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North Arrow Minerals (NAR-V): A fancy contrarian idea

By James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

Trade and the resulting prosperity set the stage for the tulip bulb mania of the 1630s. Businessmen who became wealthy buying shares in the Dutch East India Company would decorate their estates with lavish flower gardens of tulips, which had been introduced from Turkey. The rarest and most valuable tulips were the ones with genetic impurities, which produced vibrant colours and unique patterns. Human beings love natural beauty.

In diamonds as in tulips, the rarest and most beautiful are the most valuable. Lucara Diamond Corp. (LUC-T) has been demonstrating it for years, pulling spectacular stones out of its Botswana diamond mine and selling them for prices as high as US$63 million. That price-tag, for the 813-carat Constellation, was more than Lucara paid for a controlling interest in the Karowe project before it became a mine. Fancy pink diamonds from Rio Tinto’s recently closed Argyle diamond mine in Western Australia also command high prices.

Human beings love natural beauty. It’s something of a counterpoint to the narrative that De Beers created the demand for diamonds with its legendary “A Diamond Is Forever” advertising campaign in the late 1940s. That branding certainly introduced diamonds to new markets, such as Japan, and established mass market appeal for diamond engagement rings. Natural diamonds, of course, have been objects of desire for thousands of years.

In diamonds as in tulips, chemical impurities create the vibrancy and colour. Fancy diamonds fetch higher prices because the stones are rare and because they are beautiful. The presence of nitrogen, for example, is what gives a population of diamonds from North Arrow Minerals’ (NAR-V) Naujaat project in Nunavut their vibrant orangey-yellow hue.

STAGE SET FOR A DIAMOND REBOUND

The staying power of natural diamonds has been challenged by everything from lab-grown stones to changing demographic trends to COVID-19. It’s been a rough ride for investors in Canadian diamond stories, too — Dominion Diamond Corp. and Stornoway Diamond Corp., operators of two of Canada’s diamond mines, were both forced into bankruptcy protection.

North Arrow has not been spared. The stock has mostly been in the penalty box since a disappointing 2015 valuation of a 383.55-carat parcel of Naujaat diamonds. The primary conclusion of the valuation was that results and modelled values should be treated with considerable caution because of the small size of the sample. North Arrow has cost-effectively advanced Naujaat and its other Canadian diamond projects since, with successes including the discovery of new diamondiferous kimberlite fields at Pikoo (Saskatchewan) and Mel (Nunavut). While other diamond explorecos went bust or switched commodities, North Arrow shed non-core assets, sold small royalties on secondary projects and did modest raises with help from its billionaire backers.

As the world slowly emerges from the pandemic’s grip and consumers from their homes, natural diamond prices and sales are bouncing back strongly. Rough diamond prices have rebounded and recently eclipsed pre-pandemic levels, reports New York diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky in the February 2021 edition of his State of the Diamond Market. De Beers just raised prices at its third consecutive sale, according to Bloomberg.

Sethunya

The pandemic appears to have created pent-up demand for jewelry and diamonds. Tiffany & Co., the world’s largest jeweller, reported record sales for the November 1 through December 31 holiday period. China is leading the way, as the growing consumer powerhouse leaves COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror. Tiffany’s Chinese sales rose 50% during the holiday period. Richemont, the world’s second largest luxury conglomerate, said Q4 sales in China surged 80% year-over-year (Richemont is the parent company of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels). Chinese jeweller Chow Tai Fook opened 286 net new stores in the country in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Large diamonds and rare coloured diamonds are leading the way. Last year Louis Vuitton, the world’s most powerful luxury brand and the recent acquirer of Tiffany & Co., purchased two of Lucara’s most prized diamonds  — the 1,758-carat Sewelo and the 549-carat Sethunya (right) — with plans to turn them into brilliant centerpieces. The Sewelo is the second largest rough diamond ever mined. A 59.6-carat fancy pink diamond, the “Pink Star,” sold for a record US$71.2 million in 2017.

ENTER THE AUSSIES

Smart contrarian investors are taking notice. One is Michael O’Keeffe, an Australian entrepreneur who has made shareholders lots of money in coking coal and iron ore. A metallurgist by training, O’Keeffe got his start at Mt. Isa Mines and Glencore Australia before launching his own ventures. O’Keeffe took Riversdale Mining, a $7-million Australian coal junior with assets in Mozambique, to a $3.7-billion buyout by Rio Tinto in 2011.

O’Keeffe (right) settled on diamonds after scouring the investment landscape for contrarian opportunities. He teamed up with diamond veteran Peter Ravenscroft, who was independently forming a strategy to consolidate the diamond project development space. They formed Australian-listed Burgundy Diamond Mines (BDM-AX), which plans to become a mid-cap diamond producer by developing premium projects that have been overlooked and/or under-funded.

In June, Burgundy signed a JV deal with North Arrow Minerals (NAR) that will see Burgundy earn a 40% stake in Q1-4 by funding a $5.6-million bulk sample of 1,500 to 2,000 tonnes at Naujaat, North Arrow’s coloured-diamond project in Nunavut. Burgundy advanced $300,000 of that last year so North Arrow could ship fuel and sampling supplies to Naujaat on the annual sealift. The objective of the bulk sample is to confirm that the more valuable coloured diamonds occur in larger sizes throughout the deposit.

The favourable JV deal allows North Arrow to retain majority control of Naujaat on a partner-financed path and established timeline. It undoubtedly helped that North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong cemented a relationship with Peter Ravenscroft, Burgundy’s Managing Director and CEO, while the latter was in charge of resource delineation at the Diavik diamond mine in NWT. Ravenscroft is a diamond veteran with 40 years in the industry including with De Beers, Anglo American and Rio Tinto. 

So what is Burgundy buying into? Naujaat’s Q1-4 kimberlite hosts Canada’s largest undeveloped diamond resource 100% held by a junior. The deposit hosts an estimated 26.1 million carats (Inferred) from surface to a depth of 205 metres; 2017 drilling showed Q1-4 extends below 300 metres depth. The outcropping kimberlite has a distinct population of rare orangey-yellow diamonds that could drive the value proposition and make the deposit economic. The Q1-4 deposit is seven kilometres from tidewater, near the community of Naujaat.

If this summer’s bulk sample is successful, Burgundy could earn an additional 20% interest in Q1-4 (60% total). North Arrow and Burgundy have a non-binding letter of intent to negotiate a second option agreement giving Burgundy the right to earn the additional 20% interest by paying for collection of a subsequent 10,000-tonne bulk sample.

The purpose of that exercise would be to definitely answer the diamond value question. The price tag for that bulk sample would be much higher, too — in the order of roughly $20 million.

SIZE MATTERS. SO DOES SATURATION

Intriguingly, the fancy orangey-yellow diamonds tend to be larger than the other diamonds in Q1-4. The coloured diamonds are a distinct, younger population of stones. In earlier samples taken by North Arrow, they made up between 9-12% of the stones but as high as 21 to 30% by carat weight. Establishing the size-frequency distribution of that fancy diamond population is the main objective of this summer’s 1,500 to 2,000-tonne bulk sample.

High-quality diamonds that are saturated in colour can sell for multiples of the price of white diamonds, but the mines producing them are shutting down. The latest is Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine in Australia, the world’s primary source of fancy pink stones. Argyle closed last year. The Ellendale mine, also in Australia, produced 50% of the world’s fancy yellow diamonds and was Tiffany’s primary supplier for those stones. Ellendale closed in 2015 (although another company is attempting to revive the project).

There were some initial doubts that the Naujaat fancy coloured diamonds would cut and polish well. North Arrow addressed those concerns with its cutting and polishing exercise that yielded  beautiful, valuable stones. The polished diamonds received favourable certifications by the GIA (Gemological Institute of America). The diamonds were certified by GIA as fancy vivid orangey yellow — fancy vivid diamonds have the highest colour saturation and command premium valuations.

TOP TEAM, LOW PRICE

In the notoriously risky junior mining sector, investing with people who have track records of making investors money greatly increases the odds of success. Gren Thomas, North Arrow’s chairman and a Canadian diamond pioneer, fits the bill.

On the heels of Chuck Fipke’s September 1991 diamond discovery, Thomas and South African diamond expert Chris Jennings (now a North Arrow director) headed north on a cloak-and-dagger staking mission. They flew into Yellowknife and split up at the airport, staying at different cheap hotels as they systematically staked as much prospective ground as possible. 

“We got the feeling that the town was just trembling on the verge of a staking rush,” Thomas recalls. “At any minute, the whole place could blow wide open.”

That winter staking adventure eventually yielded the Diavik diamond discovery and Thomas’s Aber Diamond Corp. (40% owner) saw the rich mine through to production. That worked out rather well for shareholders.

