"I had to look at a map to find Yellowknife," Finnemore said in his thick South African accent about his move to the newest frontier of the global diamond industry.
Now he cuts and polishes diamonds mined locally and transfers his knowledge of a centuries-old trade to Canadians living near the Arctic Circle.
Sirius is one of a handful of diamond polishing companies set up in Yellowknife, the territorial capital of 18 000, for the new diamond mines built in the frozen tundra in Canada's remote Northern Territories.
Less than a decade ago, Yellowknife was a frontier town where gold mines held sway.
But now, in this booming diamond market, Canada's first two mines, Ekati and Diavik, are already operating and a third mine belonging to De Beers, a unit of Anglo American, is under construction.
Martin Irving, director of diamonds for the Northwest Territories government, sees it as an opportunity for the small polishing industry, with an unexploited supply source on the doorstep of the US, the world's biggest market for polished stones.
The territorial government has designed a certificate system that accompanies every stone mined, cut and polished here. It distinguishes the local stones from so-called blood diamonds from African conflict zones. That advantage could be worth a 10 to 15% premium at wholesale, experts say.
"Diamonds weren't on our radar screen but we learned fairly quickly, and we had to put together a plan to try and figure out what the options were," Irving said.
"If you're going to extract natural resources, it needs to be done in a way that local people benefit from it".
Diamond producers questioned if a local polishing industry could be sustained in such a remote place as Yellowknife.
They felt such a specialised trade was best left to traditional centers in India, Tel Aviv, Israel, Antwerp, Belgium and New York.
Sirius, a small Vancouver-based diamond polishing studio, opened in Yellowknife in 1999.
Four years later, it has signed a partnership pact with New York diamond handler E Shreiber.
Sirius President Stephen Ben-Oliel recruited Finnemore from Antwerp, the world's diamond-cutting center, to the relative wilds of Yellowknife, where labor shortages are a big problem and operating costs are high due to its remoteness.
But the benefits are reflected in the big, clear stones mined deep below the frozen tundra that Sirius laser brands with a microscopic polar bear on the girdle of each diamond.
"Canadian diamonds are of big interest right now," Finnemore said, holding up a small, already polished diamond.
"Last year we doubled our sales to the US".
Next door to Sirius, also behind a chain-link fence, Arslanian Cutting Works employs master cutters from its home base in Armenia.
Inside the factory, rows of workers are bent under fluorescent lights, shaping pea-size diamonds into different facets until they are mirror smooth.
In the next building, still under construction, US jewelry giant Tiffany & Co is getting ready to handle some of the $50-million in diamonds it has agreed to buy from Aber Diamond, one of the partners in the Diavik mine.
One of the initial ventures, an aboriginal company owned by the Yellowknives Dene community, closed its Deton'cho polishing factory last year due to the high costs of manufacturing diamonds and problems with keeping trained staff.
A partnership with Israeli-based diamond player Schachter & Namdar has brought in skilled diamond cutters from Tel Aviv, Africa and Europe to revive the operation for now.
"The fact that major players are creating joint ventures with local cutters brings legitimacy in the eyes of the industry," says Irving. – Reuters.