By its own admission, South Australian explorer Investigator Resources (ASX:IVR) had a miserable 2018.

But last Friday’s 15% pop in the share price to 1.5c for a market value of $11 million demonstrates happier times have arrived for the hardy little explorer.

There were two reasons for last year’s anguish.

Despite the 42m oz silver resource at the company’s Paris silver project near Kimba having an in-situ value of $900m, an all-important metallurgical study found it would not be economic at prevailing silver prices.

Then there was the frustration of not being able to find someone with deep pockets to come in and drill the company’s Maslins copper-gold target, a potential gamechanger in a neighbourhood that includes BHP’s Olympic Dam 10.7 billion tonne copper-gold-uranium monster.

Roll the clock forward to last week, and it can be said the gloom of last year has well and truly lifted. No champagne corks popping just yet, but plenty to look forward to as 2019 unfolds.

First up, silver is on the move. The poor man’s metal is being dragged higher by gold’s stellar performance and the silver bugs out there – yes, they do exist – will have you believe silver is on its way to $US25 an oz.

It was last quoted at $US16.20 (leaving the gold-silver ratio at a historically high 88 times), so it has a long way to go to get to a more invigorating $US25 (57 times, and in line with the long run average).

At least it can be said that silver is now trading ahead of last year’s average of $US15.71. It is not enough for Investigator to take the handbrake off on Paris just yet. But it is encouraging nevertheless.

Here come the big fish

More telling in the market for Investigator was last week’s news that it had attracted OZ Minerals to its Maslins iron oxide copper gold (IOCG) exploration target.

OZ knowns a bit about IOCGs as it owns the Prominent Hill mine and is developing the Carrapateena deposit in the same neck of the woods.

Under the Maslins agreement, OZ can earn up to a 70% interest over five years by spending $10m. OZ’s minimum expenditure commitment is $1.4m. The first test of the target with the drill bit is now likely in early 2020.

It is a classic high-risk/high reward target which has been worked up as something of interest since early 2016 by the small but technically savvy Investigator on the basis of regional survey work highlighting a conductive corridor through Prominent Hill, Olympic Dam, Carrapateena and the Maslins project area.

The Maslins anomaly starts at about 600m depth, and is 6km in length. The trend of the anomaly is punctuated by individual gravity highs like a string of pearls.

All that is interesting stuff and made Maslins a high risk/high reward candidate which needed to be drilled at some point. But it is an expensive business and not something Investigator could do itself.

OZ’s arrival fixes that and it can be said that if Maslins does shape up as something special, Investigator’s current market value gives it extreme leverage to the upside. But first it has to be tested.

OZ obviously had its own technical reasons for wanting to join Investigator at Maslins.

It seems likely though that last November’s Oak Dam discovery by BHP, 85km along trend to the north of Maslins, encouraged it to take the leap.

Drilling at Oak Dam (it was really a rediscovery given the exploration history there dates back to 1976) returned some special hits, including a 180m hit grading 6.07% copper, 0.92gpt gold, 0.4kg/t uranium and 12.77gpt silver.

That was part of a 425.7m intersection from 1063m grading 3.04% copper, 0.59gpt gold, 0.34kg/t uranium and 6.03gpt silver.

The impressive grades are needed given the depths involved. Needless to say, BHP is following up the results in a new drilling program.

NEXT: In this latest edition of The Explorers Podcast, Barry chats with Bernard Rowe, managing director of ioneer Ltd: