Diamond Portraits: Hugo Dummett

Each year, the Hugo Dummett Diamond Award is given to a person or persons who have made a significant contribution to diamond exploration, discovery, or mine development. The 2017 award was given to some of those responsible for the recently inaugurated Gahcho Kué mine in Canada, while recipients in 2016 were responsible for bringing the Karowe mine in Botswana into production.

Hugo Dummett, the man after whom the award was named, is a legend in the diamond exploration industry, despite the fact that most people outside the world of geology have likely never heard of him. Dummett has been aptly described as “the brains, the ideas and the energy” behind the discovery of the Ekati diamond mine in Canada. He is also largely responsible for bringing mining powerhouse BHP Billiton into the diamond industry.

Dummett was born in Springs, Transvaal, South Africa in 1940. He earned his BSc in Geology in 1964 at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and moved to Canada the following year. He worked as an exploration geologist for Anglo American and other large corporations before immigrating to Australia in 1970 to complete his Master’s Degree at the University of Queensland. Dummett would later move to the US and was employed by Superior Oil, who at the time was aggressively exploring parts of North America for oil and other minerals.

Superior Oil was keen to prospect for diamonds and formed a joint venture with Canadian mining company Falconbridge, which owned many mineral claims around the country. The joint venture would go on to hire two young geologists named Charles Fipke and Stewart Blusson, along with Falconbridge’s Chris Jennings, a fellow South African. The men became close friends and colleagues.

Dummett helped introduce the group to the work of Dr. John Gurney of the University of Cape Town, whom he had met years before. At the time, Gurney was early into his work on the role of G10 garnets in diamond exploration. Gurney had determined that this particular type of garnet was formed in the same areas and under the same conditions below the Earth as diamonds, however in much higher quantities. Searching for these more plentiful minerals would be easier than looking directly for diamonds and would help pinpoint the source where diamonds could be found. These minerals became known as indicator minerals, because they indicate the presence of diamonds.

The men’s paths would diverge after Superior Oil withdrew from the venture in 1982, after being bought out by Mobil Oil. While they had already discovered as many as 20 kimberlites by that point, a high-value strike had continued to elude them. Dummett convinced Mobil to turn over all of their exploration data and records to Fipke and Blusson, who continued their quest. Dummett remained as a trusted friend and advisor to the team but went on to work at Australian mining giant BHP, where he would rise through the ranks to become Vice President, Minerals Discovery. In the early 1990s, after Fipke and Blusson had made their landmark discovery of diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes in Northern Canada, Dummett used his influence at BHP to convince the company to back the pair and later earn a majority stake in what would become the Ekati Diamond mine.

At BHP, Dummett was always a strong advocate of corporate social responsibility and in the case of the Ekati mine, he helped ensure that the economic benefits of the project would be shared with the surrounding aboriginal and Northern communities. It could be said that Dummett created the beneficiation template for Canadian diamond producers that has been in place ever since.

He was also instrumental in making some of BHP’s proprietary diamond exploration technologies, such as indicator mineral geochemistry, available to the broader exploration community. These techniques were later employed in numerous other successful diamond discoveries. Interestingly, Dummett and the Superior/Falconbridge JV had previously used their knowledge to explore for diamonds in Botswana. In 1980, they discovered a kimberlite cluster in the central Kalahari region of the country between the Orapa and Jwaneng mines. Since the group was more focused on exploration in North America, they allowed their discovery to fall into the hands of De Beers. The GO25 kimberlite, which they had initially discovered, would later go on to be known as the Gope pipe, and today is the Ghaghoo Diamond Mine owned by Gem Diamonds.

In addition to his pivotal role in the discovery of Canada’s diamond fields, Dummett was also part of teams that discovered and developed countless other major mining projects around the world, including copper deposits in Peru and Argentina, gold deposits in Canada, and a copper/gold mine in Mongolia. In 2001, following BHP’s merger with Billiton, Dummett left BHP and, shortly afterward, took on the job of chief executive at Robert Friedland’s privately held African Minerals and affiliate Ivanhoe Mines. Dummett had been visiting one of the Ivanhoe properties in 2002 when he was involved in an automobile accident that sadly took his life.

Dummett was known as a quintessential gentlemen geologist, who was widely respected by everyone who knew him. His many industry recognitions included the William Lawrence Saunders Gold Medal (1997); the Daniel C. Jackling Award (2000) of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration; the American Mining Hall of Fame’s Medal of Merit (1997), and The Northern Miner’s “Mining Man of the Year” award (1998). He served the Society of Economic Geologists as a Thayer Lindsley Visiting Lecturer (1997-98) and was its President at the time of his death in 2002. The massive Oyu Tolgoi property in Mongolia was posthumously renamed the Hugo deposit in his honor. In 2005 he was the first recipient of the Hugo Dummett Diamond Exploration Award of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia.