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There is some magic in a diamond

02 april 2018

excl_02042018_xx.jpgAlexander Gorynya is a Director General of the St. Petersburg-based Kongo jewellery company. He is a Chairman of the Union of North-West Jewellers. In 1978, he graduated from the North-Western Extramural Polytechnic University. Since 1983, he worked at the LPO Russkiye Samotsvety (Russian Gems), and rose through the ranks from the Deputy Head of a workshop to the Director General. In 1995, he was elected the president of the AOOT Russkiye Samotsvety. In 1999, he set up and headed the jewellery company Gringor that is a supplier to the Russian Imperial House. He is an Honored Artist in Applied and Decorative Arts and awarded the medal Yuvelirnaya Rossiya (Jewellery Russia) and the Order of Honour, a Russian Federation national award, and many other awards.

It is known, that the idea of the new jewellery contest named after Faberge belongs to you. Should it become a sort of the jewellery Oscar contest?

With regard to the Faberge contest: now there exist a serious stratification of society in our country. And practically, starting from 2008, the middle class has been gradually decreasing.  Those who had big money have got even more money - but this money is not used for the benefit of Russia and rather channeled abroad by some reasons, which shows the instability, turbulence within the country. Also, there exist another group of people having not very much money. As we work in the jewellery business, we should satisfy the needs of the both groups. All the commercial jewellery exhibitions aim at meeting the needs of the most population in jewellery and in good quality one, if possible. It should be noted, that there was no promotion of premium-class exhibitions in our country. And it is highly required as the jewellery industry has achieved a quantum leap in design and processing of metals and stones over the last 20 years: new enabling technologies, tools and 3D software appeared, so now it is possible to manufacture jewellery of beautiful designs and also in any quantity. In addition, people certainly want to have exclusive and hand-made jewellery pieces – and the premium-class exhibitions serve this purpose. That is why a simple idea has come up – to hold a wider not just a Russian-wide but a world contest named after Carl Faberge.

Why a Faberge contest?

I think that St. Petersburg is one-of-a-kind. The Faberge family not only moved here - to the centre of the Russian Empire. Later on, Carl and Agathon Faberge finished the Annenschule, consequently, their children studied at the Peterschule. In this city as nowhere else, this jeweler was greatly respected – even Benvenuto Cellini, the only jeweler to whom a monument was raised could not boast of anything of a kind. We have a Faberge House, a square named after him, a Faberge Museum where the works of his company are collected – their number exceeds 1,500 pieces and they are unique. It was determined that 140 enamel colors and hues were used by his craftsmen in their works which is amazing by itself.

A simple idea came to me that I shared with Valeriy Budny at first: about the contest in St. Petersburg, in the Shuvalov’s Palace on the embankment of the Fontanka River. Just imagine – the participants in the contest would sail along the Fontanka River up to the Faberge Museum, they would step up the red carpet to the Palace, show their works, receive their awards, then the prize- and award winners would go down to their boats and sail to different countries. This is the picture Valeriy Budny and I discussed as well as the plans to work out a sightseeing tour to the places associated with Faberge. Probably, in future this jewellery Oscar contest will be held this way but so far, the premium-class exhibition, a rather costly one, at is first stage was held in Moscow – the place where more money is available. So, this contest was launched and I hope it will continue. Its presentation at the World Trade Center was a success and the idea started to take its shape and wings.

The contest should be an interesting event and connect the times. At the conference devoted to Faberge, I told about this idea to Tatiana Faberge, a great-granddaughter of Carl Faberge. Being a wise woman she noted: “Can you imagine what kind of top-notchers will arrive here”? I answered that it would be nice if the contest could become a world-class one. Normally, on the average it requires three years to develop such contests. We were supported by Gaetano Cavalieri, President of the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO), who liked the idea and agreed to chair the panel of judges for the contest, to represent and promote the contest at the international exhibitions in Hong Kong that became a jewellery capital and in Las Vegas and later on everywhere.

What will differ it from the similar contests?

We are interested in the participation of the major global brands in it. And when it is held under the auspices of China, Hong Kong, Italy and associates with a country, the brands do not take part in it. In this case, the contest is named after the jeweler who is beyond any competition. Even Cartier, Tiffany and any world-class brands could take part in it. And it will also attract premium jewellery to Russia.

What is the scope of activities of the Union of the North-West Jewellers headed by you?

The industry faces many problems: credits to buy the materials, purchasing of metals and stones, excessive smuggled and counterfeit goods (today over 50% of jewellery in retail is of unclear origin), VAT reimbursement, diamond cutting&polishing - it is uneconomic to manufacture diamonds within the country and small-size rough diamonds are taken abroad for polishing. A lot of challenges.

