I was given three challenges related to diamonds on my list of items to complete while in South Africa. Paige and Donnie wanted me to visit De Beers Diamond Mine and Jonas wanted me to actually mine one diamond. I am not quite sure I fulfilled these tasks to perfection, but I will say that I believe my experience counts and I can scratch these items off my list.
A group of us drove about 30 minutes from Pretoria to a small town called Cullinan to tour the Cullinan Diamond Mine. The mine offers surface tours daily and once per week the surface tour is combined with an underground tour and you can see how the entire mine operates. The underground tour takes you to the lowest working level of the mine, which is over 700 meters underground.
Until 2 years ago, the mine was owned by De Beers, but now it is currently owned by Petra Mines. The mine produced the largest rough diamond (3106 carats) in the world. They use a block cave mining technique (click for a video explanation) to extract the diamonds. What I got from the tour is that there are two levels is this method, a drilling level and a production level. The production level is under the drilling level and all the manual work is completed here. The diamonds are found in a material called kimberlite.
When we arrived at the mine, the guides had us change into a jumper, boots, socks, and a hard hat. Then we watched a short video about the mine history before beginning the first part of the surface tour. At the top we saw the earth material come out of the ground on conveyor belts and washed. Then we received more equipment (a head lamp, and an emergency breathing system should we encounter any trouble underground). Then we got on an elevator and went to the production level over 700 meters below the surface of the earth. We walked through all the tunnels and our guide showed us the schematic of the mine. We walked until we reached some exposed kimberlite material which he assured us contained raw diamond. We were allowed to feel it and sort through it but nobody found anything (or at least didn’t confess to finding anything). Then we turned back and headed up to the surface where we saw the large hole created by the mining process. On the way back up to the top we rode the elevator with a large group of mine workers and I saw one of them point at my diamond ring and elbow his friend. I don’t know why, but I felt embarrassed. I think when faced with how much earth is dug up and moved around for tiny shiny rocks, I couldn’t help but feel like the entire process was kind of ridiculous. I’m not saying I don’t like jewelry, it’s just that seeing how far down you have to go, all the drilling and blasting, and all the risk involved just puts a new perspective on it for me.
The most unfortunate part about the day (in my opinion) is that everyone in our group only brought our cellphone cameras to take pictures and we were told that we were not allowed to take our cell phones on the tour for safety reasons. So I only got 3 pictures to commemorate our day. I passed my email out to several other people on our tour in hopes pictures from their regular cameras would materialize, but they unfortunately did not. A few in our group thought the tour was too long. It took almost 5 hours. The guide also didn’t talk very loud, so unless you stayed right up on top of him, you couldn’t hear what he was talking about. Brant thought it felt a lot like visit his job site so he wasn’t as interested in learning about everything. I enjoyed it though. It was kind of scary being so far below ground. It was warm and water was everywhere. They spray water all the time to keep the mine clean and the dust down.
Here are the photos I took:
Here are some pictures from the internet to help you get a visual of our experience:
If you do want to leave the tour with a diamond, there is a gift shop full of them available for purchase. While I wouldn’t tour the mine again, I would without a doubt go back to the town of Cullinan itself. It is so cute with lots of restaurants and shops.
Love from South Africa! xoxoxoxo