Bring on the Rocks
City gets another piece of diamond processing pie

Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 25/98) - Bring on the diamonds.

That's what Victoria-based Sirius Diamonds is saying now that the territorial government has given approval for the company to set up a cutting and polishing shop in Yellowknife.

Stephen Kakfwi minister of resources, wildlife and economic development made the long-awaited announcement yesterday in the House.

"The government has agreed to provide a five-year loan guarantee to Sirius Diamonds," said Kakfwi yesterday during a press conference.

"The initial amount is up to $5 million. In addition, we will provide training contributions and wage subsidies totalling $690,000 and $250,000 toward the purchase of diamond manufacturing equipment."

The company will use the money to purchase Ekati rough. Once in full operation, Sirius' production will reach 2,000 carats per month of rough diamonds at the initial stage rising to 5,000 carats per month over time as the supply of rough and trained personnel increases.

Sirius will employ 30 workers within two years, 25 of whom will be local hires, expanding to 50 over time.

"Annual total payroll after year two of operations is expected to be in the range of $2 million with employees being eligible for productivity bonuses and shared-ownership on top of base salary," said Sirius owner Jim Ben-Oliel.

Lasers, automated polishing machines and computer-aided analyzers will be used at the factory.

The Sirius plant will produce from NWT rough the Canadian Ideal Cut Diamond, the company's trademark fine cut diamond.

"We're hoping to get that into the marketplace quickly. It establishes Canadian standards really. No one else is doing this so we want to be considered up at the top of the heap, along with Antwerp or better than Antwerp," said Ben-Oliel.

Sirius will be preparing two other diamond lines including the Arctic Fire and Ice Diamond and the Northern Lights Diamond.

The 420-square-metre, single-storey facility, located one block down from BHP's sorting and valuation facility on airport property, will be built by Ninety North with architectural plans by Park Sanders Adam Vikse Architects Ltd.

Sirius expects to begin operation in Yellowknife by April 1999 but will process Ekati rough at their Victoria plant until that time.

"The agreement with Sirius Diamonds confirms this government's commitment to maximize the jobs and opportunities for Northerners from the development of our resources," said Kakfwi.

To ensure Northerners are trained and ready to work at Sirius' plant, Education Minister Charles Dent has announced a training partnership between his department, Aurora College, the Diamond High Council of Antwerp and the Belgium government's department of education.

"By using the expertise of instructors from the Diamond High Council of Antwerp as well as other diamond experts from around the world, we will train our workers to meet world standards of excellence in the secondary industry."

A 16-week training program beginning in Yellowknife in January will give Northerners a start at becoming internationally recognized and accredited cutters and polishers.