Mining makes up a major part of the Russian economy, and indeed it is easy to see why. Russia is home to a variety of precious gems that are prized throughout the world for their quality and size. Russia produces about 25% of the world’s diamonds and a large portion of other precious gems, such as emeralds, garnets, and alexandrite, as well as lesser gemstones such as agate, charoite, malachite, and amber.
In 1830, a peasant walking the banks of the Takovaya River in the Ural Mountains discovered a fallen tree with green stones in its exposed roots. These were confirmed to be emeralds, and the area was immediately developed as a mine to supply Russian nobles with high quality stones. The mine yielded not just emeralds, but other gemstones such as aquamarine and alexandrite. Since then, mining for gemstones has been a major industry in the Urals and throughout Siberia.
Alexandrite was soon discovered at the Takovaya mine. It was named for the then-crown prince Alexander, as the gem was discovered on the day that the young czar-to-be came of age. Because alexandrite can be either red or green depending on the type of light—the colors of the Russian military—it held special importance to the people of Russia. Many Russians believe that alexandrite has mystical qualities and can be used in fortune telling. It is also a popular stone for healing and health purposes. In the field of medicine, Alexandrite lasers, which use a synthetic alexandrite crystal as the medium, are commonly used for cosmetic skin treatments.
Another remarkable discovery is Charoite – a beautiful purple stone that has so far only been found in a single mountain located in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) in Eastern Siberia. It was discovered by accident in the 1940’s whilst a rail tunnel was being excavated through the mountain. It was given the name Charoite in 1978, after the Chara River which passes through the area, and has since become known internationally. Charoite is used both as an ornamental stone and as a gemstone, often set into pendants.
Although most of Russia’s mines are centered in the Ural Mountains and Siberia, there are notable mines in the west as well. Russian diamonds are the main gemstone of northern European Russia, with Arkhangelsk a center of their mining. However, diamonds are also mined in Eastern Siberia, especially the Mir and Udachnaya mines.
Russia is known particularly for their colored diamonds, which are becoming increasingly popular in the fashion world. Russian blue diamonds are famous with gem lovers all over the world, but the country also is a major producer of pink, yellow, green, and black diamonds. Before colored diamonds were en vogue, the Russian colored gems were used mainly for industrial purposes. However, colored diamonds are becoming a worldwide trend, opening a new market to Russian gemstone collectors.
Russian gems are rare—more so than other ‘rare’ gems—because of the traditional mining methods used. Traditional mining is more labor intensive than modern methods, but the old ways are still embraced in Russia. In addition, there are significant transportation costs involved in moving the gems from isolated Eastern Russia to trade centers where they can be cut and sold.
Many of Russia’s treasured gemstones are shown in the Kremlin Museum and in collections throughout the world. However, that doesn’t mean that they are out of the price range or reach of gem collectors and lovers of Russian items. A piece of Russian jewelry, or any jewelry with Russian gems, is sure to be a fashion statement as well as a family heirloom that will be treasured for generations. Gems hold their value and are a durable way of showing your love for Russia and your unique sense of style.
Tags: alexandrite, charoite, gem, gemstones, jewellery, jewelry
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