Israel is already known to have an extensive diamond trading market, but could diamonds and precious stones also be extracted here?
If you ask Australian Prof. William (Bill) Griffin, a world-renowned geologist and expert on the earth's crust, the answer is a resounding yes. "Israel has large deposits containing different types of precious stones, including diamonds. This is really a bonanza," he told "Globes."
Griffin came to Israel in January 2016 for the first time to examine the activities of Shefa Yamim (TASE:SEFA), the only company in Israel dealing with the exploration of diamonds and precious stones. "I, and the institute I work at, had visited Tibet in order to inspect various formations of a mineral called moissanite - minerals which are not supposed to exist on earth, because they are generated only in the absence of oxygen," he says, describing how he reached his conclusion. "Russian scientists that were with me said that the same minerals have been found in Israel, in much greater deposits than the ones found before. We were very excited and contacted Shefa Yamim at the very same moment."
Griffin may have come to Israel because of the moissanite, but found himself researching the previous stones discovered by Shefa Yamim, including rubies, sapphires and diamonds. "It was fascinating," he says, "we figured out how this rare mineral arrived on earth (probably in volcanic eruptions) and in parallel carried out exhaustive research on the stones. For example, chemical and microscopic research aimed at determining the elements responsible for the stones' color varieties and the mapping of sources from which each material in the stone came. When discussing exploration, this is critical, because it tells us where to search."
Shefa Yamin, founded by Avraham Taub, has received a permit for the exploration of diamonds and precious stones from the Natural Resources Licensing Administration at the Ministry of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources. In the past few years, the company has been carrying out exploration mainly in the Carmel area, Emek Zevulun, the Jezreel Valley and Ramot Menashe. Taub says that over the years, five delegations of geologists from global mining giant De Beers have visited Israel and helped the company to prepare its exploration plan.
One of Shefa Yamim's achievements occurred only two months ago, when it reported finding a 1.7 karat, 8.26 mm ruby - three times the size of rubies founded by the company until then. The size of this specimen supports estimates regarding the potential of the deposit in which the company concentrates its efforts - the middle section of the Kishon River.
Griffin says that he was skeptical when he first heard that the company also discovered diamonds, since, in geological terms, Israel is too young, leading to low chances to find diamonds. "But it seems that Israel has certain types of diamonds that could have arrived from nearby locations that are geologically more ancient, such as Africa. After all, diamonds last forever," he says.
Major capital is required
Do the type and quantity of stones discovered in Israel warrant commercial mining? Griffin is cautious about providing a definitive answer, but he estimates that it does. "Rare stones and minerals have been found in Israel. It has, for example, an extremely rare stone named 'the Carmel Sapphire', sold around the world for $3,000 per karat and, synthetic moissanite is currently sold for a higher price than synthetic diamonds. Therefore, natural moissanite, which is very scarce, would have a very high economic value."
Griffin adds that in Israel, unlike other countries, precious stones and diamonds occur in the same areas. "This is relatively rare. In eastern Australia, for example, there are places with sapphire stones, places with ruby stones and areas with diamonds, but they are not concentrated in the same place."
Despite all the discoveries and the rare stones, Shefa Yamim is yet to begin commercial mining. Taub explains that one of the reasons is the high cost of handling the stones. "Explortation drilling is not as expensive as the handling costs that must be invested in the stones once they are excavated," he says and adds that the company spends $100,000-150,000 per month on washing, sorting and handling the stones found.
Taub, who is currently staying in London where he is planning a public offering, adds, "We need substantial capital, which is hard to come by in Israel, because the Israeli market does not understand us. We are inventing the wheel here and this is a problem. It is difficult, being the first in Israel."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on August 1, 2016
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