Thomas owns 11.1% of North Arrow’s shares and recently increased his position by loaning the company $400,000. Jennings, his old staking partner, owns a 5.3% stake in North Arrow. Gren’s daughter Eira Thomas led the field exploration team that made the Diavik discovery leading to Canada’s second diamond mine. She co-founded both Stornoway Diamonds and Lucara Diamond Corp. and now runs Lucara, the world’s premier producer of large, high-quality diamonds. Eira is a North Arrow advisor and large shareholder who was key to securing Naujaat for the company. CEO Ken Armstrong is a 25-year veteran of the diamond space and has been involved in the discovery of 10 diamond-bearing kimberlites in Canada and Greenland.

Through Burgundy, O’Keeffe joins three billionaire backers who are involved with North Arrow. Mining tycoons Lukas Lundin (through Zebra) and Thomas Kaplan (Electrum) each own 10.3% stakes in North Arrow; Ross Beaty owns 8.8% of shares. All three put money into North Arrow’s last financing; insiders and key shareholders hold more than 53% of North Arrow’s shares.

A VALUATION GAP

There aren’t many active junior exploration companies backed by the likes of Lundin, Beaty and Electrum that trade below a $15-million market cap. And that’s not the only metric that suggests North Arrow shares are fundamentally undervalued at these levels.

Eira Thomas (left) and Gren Thomas (right) at the Diavik mine opening.

Consider the discrepancy in market capitalization between North Arrow and its JV partner, ASX-listed Burgundy Diamonds. The Naujaat diamond project is the recognized flagship for both companies; after this summer’s bulk sample, North Arrow will own a 60% interest in Naujaat and Burgundy a 40% interest. Yet consider the market cap comparison between joint venture partners:

North Arrow Minerals
60% stake in Naujaat (flagship)
Canada’s best portfolio of advanced diamond exploration projects
100% share in Hope Bay Oro, a gold project adjacent to Agnico Eagle’s Hope Bay mine
Market cap: C$12.2 million

Burgundy Diamond Mines
40% stake in Naujaat (flagship)
Exploration alliance in Botswana
Nanuk, an early-stage diamond project in northern Quebec
Legacy Peruvian gold/silver asset (25%)
Market cap: C$76.9 million

A GOLDEN CALL OPTION

North Arrow’s 4,103-hectare Hope Bay Oro property is three kilometres north of the Doris gold mine — the first to go into production at Hope Bay — and adjacent to Agnico ground. Oro hosts the same rocks, the same structural setting and the same mineralization style as Doris, where gold grades are about 10 g/t Au.

A 1,225-metre drill program completed by North Arrow in 2011 confirmed near-surface, high-grade gold mineralization over 300 metres of strike.

Ten of the 11 drill holes along the Elu shear hit significant gold grades, including:

  • 7.55 metres grading 4.91 g/t Au from 38.4m, including 4.2 metres grading 8 g/t Au;
  • 2 metres grading 20.22 g/t Au from 125m;
  • 4 metres grading 7.04 g/t Au from 42.6m;
  • 1.45 metres grading 31.92 g/t Au from 43.55m.

Acquiring Hope Bay Oro seems to be a logical bolt-on for Agnico, especially given the gold miner’s renewed focus on exploration. Selling it could provide North Arrow with a non-dilutive source of funds. North Arrow CEO Armstrong is evaluating next steps at the property, including a potential drill program.

A BEAUTIFUL FUTURE?

The bet on North Arrow is that 60% or even 40% of a diamond mine that produces valuable fancy diamonds would be worth multiples of the current market capitalization. North Arrow has a partner-funded path to determine if Naujaat hosts an economic diamond deposit sweetened by a population of valuable fancy orangey-yellow diamonds. The JV partner is top-shelf, with the financial backing to fast-track a mine into production.

A final word on tulips and diamonds. Contrary to popular belief, the speculative tulip bubble occurred primarily among a small number of Amsterdam businessmen who had grown wealthy from maritime trade. The tulip bulb trade was considered too speculative for the Amsterdam stock exchange, which was well-established by that time. As spectacular as the 1636-37 tulip price collapse was, it did not affect many Dutch citizens or even have ramifications for that small country’s economy, let alone the world. This was a niche phenomenon.

The appeal of diamonds, on the other hand, spans the globe. While America remains the dominant market, fast-growing and populous countries such as China and India are taking their place on the diamond center stage. Rising tides of prosperity have brought luxury consumer purchases within reach.

