing and video, before being allocated our own emergency breathing unit and safety lamp...! Okay, this was more full-on than we had imagined, but as we stood at the mine head waiting for the elevator cage, we were actually quite excited about the tour.

Our first stop was at the lowest level of the mine, some 763m below the surface, where Pat, our excellent tour guide, started the underground portion of the tour. Pat had worked in the industry for over 20 years and what he did not know about the mine and the diamond mining process was not worth knowing, giving us a comprehensive run down of every aspect of the extraction of the diamonds. We checked out the main tunnels, a safety refuge, and covered almost 2kms to the production area, where the mined Kimberlite that holds the diamonds, was moved from the ‘Kimberlite Pipe’ to the surface. Apparently, it takes the extraction and processing of at least 100 tonnes of Kimberlite to produce maybe 6 carats/ 1.2 grams of commercial gems and 18 carats/3.6 grams of Industrial Diamonds.

It was all very interesting as whole process of mining diamond was not how I imagined, but it was quite exciting as we got up very close and personal with some of the heavy machinery, and watched huge chunks of the diamonds-bearing Kimberlite rock being moved around. Yates even thought that he had found a diamond in a piece of Kimberlite, and I'm not sure what exactly happened to that...? After 2 hours underground we headed to the surface to see where the extracted rock came out of the ground and went in to the ‘Recovery’ phase, before taking a look at the ‘Big Hole’. Now when they call it a ‘Big Hole’ they really mean it round here, as we stood looking at massive void in the ground, where initially rock had been removed by hand, but now was growing ever larger as the Kimberlite was mined below the hole, and the bottom of the ‘Big Hole’, slumped further down due to gravity. The more they take out from under the hole, the deeper the ‘Big Hole’gets..! It’s currently almost 500m deep and getting gradually deeper day-by-day...

Finally we went to the cutting room and the diamond sales room, where we were plied with alcohol and given the ‘soft-sell’ to buy a diamond, cut in the unique ‘Cullinan Star’ design. I have to say there was some very beautiful diamond of the 9 differing colours they extract from the mine, but the credit card stayed firmly in the wallet... Sorry Fiona... Overall, it was an excellent once-in-a-lifetime experience and we were all glad to have done it.

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