By Michelle Graff
An aerial shot of the open pit at the Diavik Diamond mine in Canada. Rio Tinto plans to have a feasibility study on the mine’s A21 kimberlite pipe completed by the end of 2014. If put into operation, the additional pipe would increase capacLondon--Diamond production rose 2 percent in the first half of the year for Rio Tinto Group, while higher diamond prices boosted earnings in the mining company’s Diamonds & Minerals group.

Rio Tinto reported Thursday that it mined a total of 7.48 million carats of diamonds in the first six months of the year, compared with 7.37 million in the same period last year.

Revenue for the Diamonds & Minerals group, which also includes titanium dioxide, borates and salt, fell 3 percent from $2.05 billion to $1.98 billion in the first half of the year. Excluding the impact of a tax settlement, earnings for the group rose 9 percent in the period, fueled in part by higher diamond prices.

Rio Tinto said that in the first half of the year, industry diamond prices were up 8 percent. In the medium to long run, the mining company said it expects strong demand for diamonds, particularly from consumers in India and China.

The rising price of diamonds has been noted by a number of industry players as of late.

In releasing its first half results, Russian diamond mining company Alrosa said that rough prices were up 6 percent in the first half of the year, and online retailer Blue Nile began lowering engagement ring prices in June and July after consumers balked at its higher prices in the second quarter.

For the year, Rio Tinto said it expects its diamond production to total 16 million carats, flat as compared with last year.

The underground portion of the company’s Argyle mine in Western Australia is on track to reach full capacity in 2015, with the second crusher commissioned last month. This is expected to extend the life of the mine, which is a major source of pink diamonds, until at least 2020. The underground portion of Argyle opened in May 2013.

In addition, Rio Tinto said it anticipates the feasibility study on developing the A21 kimberlite pipe and thereby increasing production at the Diavik Diamond mine in Canada will be completed this year. If approved, production would commence in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Rio Tinto owns 100 percent of the Argyle mine and has a 60 percent interest in Diavik and a 78 percent stake in the Murowa mine in Zimbabwe.

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