Inside The World of Diamonds

Frozen in Time: The Story of Russian Diamonds

Russia is an important natural diamond producer and home to exceptional jewelry talents. Here’s what you should know about Russian diamonds.

russian diamonds
Rough Russian diamonds

Perhaps when you picture the source of natural diamonds in your mind’s eye, you see the vast landscape of South Africa, Namibia or Botswana. How often do you think of swathes of snow-covered ground, as far as the eye can see, with temperatures below -50° Celsius? In the Northern Hemisphere, both Canada and Russia present a unique set of challenges to diamond companies, who must tackle frozen ground—known as permafrost—and harsh climate conditions when searching for the most desired gemstones of the modern time. 

Read More: The Real Story of Canada’s Diamond Ice Road Featured in the New Netflix Movie

In the case of Russia, there are some incredible facts to consider: firstly, its main diamond mining region—the northeastern Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)—is the largest administrative region not only in Russia, but globally. It is a huge area of three million square kilometers, nearly the same size as India, with a population of just one million people, clusters of small towns and a capital city. Its weather swings from hot summers to extremely cold winters (lasting more than six months), which makes diamond recovery even more challenging for companies in this region, like the largest and most prolific one, ALROSA. It recovers more than 80% of all diamonds in Russia and about 28% of diamonds worldwide, meaning that at least every fourth diamond you see in jewelry, regardless of the brand, comes from Siberia.

russian diamonds

The prospect of diamonds in Yakutia was first debated in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the early 1950s following the end of World War II that the desire for locally mined diamonds was acted upon. Research suggests two female geologists, Natalia Sarsadskhih and Larisa Popugaeva, discovered the first diamond deposit—the kimberlite pipe ‘Zarnitsa’—in 1954, because of new methodologies to search for mineral indicators developed by Sarsadskhih. From this point onwards, everything from transport and energy infrastructure to living and working conditions had to be created from scratch to accommodate diamond recovery. Russian diamonds has led to the blossoming of entire towns, including Mirny and Udachny. 

russian diamonds yakutia

Across Russia, diamonds are recovered from open pit, underground and alluvial deposits, each requiring specialist knowledge, skills and equipment. There are 12 kimberlite pipes and even more alluvial deposits in ALROSA’s portfolio, which spread beyond Yakutia. Since the 1980s, there has been mining activity in the sub-arctic Arkhangelsk region in the far west, which has some important sites, including ALROSA’s Lomonosov deposit—the largest diamond deposit in Europe. Although diamonds in this location are naturally smaller than those found in Yakutia, Arkhangelsk is known as a source of colored diamonds, including exceptional pink ones.

yellow russian diamond
Yellow ALROSA diamond

Colored diamonds are rare discoveries on Russian soil, but they do occasionally emerge and demand the spotlight. Take for example a 17.44 carat yellow diamond, found in February 2020 at ALROSA’s Verkhne-Munskoye mine. 

27.85 carat pink ALROSA diamond

It’s important to mention that ALROSA is involved not only in Russian diamond mining, but also in the cutting and polishing of its stones. This is especially true when workers discover particularly large or colorful diamonds like a rare 27.85 carats clear pink rough diamond that was unearthed in October 2017 from the Ebelyakh alluvial deposit in the north of Yakutia. It was the largest pink crystal ever mined in Russia, and was rated as the best discovery of the year by The National Jeweler. It took around one year to cut and polish it into a perfectly symmetrical oval shape, which was chosen to enhance its yield and flatter its delicate rose petal-pink hue. –It became a 14.83 carat fancy vivid purple-pink, internally flawless, type IIa diamond, known as “The Spirit of the Rose.” This faceted beauty was sold last year at auction by Sotheby’s for an incredible US $26.6 million. Along with a fancy vivid yellow Asscher-cut 20.69 carat Firebird diamond acquired by Graff in 2019, it is a part of The Spectacle collection, dedicated to Russian ballet. The third element of this collection bore the same name, The Spectacle. Presented in Spring 2021, it was an exceptional emerald cut 100.94 carat diamond with highest color (D) and clarity (IF) characteristics, sold at Christie’s in Geneva for more than $14 million.

Being in control of the entire process, ALROSA can track and provide documentation of the journey taken by individual diamonds from the moment of their discovery to their transformation into sparkling gems. In 2021, ALROSA introduced a new solution under its ALROSA Provenance program, a ground-breaking diamond-tracing technology using non-invasive laser marking. This physical nanomarking allows the precious stone to be identified with 100% accuracy. Isn’t this what the modern consumer wants: to be sure the diamond they are wearing was ethically mined by a company that takes care of the environment and looks after the people who unearth each sparkling treasure?

Talking about jewelry, within Russia itself, there is a long-standing jewelry tradition and respect for diamonds. Many will point to the historic significance of Fabergé and Léon Bakst. In order to preserve and maintain the traditions of the Russian art school, the ALROSA DIAMONDS jewelry group created such collections as “after the Faberge motif”, based on the famous jewelry house’s sketches from the State Hermitage Museum’s archive, or “Imperium” with a brooch “St. Petersburg Griffin” as a central piece.

There are plenty of contemporary examples, like Chamovskikh Jewelry House or high jewelry designer Liza Borzaya. ALROSA has also created its own jewelry brands, like Luminous Diamonds, which specializes in rarities that fluoresce blue under ultraviolet light. The brand’s Moonlight, Lucent and Starlight Collections feature fine jewelry inspired by the power, passion and independence of women everywhere. Ignited under UV light, the diamonds glow with natural blue fluorescence, a reflection of a woman’s inner light. The pieces are designed with the shape of a free-form hexagon as a central motif to celebrate the individualistic spirit of each woman.

There’s also the Diamonds That Care—a global campaign spotlighting how diamonds give back to those in need and do good by helping to fund various social and charity initiatives. There are some jewelry projects under this initiative. A three-piece set created by Anna Hu with the fancy brown-yellow diamond weighing 27.02 carats as a central element was sold by Christie’s in 2020 with all proceeds donated to charity. Together with Brilliant Earth, Diamonds that Care offers modern, elegant jewelry with mindfully and ethically sourced earth-tone diamonds; a portion of every purchase goes to Feeding America COVID-19 Response Fund.

Working in the ‘Far North’ means developing a special relationship with local communities and indigenous groups. In addition to providing high-quality job opportunities, the diamond industry makes impactful contributions to communities as a whole. This includes funding and building of schools, establishing medical centers, constructing houses, hosting sporting and cultural events across the “diamond province” and launching environmental programs, such as ALROSA’s reindeer migration monitoring initiative to protect the species and deter poaching. 

In 2017, Alrosa implemented over 500 social and charitable initiatives. The company finances regional development programs, social infrastructure, charitable and sponsorship projects, corporate social programs for employees and their families, and renders targeted aid to residents of the main regions of its presence. Over 70% of all initiatives were implemented in Yakutia – Alrosa’s key region where the company conducts its core business. Mirny, Sakha, SIberia, Russia. Photo credit: Carlos Folgoso

From endless miles of permafrost to a network of sorting, cutting and polishing facilities, the entire ecosystem of Russian diamonds—from mine to market—can be found in Siberia, which makes it a fascinating port of call for any diamond researcher.