Global Mining: Top Five Industrial Diamond-producing Countries

Angolan diamonds

While the average person is familiar with diamonds only in the context of jewelry, the world’s hardest substance also has applications well outside the world of fashion, find out more as reported by Investing News Network.

In fact, about 80 percent of mined diamonds are unsuitable for gemstone use. Called industrial diamonds, these gems are used to create super-durable cutting tools and abrasives, and represent the majority of the diamond trade. What’s more, demand for these diamonds is rising in the US and around the world, largely due to infrastructure projects that require slicing through asphalt and other hard surfaces.

Synthetic industrial diamonds

People buying diamond jewelry often prefer natural diamonds over synthetic diamonds, but that’s not the case for industrial diamonds — indeed, in the US alone, 95 percent of the industrial diamond market is synthetic, while worldwide that percentage rises to 99 percent. Synthetic industrial diamonds are favored partially because it’s cheaper to produce them than it is to mine natural industrial diamonds. Furthermore, the quality of synthetic industrial diamonds can easily be tweaked to meet companies’ specific needs.

China produces the most synthetic industrial diamonds, putting out 4 billion carats last year, as per the US Geological Survey’s most recent report on industrial diamonds. The US is also a major producer of synthetic industrial diamonds, as well as a key consumer. All in all, about 15 countries have the ability to produce synthetic industrial diamonds.Natural industrial diamonds

As the above information shows, the vast majority of the industrial diamond trade centers on synthetic diamonds; however, natural diamonds still hold a place in the industrial diamond industry. Here are the five top natural industrial diamond-producing countries of 2015, using statistics from the US Geological Survey report mentioned above.

1. Russia

Mine production: 16 million carats

Russia’s natural industrial diamond production fell slightly in 2015, dropping from 17 million carats to 16 million carats.

Excitement hit the Russian diamond space in 2012 when the country revealed the discovery of the Popigai asteroid crater, which is said to contain “trillions of carats” — more than the world’s known reserves. The discovery is noteworthy for those interested in natural industrial diamonds because the gems contained in the crater are reportedly particularly hard and ideal for industrial use; that said,Engineering and Mining Journal points out that they may nevertheless be less appealing than synthetic options. Furthermore, while the discovery was revealed just a few years ago, the crater was actually discovered in the 1970s — it’s thus possible that it will be a long time before anything comes of it.

2. Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa)

Mine production: 13 million carats

In 2015, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) natural industrial diamond output remained steady at 13 million carats. Aside from being a major producer of these stones, the country also holds the second-largest reserves at 150 million carats.

However, the DRC’s incredible mineral wealth comes at a cost — the country is also home to widespread corruption and political turmoil, issues that gave birth to the term “conflict minerals.” Essentially, much of the DRC’s diamond production comes from rebel-owned mines that do not adhere to global standards for labor or human rights. The workers in these mines are treated like slaves and the money brought in by diamonds produced there is used to fund further rebel actions.


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3. Australia

Mine production: 10 million carats

Australia’s natural industrial diamond output increased slightly in 2015, rising from 9 million carats to 10 million carats. According to Australian Mines Atlas, it’s no surprise that the country is a major producer of natural industrial diamonds — the country’s diamond production is heavily weighted toward lower-quality diamonds that are well suited to industrial applications. Rio Tinto’s (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO) Argyle mine is a major source of both gem-quality and industrial natural diamonds in the country.

4. Botswana

Mine production: 7 million carats

Like the DRC, Botswana saw its production of industrial natural diamonds remain steady in 2015 at 7 million carats. The country’s economy is tremendously dependent on the diamond trade (both gem quality and industrial), and while in the past Botswana has reaped benefits from its diamonds, it’s now beginning to suffer due to stagnation in the gem-quality diamond space. To that end, the African nation is looking to diversify away from the diamond trade.

5. Zimbabwe

Mine production: 4 million carats

Last on the list is Zimbabwe, which produced 4 million carats worth of natural industrial diamonds in 2015, flat from 2014 numbers. Based on recent reports, it seems possible that Zimbabwe may not remain a top natural industrial diamond producer for much longer — miners in the country are currently struggling due to the depletion of easy-to-mine alluvial diamonds.

Indeed, Mines Minister Walter Chidhakwa said late last year, “[w]e don’t have funding and yet diamonds are becoming difficult to extract. The grades are very low, production is suffering. You need to produce more in order to sell more. The number of carats produced this year and last year is now down with less than half.”

This is an updated version of an article originally published on Diamond Investing News on June 18, 2015. 


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Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.


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