Diamonds Overview

Smith C B,
Organization: The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
Pages: 1
Publication Date: Jan 1, 1988
Major diamond pipes discovered in Western Australia in the late-1970s exhibited a number of unique features that not only resulted in Australia becoming the largest diamond producer in the world in volume terms by 1986 but also changed geological thinking on the primary occurrence of diamond. They were: - lamproite is an alternative primary diamond host to kimberlite. - the extremely high mean grade of the Argyle lamproite pipe at 5 ct per tonne. - the tectonic setting of the lamproite pipes in mobile zones mar- ginal to the Kimberley Craton in contrast to the traditional African setting within stable cratons. Diamond was one of the earliest economic minerals discovered in Australia but 128 years elapsed between its first recognition and the first Australian economic pipe discovery (Argyle). During that period some 200,000 ct of alluvial diamonds were mined in Australia (mostly in New South Wales), but such alluvial output is insignificant on the world scene where annual production today runs at 95 million ct of natural stones some 76010 of which comes from primary pipe sources such as Argyle which alone produces 30 million ct per annum. Of particular significance therefore is the geological nature of the primary diamond source rocks in Australia. The Argyle and Ellendale Pipes are lamproites, differing from kimberlite in their mineralogy and geochemistry, and characterised by the presence of typical lamproite minerals such as leucite, priderite, potassic richterite, and the abnormally high content of chemical elements incompatible with ultramafic rocks. But not yet widely appreciated is that many other Australian olivine-rich lampro- phyres also contain diamond. Such picritic alkaline rocks can
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