Polar bear diamonds come out of hibernation – JCK

The polar bear badge, which marks diamonds as being of Canadian origin, is making a comeback, according to government officials in the Northwest Territories (NWT).

The logo, which in 2000 made a publicity stunt by landing on the cover page of The New York Times…will only be used for diamonds that are not only mined in one of the three producers in the Northwest Territories, but also cut and polished there.

The government has outsourced the polar bear license to Diamonds of Canada, which has a factory in the Northwest Territories that uses automated technology for cutting.

The badge, inscribed on the diamond belt, has also been refreshed.

“We thought it was still a respected and valued brand,” says Andy Leszczynski, Director of Diamonds, Royalties and Financial Analysis for the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). “But we wanted to give it an identity that resonates better.”

The government hired a graphic design firm to bring the bear “into the 21st century,” says German Villegas, secondary industry diamond manager for the GNWT.

“We wanted to make it a dynamic polar bear,” says Villegas. “It’s more agile and it’s smoother. It’s not aggressive; it is looking to the future. We changed that static aggressiveness that we had in the past.

Diamonds of Canada CEO Benjamin King thinks the new one is more “health conscious”.

“The first one was a little more overweight. This one is more torn. He’s no longer a twisted polar bear. He has more self-confidence. He is more determined.

Diamonds of Canada expects to inscribe only 16,000 diamonds with the polar bear mark, equivalent to the number of polar bears currently in Canada. A portion of the proceeds will go to government research efforts.

That number of 16,000 is a hard ceiling, King says, “unless they find an ice floe of 10,000 more polar bears.”

He expects them all to be sold out within a decade. But he is happy that it is a limited edition product.

“You see so many brands ramping up and they become a shadow of themselves. In 30 or 40 years, people might be happy to have 1 in 16,000.”

The company will only affix the badge to diamonds of 1.5 carats and above. It will also offer brown and yellow diamonds in the mix.

“We want to show the diversity of production from each of these sites,” he says. “So we can say, this one comes from [the Ekati mine], this one is from Diavik, which is closing in five years. It’s something that our industry has really failed to communicate, the finiteness of diamonds, that in five years you won’t see Diavik diamonds.

Diamonds will be tracked and sold with GIA Diamond Origin reports.

“The product appeals to a certain customer who wants more from their purchase and wants to understand where their diamonds come from,” he says.

The diamonds will not be sold at full price, but at a “fair price”, he adds.

“You look at what’s happening with Russia, they sell diamonds at a lower price than Dubai,” he says. “Because Canada is so honest, it really is the benchmark.”

Diamonds of Canada also sells “Polar Bear Rough Diamonds”, rough stones that allow consumers to choose their eventual polished shape. They’ve proven surprisingly popular, King says.

“When you see a rough stone, there’s just something transformative about it. It hits a basic instinct.

In addition to diamonds, shoppers will have the chance to purchase items created by the Indigenous people of the Northwest Territories, including artwork, beads and footwear.

The government has decided to sub-license the logo to Diamonds of Canada, so that it can ensure that all the companies that use it “share the same vision,” says Villegas. Almod Diamonds also has a cutting plant in the Northwest Territories, but so far has not signed the polar bear mark, nor the other Northwest Territories government mark, the Government Certified Canadian Diamond.

The fully automated Diamonds of Canada factory is widely monitored to see if it can match the efficiency of operations fueled by cheap labor.

King says so far he’s delivered.

“Not all the software companies that built the tools for the industry have the real diamonds. Every day we add efficiencies to our returns. You can’t do that unless you have real diamonds to work with.

The badge received a surprisingly warm reception at JCK Las Vegas, King said.

“It’s been in hibernation for so long that when we brought it back people were so excited, way more than I expected,” he says.

This year Villegas and Leszczynski both attended their first year of JCK show and found it a revelation.

“Most diamond miners lose the reason they mine,” Villegas says. “On the floors of the JCK show, you can really feel why they do what they do. People are so committed to jewelry. It’s a very passionate way of doing business. Few industries are as passionate than they are.

Photo courtesy of Diamonds of Canada

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Sarah C. Figueiredo