The three diamond mines discovered in Canada’s Northwest Territories “are just the beginning,” journalist Kevin Krajick told a recent GIA Alumni Association meeting in Manhattan.
“There is now prospecting all over Canada,” said Krajick, author of Barren Lands: An Epic Search for Diamonds in the North American Arctic, a new book on Canada’s diamond rush. “There will be mining there for I don’t know how long—centuries, maybe.”
Krajick, a veteran science writer, began the book to learn more about the mindset of diamond explorers. “Diamond mining is a pretty hopeless profession,” he said, noting that “99% of the time, you never find anything. The question is: What would drive someone to do this, other than the obvious desire to get rich?”
According to Krajick, explorers journey to the “literal ends of the Earth” to find diamonds. The Northwest Territories are called “barren lands” because they are located too far north for trees to grow.
“It’s nearly 500,000 square miles of nothing,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful place in the world, [with] pristine, untouched wilderness and incredible wildlife.”
In winter, temperatures hover around 70 degrees below zero. “You really don’t want to be there unless you are a diamond prospector, and they are really not normal people,” he said.
Krajick said diamonds have been found many times in the United States—including one supposedly found in the craw of a butchered chicken. During the gold rush in the 19th century, he explained, “people panned for gold, and occasionally they found sparkling little stones.”
When the “Big Hole” was discovered in South Africa, America caught diamond fever. There was a staking rush in upstate New York, although “the problem was there were plenty of kimberlites but no diamonds,” Krajick said. The rush culminated in the “Great Diamond Hoax” in Colorado in 1872, when some hucksters went overseas, bought some low-grade diamonds, and “salted” them on an otherwise barren piece of property.
“The stock market went crazy,” he said. “People really swallowed this.” Eventually, the ruse was exposed when explorers visited the property while the con artists were on vacation.
His final words to the group: “The Earth is really full of surprises. So don’t look up. You never know when you will find something good.”