Human beings still love natural beauty. That bodes well for fancy coloured diamonds and the companies that can bring deposits hosting those stones into production. The quality of the Naujaat fancy diamonds, the strength of the North Arrow and Burgundy teams, and the recent rebound in diamond sales says North Arrow may be closer to that objective than its market capitalization suggests.

North Arrow Minerals (NAR-V)
Price: 0.11
Shares outstanding: 111.68 million (166.4M fully diluted)
Market cap: $12.17

DISCLOSURE: James Kwantes owns North Arrow shares and was compensated by North Arrow Minerals for the writing and distribution of this article. This article is presented for informational purposes and is not financial advice. All investors need to do their own due diligence or consult an investment advisor.

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Diamonds Q&A: North Arrow Minerals CEO Ken Armstrong

By James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

North Arrow Minerals is 1 of 3 Resource Opportunities sponsor companies.

Vancouver-based North Arrow Minerals is one of the more active diamond exploration companies globally, with a portfolio of projects focused on Canada. Its most advanced-stage project is the large Naujaat deposit in Nunavut, which has a resource and hosts a population of valuable fancy orange yellow diamonds.

But this season’s focus is on exploration drilling at the Mel and Loki projects in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, respectively. Mel was a grassroots diamond discovery that North Arrow announced late last year. The company traced kimberlite indicator mineral (KIM) trains up-ice and made a prospecting discovery of kimberlite, from which 23 microdiamonds were recovered from a 62.1-kg sample. The first drilling program on the property is planned for this summer.

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The Loki project is in the Lac de Gras diamond field that hosts the Diavik and Ekati mines. The focus there is EG05, a kimberlite that Rio Tinto discovered, and 465, a kimberlite discovered by North Arrow in the spring. The latter was the first kimberlite discovery in Lac de Gras in the past 5 years. It’s familiar terrain for the North Arrow team, including chairman Gren Thomas whose Aber Resources discovered the Diavik diamond mine.

North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong

Rough diamond prices are now at a 52-week high and demand for polished diamonds is strong in China, India and the U.S., according to New York-based diamond analyst Paul Zimnisky. On the production side, pending mine closures including Argyle and Victor will put pressure on supply, with few new operations coming online.

The improving picture follows a choppy 2017 that saw high inventory levels at De Beers and Alrosa and flat rough diamond prices. North Arrow shares have been under pressure along with shares of new Canadian producers Stornoway Diamonds and Mountain Province Diamonds, which declined 41% and 18% respectively over the past year as startup problems weighed.

On Monday North Arrow announced a $3-million private placement consisting of flow-through shares at 20 cents and non-flow-through units (one share, one 2-year 30-cent warrant) at 17 cents. We caught up with CEO Ken Armstrong, who was in Calgary for the TakeStock! investor forum, to find out more about plans and how the money will be used.

Q: What is the breakdown on how the $3-million financing will be spent?

A: We’ve allocated $2 million for Mel drilling – testing the 2017 kimberlite discovery and new targets. That number includes microdiamond processing costs. We will also complete microdiamond processing of the EG05 and 465 kimberlites at the Loki project that were drilled in March, as well as some final microdiamond processing from the 2017 drilling of Naujaat. That’ll be a couple hundred grand. We are also looking at getting a remaining top target drilled at Loki, target 853. Ideally we’d tie that onto ongoing drilling at our LDG JV property, which is operated and funded by partner Dominion Diamond. We’d retain a half million or so for G&A.

Q: Any big names buying into the financing? How much will insiders and management participate for?

A: Insiders are committed to taking at least $1.5 million, so half, with most of that being directors/management. Gren Thomas, our chairman, and Eira Thomas, a North Arrow advisor, will both participate. I will also participate.

Q: How did you determine the pricing of the financing?

A: We tried to price it to make the non flow-through unit and flow-through share components equally attractive. On the Unit we put a fairly quick threshold on the accelerator, at 40 cents, however we felt it was justified by pricing it a discount to market with a full warrant, rather than a half-warrant. The flow through is essentially priced at market with the intent to fill the orderbook efficiently. We are looking at immediate use of funds with Mel drilling in July, Loki drilling in July or August and with more diamond results from Loki, Naujaat, and in September or October, from Mel. This is all news flow that will occur before the four-month hold comes off the financing shares which is, we think, a positive feature of the placement. We have been the most active Canadian junior in terms of new kimberlite discoveries in Canada and are poised for more discovery, potentially on up to three projects, over the four months.

The esker location at Mel where North Arrow’s drill camp is being set up.

Q: Which of the three active projects that you’re raising money for is the most likely catalyst — Loki, Mel or Naujaat?

