Rio Tinto has completed its final day of mining at the iconic Argyle diamond mine in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.
The Argyle ore body was discovered in 1979 and mining of the alluvial and surface deposits commenced in 1983. Prior to 1998, no plans had been finalised for the mine to continue past 2002. But Rio Tinto’s decision to build an underground mine below the existing open pit operations in 2005 led to an extended mine life to 2020.
More than 865 million carats of rough diamonds have been produced at the Argyle mine in its 37 years of operations, making it the world’s largest supplier of coloured diamonds.
Rio Tinto chief executive of copper and diamonds, Arnaud Soirat, said 50 years ago there were very few people who believed in the existence of diamonds in Australia.
“To arrive at this final chapter has required vision, courage and determination to overcome significant challenges to enter new territory in diamond exploration, mining and marketing,” he said.
“Today Argyle’s influence stretches into many spheres and over many continents and I am very proud to acknowledge all those people who have contributed to the discovery and development of the mine and the production of some of the finest diamonds the world has ever seen.”
Rio Tinto will employ a smaller workforce to oversee the closure process at the Argyle mine.
This is expected to take around five years, including mine decommissioning and dismantling as well as rehabilitation.
“A new chapter will now begin as we start the process of respectfully closing the Argyle mine and rehabilitating the land, to be handed back to its traditional custodians,” Argyle mine general manager, Andrew Wilson, said.
The Argyle mine is the source of a very small but consistent source of rare pink diamonds.
Only 5 per cent of the diamonds mined at Argyle were gem quality, and only one of 10,000 of these were made up of pink diamonds, according to Australian Diamond Portfolio executive director Anna Cisecki.