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article imageThe impact of Eira Thomas on the diamond industry

By Jenna Cyprus     Jul 11, 2013 in Business
Eira Thomas isn't a household name but has been a powerhouse in the diamond industry and worked to change a terrible thing about an industry that deals with beauty.
When people meet Eira Thomas, they don’t usually recognize her as the diamond maven she is. She grew up following her father around the Canadian mining fields, getting dirty and digging with her hands to connect with the bounty of the earth. From humble beginnings, her father also equipped her with the knowledge that the great outdoors could provide well for a family—she just didn’t realize how well until 1994.
That was the year she led a team into the remoter regions of Canada’s Northwest Territories and discovered a multibillion-dollar diamond deposit, which was named Diavik. It’s been nearly 20 years since Thomas spearheaded that discovery, and she’s transformed herself into an extremely savvy business woman. While she no longer works in the fields herself, she continues to make a huge impact on the diamond industry.
Disrupting business as usual
Canada is a leader when it comes to blood-free diamonds, and Thomas has been at the forefront of that effort. As more people become aware of the reality of blood diamonds and steer away from stones mined in violent places like Sierra Leone, they’re willing to pay more for cruelty-free diamonds that were discovered up north.
While pure or nearly pure diamonds are transparent and colorless, and traditionally enjoyed the greatest value, buyers have been paying more and more for colored diamonds in recent years. Impurities, such as nitrogen for yellow or brown, or boron for blue, or structural defects can color diamonds. In the past five years, however, colored diamonds in the 5- to 7-carat range have sold for between $9.5 million and $10.8 million.
Eira Thomas is a trained geologist who has had an illustrious career as a pioneer in the Canadian diamond industry. Until Thomas’s discovery, North America wasn’t regarded as a serious player when it came to mining diamonds. However, her triumph wasn’t just about quantity: these were also some of the highest quality diamonds ever mined in recent history.
They were so phenomenal that Tiffany & Co. committed to purchase $50 million in diamonds annually. This might look like a lucky hand for Thomas, but luck has always been on her side. She has set the bar high when it comes to the quality of diamonds for sale, and her “boutique” image has helped her company rise to the top.
When women are in charge
Now Thomas is out to prove that it was business savvy, more than sheer good fortune, that put her on the map. Currently, she is a director at Lucara Diamond Corp. and Strongbow Exploration Inc. She also serves on the board of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada.
Whether it’s for girl power or not, Thomas’s chairman and partner is another powerful woman, Catherine McLeod-Seltzer, who made a name for herself discovering Peruvian gold in the mid-90s. In an industry traditionally headed and funded by men, Thomas’s grit and ambition (thanks to her father) has helped her blaze the trail for women who want to get into serious diamond mining and business. She chose McLeod-Seltzer because of her expertise and track record, but there’s no denying the simple fact that her choice was also another powerful woman.
Some of Thomas’s critics have charged that she hoards the credit to herself, but she brushes those complaints aside. She knows she’s the leader, and claims that she’s always shared her success with those who deserve it because they were by her side during discoveries or negotiations.
Aiding Thomas, making humane consumer decisions
Thomas is also a staunch advocate for worker’s rights. Despite having to dig through ice, working conditions are good, laborers paid well, Workers at the mine went on strike in 2006, but over the failure of BHP to appease the union in terms of collective bargaining. This is a far cry from the issues seen in parts of Africa.
It’s clear that Thomas and her company are lending an example to an industry needing to eradicate a terrible aspect of their trade. Inhumane business practices are most definitely a blemish on an industry prized for its beauty.
However, it is something that consumers, and moguls like Thomas, are able to fight. Sound business decisions and consumer research can go a long way - choosing to work with reputable diamond distributors (no matter how large or small) will help put the bad ones out of business.
In February of 2013, Thomas was named as President and CEO of the Kaminak Gold Corporation.
For more information about ending the blood diamond trade, please visit Amnesty International.
More about Eira Thomas, BHP, Blood diamonds, canadian diamond industry, blood diamond resolution
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