A: All three have potential catalysts. Folks seem to be most interested in new discoveries and Mel certainly fits that bill — it’s a brand new kimberlite discovery made by prospecting last fall. The kimberlite contains some very coarse mantle minerals and we see hints of that coarseness in the initial diamond results, which is positive. Having already found kimberlite and diamonds actually de-risks the initial drilling significantly. We know we will hit kimberlite with diamonds, it’s more a question of how many and how big they are.

Based on the spread of indicator minerals there are certainly multiple sources with some nice, sizable magnetic targets. This is a brand new kimberlite field and the first kimberlite discovered is significantly diamondiferous. It doesn’t happen too often, so we are keen to get drilling. We’re currently mobilizing a camp and drill to the property now with drilling planned for July.

At Loki we also have a new discovery and are waiting on microdiamond results. In early April we announced the discovery of the 465 kimberlite – the first kimberlite discovery made in the Lac de Gras area in over 5 years. There are also pending microdiamond results from the EG05 kimberlite which was also drilled during the spring 2018 program. We also have a number of targets that we’d like to drill test, including target 853, which we’d like to see drilled this summer.

Q: It’s been almost three years since the disappointing Naujaat diamond valuation. Does Naujaat remain North Arrow’s flagship project and what is happening with the project?

A: Naujaat remains North Arrow’s most advanced project. We’re still interested because it’s a significant diamond inventory in a large tonnage deposit (as far as Canadian diamond deposits go) sitting on tidewater near a community. Our work on the Q1-4 diamonds has clearly shown the deposit contains high-value fancy orange yellow diamonds and, overall, is under evaluated. Last summer we completed more drilling to confirm the size potential of the kimberlite down to 300 metres below surface and we had three different holes extend over 100 metres beyond the geological model, with two of those holes ending in kimberlite. It’s a big body. We also collected a 210-tonne sample that confirmed the presence of the coloured diamond population in the A88 phase of the kimberlite. This is a totally different unit than was sampled in 2014 – the 2017 sample pit was over 400 metres away for the 2014 pits – and the proportion of coloured stones is very similar to the 2014 result. The work we’ve done with the diamonds themselves has shown that the coloured stones are a distinct population from the non-coloured stones. The two populations are completely different ages and the yellow population has a markedly coarser distribution than the non coloured stones.

The photos of the diamonds we had polished and certified at the GIA show how beautiful this colour is and highlight the potential value upside in these diamonds. But it is actually the potential for a coarse size distribution that may be even more important in terms of potential upside to the value contribution of the coloured diamonds. And the only way to confirm or disprove the potential value upside is a larger bulk sample.

A cut-and-polished fancy intense orangey yellow diamond from North Arrow’s Naujaat project.

To that end we have hired consultants and been working closely with the community of Naujaat to look at developing a road to the deposit. We’ve also started looking at processing options for a larger sample and how that might look, all with an eye to better pinning down the budget options for collecting a sample of sufficient size to get that answer. Being so close to the community really presents opportunities for reduced costs – we’ve seen that with our exploration programs and we need to make sure we take full advantage of all potential cost savings.

Of course all this takes time, but that is why we have North Arrow evaluating a number of quality projects, not just one. It allows the team to focus on well-informed, cost-effective exploration even if that might mean slower news flow from a particular project. There will be steady news flow from other projects as each cycles through the process.

Q: Along the lines of quiet projects, what is the status of the Lac de Gras joint venture with operator Dominion Diamond Corp.?

A: The LDG JV is having an active year. It has definitely been one of our quieter projects as our partner Dominion spent a lot of effort defining targets through a series of overburden drilling and geophysics programs. Late last year, Dominion also went through a well-documented takeover by the Washington Group of Companies, with the resulting transitions that often accompany such changes. However, a very positive outcome for the LDG joint venture has been Dominion’s renewed commitment to exploration, and, as I understand it, the 2018 LDG JV budget was one of the first budgets approved by the new ownership. The focus of the 2018 program is exploration and discovery-type drilling and we expect that work to pick up again during the summer. North Arrow elected not to finance its share of the current program so we could focus our resources drilling our 100% owned projects at Mel and Loki. However, although we are taking dilution of our joint venture interest, if a Lac de Gras-type discovery is made North Arrow will still maintain a significant interest, north of 25%, in the joint venture.

Q: With Eira recently taking over as CEO of Lucara Diamond Corp., how involved does she remain with North Arrow?

