As landmarks go, this one takes a prize for oddness. Drive around 15 miles west from Minneapolis/St. Paul along Highway 100 to the suburb of Minnetonka and there, on a wide grassy strip, you’ll see a concrete polar bear about 12 feet in length. Beside the bear, there’s a sign that says simply, "Diamonds," with matter-of-fact minimalism far more common in signs proclaiming "Pizza" or "Parking."
If you’re like most drivers, you’ll slow down to gaze at the sculpture in all its magnificent incongruity. If you look beyond it, you’ll notice a shingle-sided Cape Cod-style house facing the road with a sign on its roof that says, "everGreene Jewelers."
Jerry Greene, the store’s owner, will be waiting for you, ready to answer the first question almost everyone asks, "What’s a statue of a polar bear doing on the highway?" "I’m glad you asked," Jerry will begin what is now a sales pitch. "We’re distributors for the North American Polar Bear Diamond. I bet you didn’t know that diamonds come from Canada up near the Arctic Circle. What better symbol is there for an Arctic diamond than a polar bear?"
In fact, Jerry Greene’s polar bear is a larger-than-life version of the trademarked logo for Sirius Diamonds Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia, the first company to cut Canadian diamonds exclusively. Not only will you find that polar bear logo laser-inscribed on the girdle of every diamond the firm has cut but you’ll find it doing icon duty at Greene’s web site. The association with polar bears is working so well for Greene, he shows real live polar bears on his frequent cable TV ads. "I sent a film crew to the Duluth zoo to videotape polar bears frolicking together," he says.
"Every jeweler needs something to hang his hat on," Greene says about the polar bear symbolism which has proven both a great conversation opener and sales closer, especially for those one or two customers a week who now mention conflict diamonds. "More and more people are aware of ‘blood diamonds,’" Greene continues. "So the fact that diamonds come from Canada is very reassuring to them." No wonder most of the diamonds in his store are Polar Bears.
Jerry Greene’s swift success with Canadian diamonds illustrates the power of a good logo and the growing appeal of homeland origin. As home-grown and crafted become increasingly important elements in jewelry buying, Canada will prove a godsend.
Despite Montana, whose vast sapphire reserves rival Sri Lanka’s, Canada will likely emerge as the greatest gem motherlode in this continent’s history. Reserves at the current stage of exploration are estimated at $34 billion. By the year 2010, when around six different mining operations are expected to be in full swing, Canada’s stature as a 21st century diamond producer will equal South Africa’s in the 19th and 20th centuries. Already the country’s first operational mine, BHP’s Ekati Mine in the Northwest Territories’ Lac du Gras region, 300 kilometers shy of the Arctic Circle, is producing 30,000 carats mine run a day. That’s 10.9 million carats a year—from just three of the mine’s seven kimberlite pipes.