November 19, 2001
Polar Bear diamonds dazzle at Foxfire Jewelers
by Deborah Stone
When people think of diamond mines, it is usually South Africa that first comes to mind. What they don't realize is that there is a relatively new source of diamonds right here in North America: the Ekati mine in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
Owner of Foxfire Jewelers, Michael Babinski, has known of this well-kept secret for several years now as he has been carrying the diamonds in his Woodinville store since 1999.
He is one of three authorized dealers in the Puget Sound area to offer "Polar Bear" diamonds, born and bred in North America.
"I heard from our diamond cutting company that it was going to get a shipment of some Canadian diamonds and I was, of course, curious to see what these diamonds looked like, so I asked for some to be sent to Foxfire. I liked what I saw and since then, our store has been carrying them ..."
Diamond indicator materials were discovered by prospector Charles Fipke in 1985, after a seven-year search of the barren lands of Canada's northwest regions.
Fipke was practically alone in his beliefs that diamonds would be found in this area, as other large conglomerates had prospected there for years and had not met with success. With persistence while operating on a slim budget, he finally met with success and Ekati mine was born.
The mine is located 186 miles from the nearest town of Yellowknife, just 124 miles south of the Arctic Circle, in an area that is impassable to ground transportation except 8-10 weeks a year, when the ground is frozen solid.
Today, the mine supplies approximately 6 percent to 8 percent of the world's diamonds, and it is expected that soon this region will become the third largest producer of gem diamonds. Industry experts predict that 20 years from now, North America may produce up to 50 percent of the world's diamonds.
Ekati mine employs many local indigenous people, and with the involvement of the Canadian government, the mine subscribes to a rigorous set of environmental standards. "This is the world's most socially and ecologically responsible mine," comments Babinski. "The strict ecological guidelines that are in place virtually don't exist in other countries. In addition, these mines benefit the local people because they are hired and then provided training in various marketable skills. Employment in this region is tough, but with the opening of additional mines, there will be more jobs available to the local people."
Babinski gets the diamonds directly from the cutter, who buys them direct from the mine.
These are then laser inscribed with a microscopic Polar Bear logo, denoting their origin. Each diamond is supplied with a certificate showing when each was mined and the date it was cut.
Currently, the store has several Canadian Polar Bear diamonds on display. The cost ranges from approximately $900 for a fourth of a carat to $9,000 for a full carat.
"These diamonds are really a win-win situation," explains Babinski. "Our customers get an excellent product, while supporting a socially and environmentally conscious endeavor and we get to deal direct with the cutters."