A: Eira’s involvement with North Arrow has been key since we began our focus on the Canadian diamond space. She remains an important advisor and sounding board for management – and the board – as we strategize on how best to move the project portfolio forward.

Disclosure: North Arrow Minerals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsor companies and James Kwantes owns North Arrow shares. Readers are advised that this article is solely for information purposes. Readers are encouraged to conduct their own research and due diligence, and/or obtain professional advice. The information is based on sources which the publisher believes to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate, and does not purport to be a complete statement or summary of the available data.

Copyright​: This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form, without the express permission of the publisher. Permission is given to extract parts of the report for inclusion or review in other publications only if credit is given, including the name and address of the publisher.

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A Canadian diamond play with discovery, development potential

by James Kwantes
Resource Opportunities

North Arrow Minerals is one of three Resource Opportunities sponsors.

The November 1991 discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories by Chuck Fipke and Stu Blusson put Canada on the global diamond map. It also triggered one of the largest staking rushes in the world, as hundreds of companies hurried north to find treasure.

A few years later, many had retreated to warmer climes. One company that remained in the hunt was Gren Thomas’s Aber Resources, with a large land package staked by Thomas and partners at Lac de Gras near the Fipke find. In the spring of 1994, an Aber exploration crew led by Thomas’s geologist daughter, Eira Thomas, raced the spring melt to drill through the ice in search of kimberlite — the rock that sometimes hosts valuable diamonds.

It was a longshot. Since the Fipke find, the great Canadian diamond hunt had virtually ground to a halt — despite the millions of dollars spent in search of the glittery stones. But the drill core from that final spring hole had a two-carat diamond embedded in it. The Diavik discovery meant it was game on for Aber — and Canada’s nascent diamond industry.

DIAMOND POWER PLAYER
A quarter century after that fateful hole was punched through melting ice, Canada punches above its weight in the world of diamonds. Measured by value, the country is the third largest producer of diamonds by value globally. And the valuable diamonds that continue to be unearthed at the Diavik mine discovered by Aber are a big reason why.

The discovery unleashed a wave of shareholder value. The shares of Aber and its successor companies went from pennies to more than $50 as the quality of the diamonds and the asset became known. Dominion Diamond Corp., as Aber is now known and which owns the Ekati mine and 40% of Diavik, is Canada’s premiere diamond company. Diavik is expected to produce about 7.4 million carats this year, making it among the world’s largest diamond operations.

The team behind the Diavik discovery has also created a fair amount of shareholder value in the years since, led by Eira Thomas. She has co-founded two diamond players, Stornoway Diamond Corp. and Lucara Diamond Corp., and remains a director of the latter Lundin Group company. Her most recent gig, as CEO of Kaminak Gold, ended rather well — Goldcorp bought the company for $520 million last year.

A cut fancy orangey yellow diamond from Naujaat

Thomas is also an advisor to North Arrow Minerals (NAR-V), a cashed-up junior company at the forefront of Canadian diamond exploration. Aber’s Gren Thomas is North Arrow’s chairman and the CEO is Ken Armstrong, a former Aber and Rio Tinto geologist. North Arrow recently raised $5 million to explore its portfolio of projects and a drill program is underway at its advanced-stage Naujaat project, which hosts a population of valuable fancy orangey yellow diamonds.

In a space with few new discoveries or development projects, Canada is home to two of the world’s new diamond mines. Stornoway’s Renard mine in Quebec and Gahcho Kue, a De Beers-Mountain Province joint venture in the Northwest Territories, have both recently begun commercial production.

Globally, the diamond industry has faced headwinds, including India’s demonetization and choppy rough stone prices. But diamonds remain a money maker for some of the world’s largest mining companies, including Rio Tinto (60% owner of Diavik) and Anglo American. Incoming Rio boss Jean-Sebastien Jacques identified diamonds as a “priority area” last year in a Bloomberg interview: “I would love to have more diamonds, to be very explicit.” The company recently backed up those words by signing a three-year, $18.5-million option on Shore Gold’s Star-Orion South diamond project in northern Saskatchewan.

And Anglo’s De Beers division remains a reliable profit generator. In 2016, rough diamond sales surged for both Anglo American (up 36%) and Russian producer Alrosa (up 26%), according to The Diamond Loupe. A recent hostile takeover bid for Dominion Diamond reflects the demand for well-run diamond mines, which are powerful profit machines.

