The Story Behind The Biggest Diamond Ever Found in North America



Rio Tinto held a private viewing and reception May 10 in New York City to show the 187.7 ct. Diavik Foxfire diamond

On May 10, Rio Tinto presented the 187.7 ct. Diavik Foxfire diamond to members of the trade in New York City. Discovered last fall in the Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada’s Northwest Territories, the stone also bears the indigenous moniker Noi?eh Kwe, after the Tlicho, the First Nations people who call the area home.

JCK spoke to Alan Davies, chief executive of diamonds and minerals at Rio Tinto, at the unveiling of the diamond, which is currently on a worldwide tour before it gets auctioned off next month. Davies described the diamond as “the only stone of its size in the entire North American continent.”

“It was a couple of billion years in the making, and totally not in our statistical models,” he said. “Frankly, it’s a national treasure.”

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The Diavik Foxfire diamond (photo courtesy of Rio Tinto)

JCK: How was the Diavik Foxfire found?

Alan Davies: It was found in the fourth quarter of last year. We know the ore body so well, and the predictability of it has been reasonably quite accurate. Yet all of our modeling doesn’t predict these types of finds. It got through the process and through one of the product trays. One of the operators saw it and halted the process and said, “We’ve got something special here.” It’s 187.7 carats—the biggest diamond found in North America, the whole of the continent, and obviously Canada. Because of the predictability of the ore, we wouldn’t expect another one to be found. So it’s highly likely that this will be the biggest ever.

JCK: What will happen to the diamond now?

Davies: Diamond mining is our business. We have a stream of product we take through cutting and polishing, but with this product there are a number of things you can do to it. It’s possible that a buyer—whether it be a natural history museum or a collector—might actually want the rough intact. What we didn’t want to do is eliminate any streams of attractiveness that might have value. We’ve been in London, now we’re here in New York, we’re going to Tel Aviv, Antwerp, and then the bidding process is online. Everyone gets an opportunity to bid. We don’t look at the bids. Everyone’s got the same opportunity. And when they come through the online platform, we see it.

JCK: Where do you expect the diamond to end up?

Davies: People in the trade, their collectors, and customers are already talking to them. One might want to keep it as rough, while another might want to do a 100 ct. stone in a fancy shape. Others might see if you can make a big pendant, maybe earrings in the 90 ct. range. But we expect a couple hundred people to view it. There will be competition for it. The feedback we’re getting from the trade is that it will be pretty highly sought after.

JCK: What’s the estimate?

Davies: Our particular policy is not to constrain anyone else’s imagination.

JCK: What do you say to people who say that lab-grown diamonds are a more eco-friendly, responsible purchase than mined diamonds?

Davies: Since we’ve started [at Diavik], we’ve spent $7 billion on operating costs, $5 billion of which have gone into northern Canada in local employment and local indigenous businesses we’ve developed to supply the mine. We look after the environment as well. The mine is an epic feat of engineering. At the end—we’ll go to 2024—you won’t even know we were there. The caribou will still keep their migration path.

What we need to do is make sure we’re out in front of that eco-friendly, clean, and green production of diamonds. And on synthetics, just like other crystals, there’ll be a market for them, but they won’t have the emotional connection that natural mined diamonds from an origin have. And as an industry, we need to make sure that consumers get the choices of what they want to buy. There will be a market for both. And what size it is depends on how we keep the consumers’ trust.

*Additional reporting by Victoria Gomelsky