By Michelle Graff
The Venetia mine in South Africa, which is moving from an open-pit to an underground operation. De Beers’ production in South Africa fell 59 percent year-over-year. (Photo © De Beers Group, Photo credit: Ben Perry at Armoury Films)
New York—Like sales, diamond production fell by double digits in 2019 for De Beers Group, the world’s largest diamond miner in terms of value.

The miner and marketer recovered 30.8 million carats in 2019, down 13 percent year-over-year. Fourth quarter production was down 15 percent, to 7.8 million from 9.1 million previously.

South Africa experienced the steepest drop, with production down by more than half, totaling 1.9 million carats in 2019 compared with 4.7 million carats the previous year.

De Beers has only one mine left in South Africa after closing Voorspoed at the end of 2018.

Production in Botswana, De Beers’ largest source of diamonds, slipped 4 percent year-over-year to 23.3 million carats, while production in Namibia fell 15 percent to 1.7 million carats.

Recoveries in Canada dropped 13 percent to 3.9 million carats. The country’s Victor mine closed in the second quarter of 2019, though production at Gahcho Kué was up by 28 percent due to “strong plant performance.”

The full-year consolidated average realized price for rough diamonds was $137 per carat, down from $171/carat in 2018, primarily due to the company selling more lower-value rough in 2019 and a 6 percent drop in the rough diamond index.

De Beers predicts diamond production will pick up in 2020, with guidance set at 32 million to 34 million carats, due to an improving diamond market and an expected increase in production at the Venetia mine in South Africa, which is transitioning into an underground operation.

Rio Tinto, meanwhile, recorded an 8 percent drop in diamond production to 17.3 million carats compared with 18.4 million in 2018.

Production was down 8 percent at both its mines, Argyle in Western Australia (13 million carats mined in 2019) and Diavik in Canada (4 million carats mined).

The London-based miner said carat production dropped at Argyle due to lower recovered grade, which was partially offset by stronger mining and processing rates.

Lower ore availability and grade from Diavik’s underground operations impacted production there, though the company recovered more and better-quality rough from the mine’s A21 open pit.

Argyle, which is the world’s No. 1 source of red and pink diamonds, is set to close at the end of the year.

Rio Tinto expects diamond production to total 12 million to 14 million carats this year, with the decrease reflective of the planned closure of Argyle and lower grades at Diavik.

The company said overall, it expects general stability in global GDP growth this year, although it recognizes that could be disrupted by geopolitical tensions and oil price volatility.

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