EXPLORATION DEFICIT
The picture is less promising on the exploration front. Budgets dried up during the mining slump that began in 2011, and little grassroots exploration work is being done. It’s particularly problematic for supply because diamond mines take longer to discover, evaluate and build pharm. The new Canadian mines will help fill the gap, but it won’t be enough. Economic diamond discoveries have simply not kept pace with mine depletion, globally.

“There are definitely a lack of new projects, at least new projects that are close to infrastructure,” said Paul Zimnisky, a New York-based independent diamond analyst. “There really is not much at all in the global diamond production pipeline.”

Economic, world-class diamond projects are few and far between, and most exploration companies looking for them have failed, Zimnisky explained. That has resulted in wariness and declining interest among investors: “In general, shareholders have not done well in diamonds.”

The looming supply deficit is particularly acute for rare coloured diamonds, which fetch higher prices. Australia’s Ellendale mine produced an estimated 50% of the world’s fancy yellow diamonds before closing in 2015. The Argyle mine, also in Australia, is one of the world’s biggest mines and a source of valuable coloured diamonds, including extremely rare pinks. It, too, is slated to close in the coming years, after decades of production.

North Arrow’s Naujaat could help fill the void. The project hosts a population of fancy orangey yellow diamonds that are more valuable because of their rarity. Naujaat is on tidewater, which dramatically reduces costs, and hosts a very large diamondiferous kimberlite, Q1-4, that outcrops on surface.

It’s the focus of this year’s $3.2-million program, which will see North Arrow drill 4,500 metres and collect a 200-tonne mini bulk sample. The goal is to extend the Inferred resource to a depth of at least 300 kilometres below surface and better define the diamond population. The sample will be shipped south in late August and processed in the fall.

“There is excellent potential to extend the Q1-4 kimberlite at depth, beyond the reach of past drilling efforts,” said North Arrow CEO Ken Armstrong. “It’s the first drilling in more than 12 years. The work will help us confirm and update the size of Q1-4 and improve our understanding of the deposit’s internal geology and diamond distribution.”

In 2014 and 2015, North Arrow collected a small bulk sample at Naujaat (formerly known as Qilalugaq) with the goal of gauging diamond values. But the carat values on the small 384-carat package came in significantly below expectations. North Arrow shares were relegated to the market penalty box and the company has been largely under the radar since, despite important background work that set the stage for this year’s program.

RISK AND OPPORTUNITY
Contrarian investing and the ability to time cycles can lead to fortunes in the junior mining sector. Vancouver investor Ross Beaty has proven it, time and again. In the early 2000s, with copper trading for under US$1 a pound, his team assembled a portfolio of unwanted copper assets in a bear market. He developed and sold those projects during bull markets, turning $170 million in invested capital into shareholder returns of $1.87 billion. His latest win was a large bear-market investment in Kaminak Gold, later bought out by Goldcorp.

Beaty’s latest contrarian bet is on North Arrow, through a $2-million investment that was part of the recent $5-million private placement financing. Other investors included the New York-based Electrum Strategic Opportunities Fund ($2 million) and company management and directors. The money will fund an aggressive program at Naujaat including drilling and a bulk sample, as well as exploration at North Arrow’s Mel, Loki and Pikoo projects.

North Arrow also has exposure to drilling through the LDG (Lac de Gras) joint venture with Dominion Diamond Corp. That project borders on the mineral leases where Diavik is located. Ekati is 40 kilometres to the northwest. Dominion plans to drill several targets later this summer as part of a $2.8-million exploration program. North Arrow will have a 30% interest in the JV.

With a target on its back, Dominion is highly motivated to enhance shareholder value. And that extends beyond mine operations to exploration and new discoveries. In May, Dominion announced a “renewed strategic focus on exploration” and a $50-million, five-year exploration budget.

A FANCY EDGE

As for Naujaat, North Arrow is revisiting the project after a polishing exercise yielded fancy yellow diamonds that turned some heads in the industry. Several were certified “fancy vivid” diamonds, a coveted designation in the coloured diamond world. The quality of the polished stones suggests the fancy orangey yellow diamonds at Naujaat are considerably more valuable than the June 2015 valuation of the roughs indicated.

The primary conclusion of the diamond evaluators was that the 384-carat parcel of Naujaat diamonds was too small to properly evaluate. North Arrow plans to remedy that, in part, by collecting a 200-tonne bulk sample that should yield another 80 to 100 carats. The sample will be taken from the kimberlite’s highest-grade zone, A61. Lab results are expected in early 2018.

