Ikuma Diamonds in the RoughMar 19, 2013
As a new member of the Ben Bridge marketing team, I was pretty excited about my unexpected invite to travel to the Ikuma diamond facilities in Canada a few weeks ago. Like many of us, I have wonderful memories of field trips in grade school full of fun, friends, and adventure but I quickly realized work field trips are so much more than that. This trip would prove to be a great opportunity to meet store associates, hear the Ikuma story, gain knowledge about all things diamonds, and further understand our innate human connection to this beautiful stone.
We boarded the charter bus at 7:30 am, made a quick stop at the Bellis Fair Mall for a bite to eat and a peek at our store there, and found ourselves in Vancouver, British Columbia around 10 am. I was surprised to find that we were traveling to an office building for the day. We were greeted by several charismatic, well-dressed men in suits that were ecstatic to see us. “This is where the magic happens,” one of them explained.
We split into two groups for the day. My group was the first to assemble in the Board Room to learn about the origins of diamonds, challenges of diamond mining, diamond cutting technology, polishing techniques, and the history of the Ikuma Canadian Diamond. We learned that kimberlite on the surface can be an identifier of diamonds below and that there are only 23 places in the world economically viable to sustain a diamond mine. We also learned about beneficiation, blocking, rooting, what it takes to become a master diamond cutter, and where the Ikuma name comes from. For a moment they had us believing Ikuma is a Disney reference to the Lion King film by singing “Ikuma-matata”. The real story behind the name is that the word “Ikuma” comes from the Inuit language (the native people of Canada’s Northwest Territories) meaning “Fire” – a reference to how diamonds are created in the mantle beneath the Earth’s surface.
After a delicious dim sum lunch, our group crowded into a diamond polishing room hardly bigger than the Board Room and watched several expert polishers hard at work. Many of us were distracted by four machines whirring about off to the side. On each, one mechanical arm was aggressively spinning a diamond as the other arm applied a delicate, even polish. Television monitors provided a close-up of all the action. We learned that each diamond is polished by both machine and hand, back and forth for several hours, until a perfectly desired shine and shape is reached. At one point we all examined an untouched “rough” diamond that looked no different than an ordinary pebble. We were each able to polish a real diamond on the “wheel” during the finishing stage. A door in the back led us to a closet-sized room containing a master cutter hard at work on his computer. He explained that the software he uses helps determine the best way to cut each rough stone. At the time, he was working on a scanned diamond and showed us why he had decided on a heart-shaped cut. From there we said our goodbyes and migrated back south.
The bus ride back to our Seattle headquarters was longer than the ride there due to rain and traffic but it was made manageable by a James Bond film appropriately titled Diamonds Are Forever. The Wi-Fi on the bus too!
Going into the trip I knew very little about diamonds but furiously wrote down most of what I heard. Here are a few notes I jotted down in-between jaw-dropping and head scratching moments:
- It takes 6 years to become a master or skilled diamond cutter
- Diamond mines provide scholarships, improved roads, and skilled jobs to the local community
- Government is vital to the entire process (regulations, monitoring, and involvement)
- Cutting and polishing is the step where the most value is added to a diamond
- Diamonds are very rare and demand is growing faster than supply from diamond mines
- When they found diamonds under a lake, they first transported all the fish to safety
This Canadian adventure exceeded my expectations in many ways. The heart of the trip, the Ikuma diamond story, stands out to me as the clear highlight (diamond pun intended). It’s not every day that you get to polish a precious stone or hold an actual diamond in the rough. Thank you to everyone involved in putting this annual trip together. I’m proud to work for a company committed to educating and training both their store and corporate associates. I do have one small suggestion for next year: a free diamond sample parting gift on the way out.
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