Legendary multimillionaire geologist Charles "Chuck" Fipke has sold his remaining stake in Ekati, the first-ever Canadian diamond mine he discovered two decades ago in the Arctic tundra of the Northwest Territories.
The native Albertan sold his 10 per cent interest to Dominion Diamond Corp. for a total of $67-million (U.S.). Dr. Stewart Blusson, with whom Mr. Fipke famously travelled through the barren Arctic for several years before they discovered Canada's diamonds and sparked a huge staking rush in the 1990s, holds the remaining 10 per cent interest.
"Although the sale … ends his financial involvement with Canada's first diamond mine, his contribution to its discovery and success goes well beyond that," said Robert Gannicott, chairman and CEO of Dominion Diamond.
The deal increases Dominion's stake in Ekati's "core zone" – where the current diamond deposits are located – to 90 per cent, after it bought BHP Billiton's 80 per cent share for $500-million last year. Last January, Mr. Fipke sued Harry Winston Diamond Corp. – which later renamed itself Dominion – and tried to block it from acquiring Ekati, stating that BHP "schemed" to prevent him from exercising his right to refuse the acquisition. Mr. Fipke did not respond to calls for comment.
Mr. Fipke's illustrious career has spanned journeys through New Guinea, South Africa, Brazil and Canada in search of gold, copper and diamonds, surviving a bout of malaria along the way. Convinced that he'd found indications of diamonds in the glaciers of Northern Canada, a young Mr. Fipke set out to prove it. He met his future exploration partner, Mr. Blusson, who flew a helicopter to save him after Mr. Fipke was stranded on the side of a mountain. The pair began searching for diamonds in 1984, although it wasn't until 1991 that the eccentric scientists found evidence of the precious gem near pristine Lac de Gras in the Northwest Territories.
Mr. Fipke, who is among the top 100 richest Canadians, has since switched from diamond prospecting to breeding and investing in thoroughbred horses.
Mr. Fipke's deal with Dominion is "positive" for the company, according to Edward Sterck, diamond analyst at BMO Capital Markets, because the 10 per cent share is valued at $91-million, which is higher than the purchase price. However, while the shuffle in ownership is historic, this deal "doesn't really change anything for the Canadian diamond industry as a whole," said Mr. Sterck.
"The industry remains in pretty reasonable health, even if peak production is behind us," said Mr. Sterck.
The Ekati mine has produced roughly 6 per cent of global diamond supply by value for the past five years, and is the world's third largest producer of rough diamonds by value. It's expected to cease production by 2019, although Dominion is trying to expand operations by drilling two new kimberlite pipes at the current site. If approved by regulators, this could extend its shelf life by 10 to 20 years. In its peak year of 2007, Ekati is estimated to have produced 4.6 million carats, although production has tailed off to about 2 million carats last year, according to BMO.