Another complicating factor at Naujaat is the presence of two distinct diamond populations of different ages, including a population of rare fancy yellow diamonds. It’s a consideration that was not factored into the prior carat valuation. It will be next time. Diamonds are a rarity play, and diamonds that occur less frequently — such as coloured diamonds and large diamonds — are more valuable. Yellow diamonds made up only 9% of the 2015 Naujaat sample by stone count, but more than 21% by carat weight.

The drilling at Naujaat is targeting kimberlite between 200 and 300 metres in order to bring material designated target for future exploration (TFFE) into the Inferred category. That drilling, plus the mini bulk sample, should help North Arrow better evaluate the diamond deposit on the path to a future Preliminary Economic Assessment. The Q1-4 kimberlite has a horseshoe shape that makes it amenable to open-pit mining and a low strip ratio. A larger bulk sample is planned for 2018.

COLOURED CARATS
Fancy yellow diamonds were thrust into the spotlight earlier this month when Dominion unveiled the striking 30.54-carat Arctic Sun, a fancy vivid yellow diamond cut from a 65.93-carat stone unearthed at Ekati. Dominion also played up coloured diamonds in their latest corporate presentation — specifically, the sweetener effect of high-value fancy yellow and orange diamonds at Misery.

Dominion Diamond Corp.’s 30.54-carat Arctic Sun fancy yellow

The potential emergence of Canadian coloured diamonds could help solidify Canada’s position on the world diamond stage, according to analyst Zimnisky. On the branding and marketing side, Canadian diamonds continue to have strong appeal because of their high quality and ethical sourcing.

And the two recent Canadian mine openings are a bright spot for the global industry, despite early growing pains at both Gahcho Kue (lower-than-expected values) and Renard (breakage), he pointed out.

“There is absolutely an opportunity to sell Canadian diamonds at a premium, especially in North America,” Zimnisky said. The United States remains the world’s largest diamond market, despite the growth in demand from China and India.

Important hurdles remain before any mine is built at Naujaat, but the strength of North Arrow’s management team bodes well for success, according to Zimnisky.

“North Arrow is looking for something world-class and it’s high-risk, high-reward,” said Zimnisky, who has seen the company’s cut and polished fancy yellow diamonds: “They’re beautiful.”

The appetite for fancy yellow and other coloured diamonds remains strong, despite the closure or pending closure of two of the mines that produce many of them. Last year a De Beers store opened on Madison Avenue in New York, Zimnisky said, and the feature diamond on opening day was a very large fancy yellow of more than 100 carats.

DISCOVERY POTENTIAL
Further north of Naujaat on Nunavut’s Melville Peninsula is another North Arrow project with a good shot at a kimberlite discovery. At the Mel property, 210 kilometres north of Naujaat, North Arrow geologists have narrowed down and defined three kimberlite indicator mineral (KIM) trains through systematic soil sampling over several seasons. Last year’s till sampling defined where the KIM train is cut off, suggesting the bedrock kimberlite source is nearby.

The discovery of a new kimberlite field this season is possible, since kimberlites in the region outcrop at surface. “It’s a first look, but there’s potential for discovery without drilling,” says CEO Ken Armstrong.

As for the Lac de Gras joint venture, the US$1.1-billion hostile takeover bid for Dominion unveiled by the private Washington Corp. earlier this year may work in North Arrow’s favour. In addition to spurring a stock surge, the bid forced the diamond miner to crystallize its focus on creating shareholder value. And a key strategy for Dominion, with its two aging mines, is a renewed exploration push.

Finding new diamondiferous kimberlites in proximity to its existing operations would be a big boost for Dominion. One of its best shots is through the joint venture with North Arrow, which covers 147,200 hectares south of Ekati and Diavik. Dominion is spending $2.8 million on the project this season, including a planned drill program in the fall. North Arrow is well-positioned to capture the value of any Dominion kimberlite discoveries made.

North Arrow also plans to drill two or three promising kimberlite targets at its nearby 100% owned Loki project, dovetailing with the completion of the LDG drilling. The company has received a $170,000 grant from the Northwest Territories government to drill Loki. North Arrow will also conduct till sampling in the fall at Pikoo, its Saskatchewan diamond discovery, in advance of a potential early 2018 drill program.

Disclosure: Author owns shares of North Arrow Minerals. North Arrow is one of three company sponsors of Resource Opportunities, helping keep subscription prices low for the subscriber-supported newsletter. North Arrow Minerals is a high-risk junior exploration company. This article is for informational purposes only and all investors need to do their own research and due diligence.

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