Use and misuse of Mg- and Mn-rich ilmenite in diamond exploration: a petrographic and trace element approach

Montgarri Castillo-Oliver*, Joan Carles Melgarejo, Salvador Galí, Vladimir Pervov, Antonio Olimpio Gonçalves, William L. Griffin, Norman J. Pearson, Suzanne Y. O'Reilly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Magnesian ilmenite is a common kimberlite indicator mineral, although its use in diamond exploration is still controversial. Complex crystallisation and replacement processes have been invoked to explain the wide compositional and textural ranges of ilmenite found in kimberlites. This work aims to shed light on these processes, as well as their implications for diamond exploration. Petrographic studies were combined for the first time with both major- and trace-element analyses to characterise the ilmenite populations found in xenoliths and xenocrysts in two Angolan kimberlites (Congo-Kasai craton). A multi-stage model describes the evolution of ilmenite in these pipes involving: i) crystallisation of ferric and Mg-rich ilmenite either as metasomatic phases or as megacrysts, both in crustal and in metasomatised mantle domains; ii) kimberlite entrainment and xenolith disaggregation producing at least two populations of ilmenite nodules differing in composition; iii) interaction of both types with the kimberlitic magma during eruption, leading to widespread replacement by Mg-rich ilmenite along grain boundaries and fractures. This process produced similar major-element compositions in ilmenites regardless of their primary (i.e., pre-kimberlitic) origin, although the original enrichment in HFSE (Zr, Hf, Ta, Nb) observed in Fe3 +-rich xenocrysts is preserved. Finally (iv) formation of secondary Mn-ilmenite by interaction with a fluid of carbonatitic affinity or by infiltration of a late hydrothermal fluid, followed in some cases by subsolidus alteration in an oxidising environment. The complexities of ilmenite genesis may lead to misinterpretation of the diamond potential of a kimberlite during the exploration stage if textural and trace-element information is disregarded. Secondary Mg-enrichment of ilmenite xenocrysts is common and is unrelated to reducing conditions that could favour diamond formation/preservation in the mantle. Similarly, Mn-rich ilmenite should be disregarded as a diamond indicator mineral, unless textural studies can prove its primary origin.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-363
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


  • Angola
  • diamond exploration
  • Ilmenite
  • kimberlite


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