Ground Breakers: Pink diamonds shine bright in Argyle tender, and nickel miners hit roadblocks
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Diamond mines are not forever, and the closure of Rio Tinto’s Argyle diamond mine has led to a mad rush in the auction from the final collection of pink diamonds from the mine that shut down late last year.
The famous Kimberley diamond mine produces one of the few diamond products regarded by experts as an investment asset, with Rio saying the 2021 collection continues its trajectory of ‘double digit price growth’ from 19 successful bidders across 9 countries.
Sydney jeweller and Argyle Pink Select Atelier Calleija was the successful bigger on lot number 1, the 3.47 carat Argyle Eclipse, and lot 5, the 1.01 carat fancy red Argyle Boheme.
“It is an extraordinary opportunity and a privilege to be part of this historic collection. We are humbled to be the custodians of these uniquely Australian jewels and are delighted to be part of their enduring legacy,” jeweller John Calleija said.
Rio’s minerals boss Sinead Kaufman said despite the closure after 37 years of the Argyle mine, which produced virtually all of the world’s fancy pink, red and violet diamonds, it will retain the Argyle Pink Diamonds brand.
“We are extremely proud of the Argyle Pink Diamonds business and its legacy will continue as we retain and manage the brand through a proprietary Argyle pink diamonds trading platform, certification processes and creative collaborations with our trusted partners,” Kaufman said.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong fancy coloured diamonds specialist Kunming Diamonds won the entire 24.88 carat offer of 41 lots of blue and violet diamonds at the global auction.
“We cherish becoming the custodians of the final Australian treasures from this iconic and industry-defining mine, and look forward to unearthing the incredible possibilities in the years to come,” Kunming executive director Harsh Maheshwari said.
Mincor Resources (ASX:MCR) says it will put back first concentrate for its Cassini mine in Kambalda from late in the March Quarter to the June Quarter next year “due to widely publicised labour shortages in the WA resource sector”.
It has advised BHP (ASX:BHP) of its intention to start delivering ore next year under its tolling and sales agreement, something that will see the restart of crushing and processing operations at the 54-year-old Kambalda concentrator for the first time since 2018.
Mincor boss David Southam, who told Stockhead this month he would not likely to be building a mine from scratch in the current environment, said retention and recruitment strategies had been put in place to alleviate the labour issues.
“Notwithstanding, our ramp-up program has not been immune to the current challenges facing the Western Australian mining sector, particularly against the backdrop of what has become an unprecedented tight labour market, exacerbated by COVID-19,” he said.
“Our original development schedule, which was created in a pre-COVID environment, envisaged a ramp-up of activity and skilled blue collar labour supply mid-September and into early October.”
“This ramp-up has not eventuated to the extent planned, prompting us to take the proactive step of updating our development plans with first nickel concentrate now scheduled for the June 2022 quarter.
“We have been working closely with our mining partner, Pit N Portal, to counter-act the labour shortages, and have implemented a number of retention and recruitment strategies that are already paying dividends.”
Meanwhile, Western Areas has been hit by lower grades at its ageing Flying Fox mine, part of the Forrestania operation the mid-tier nickel miner runs.
Forrestania produced 3741t of nickel with mine grades falling from 3.4 to 3.2% and nickel tonnes produced sliding from 4911t in the June quarter to 3741t in the September Quarter.
That saw cash costs climb from $3.84/t to $4.95/t, although healthier prices led to a 30% increase in operating cash flow to $31.1m, leaving Western Areas with $147.7m in the bank and no debt.
“The operating result at Forrestania reflects the variability in grade at the Flying Fox mine, which was expected at this maturing operation, with mill production impacted by the lower average head grade and treatment of some low-grade stockpiled ore,” Western Areas MD Dan Lougher said.
“However, the average realised nickel price increased to A$11.90/lb for the quarter, as demand from the stainless-steel market grows and the long-term fundamentals for the EV battery market become increasingly robust.
“This enabled us to increase our operating cashflow over 30 per cent, relative to the prior quarter, and maintain a strong cash balance to further enhance our position to achieve long-term growth.”
Western Areas struck first ore from its Odysseus mine at the Cosmos nickel complex near Leinster in October.
Nickel prices fell 3.4% to US$19,529/t as falling Chinese thermal coal futures suggest energy will become more affordable, leading to fewer smelter restrictions across the base metals complex.