A lot of people are engaged in the jewellery industry: in the jewellery manufacture it is necessary to solve many various tasks: design, technology, packing, marking, selling. People say ‘jewellery - very elaborate - work’ and it means a manual work process. From 800 thousand to one million people with the family members are engaged in the industry. That is why the prosperity of the industry is a national task and requires at least the participation of the government. We contact the Ministry of Finance, Assay Chamber and State Precious Metals and Gems Repository. However, the government mainly deals with the resource industries – gas, oil, coal, metals, diamonds, or with the defence industry – aerospace equipment, shipbuilding industry and rocket and missile engineering. And as for the population employment and payment of taxes, the jewellery industry could be almost the leading one among the processing industries. But it is a big topic requiring a special discussion.

Could you distinguish our companies working to the glory of Russia?

I always like everything new only – my eyes see only the new items - and the low-quality ones. As for the mass production segment, there exist the Alfa-Karat firm, but it is VIP-2000. As for the technologies and design, the processing of silver and gold, they start to outperform the Italians. This is a technological breakthrough. I also liked the Siyanie Sibiri company that was set up in Barnaul but now it is mainly a Moscow-based company. They use small size diamonds (probably, Yakutian ones as they cooperate with ALROSA) and also they cut and polish pearls – I heard about it but see it for the first time. It is interesting. From the point of view of design – I am not a master hand at this, I am not an artist – but I like, certainly, the jewellery pieces by Vera Kabarovskaya from Kostroma: she also tries to combine the precious metals and enamels. The Yakutian firms have made a big progress – I have been keeping my eye on their work since the 1990s. The main thing is that the government of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) supports them. At their earlier stage, they underwent their study and training at our Samotsvety company and now they have their own school. Of course, they like to use – and it is natural – their national motives and diamonds that should be processed and promoted.

How did you came to the jewellery industry?

Quite by chance. My background, at first,  is electrical engineering, I received my second education at the University of Marxism-Leninism at the faculty of ‘Foreign Relations’, and my third education is the economics -  I got my education studying in the evenings because I have been working since the 8th school year.

I worked in the defence industry, at the Lenmashzavod, where I became the Head of the workshop at the age of 26, and then I was the Deputy Head of Production. We lived at the Rzhevka district and it took me one hour and a half to get to the factory and I always passed the Russkiye Samotsvety firm. I came to them ‘off the street’ and they hired me as the Deputy Head of the workshop at once. In four months, I became the Head of this workshop (the most difficult one) - there were 650 workers. Later on, I became the Head of Production, Deputy Director General, Director General…

So, it means that you liked it. By the way, you have a rare and famous surname. Aren’t your forefathers relatives to Gorynya Nikitich?

My surname is among the oldest: by the way, Gorynya means the Goddess of the mountains.

So, you were destined for dealing with semiprecious and precious stones and precious metals.

I trace my ancestry to the Western slavic people, most probably from Poland. I was born in St. Petersburg in the apartment of Yakobson, a leading artist at the Faberge firm. He got this 6-bed apartment at the crossroads of Vosstaniye and Ryleyev Streets from Vasiliy Zuyev, another miniaturist painter from the same firm who had left for some place in the Volga area. After the Siege of Leningrad, my father, a combat pilot, returned from the war and also started to live in that flat (note: requisitioning of a part of somebody's living space for new tenants was practiced during and after World War II to place other families who lost their living space or were evacuated). When I was born, I was baptized in the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral and my Godmother was Tamara Yakobson, an Honoured Actress of the RSFSR.

Why do you like jewellery manufacturing?

First of all, I like everything miniature. At the age of 12, I even became a champion of Leningrad in ship scale modeling. And the jewellery industry is interesting by itself. When I worked in the defence industry, we used 150 tons of metal every month and when they told me at the Samotsvety that their production process is difficult I was about to laugh. I started to work – as always I had interesting workshops that reached a breakthrough and everything was going well. Still, in 1999, I left the company and started my own business, launched a new product for the market – silver jewellery with diamonds - and I have been doing this for about two decades.

Why silver and why with polished diamonds?

In 1998, if you remember, there was a default. And white gold was in fashion at that time. As I left the Samotsvety and had no money - and gold requires big working capital - it was necessary to bring something new. At first, it was strange to people that I had left such an office at such a large company. But in three-four years, people started to accept our jewellery. And I also like environmentally friendly goods and I manufacture them. That is why we use only cadmium-free solders even when working with gold, and silver is an anti-bacterial material, so the Lord himself has commanded to use silver. And few can recall that earlier the settings for polished diamonds were made of silver, in 95 percent of items. They started to make gold settings in the early 20th century only.

What interesting is in doing your own business?

Gringor is a classic small-scale enterprise. I set it up and then defended my thesis ‘Ensuring the Competitiveness of Jewellery Produced by a Small-Scale Enterprice’ based on my experience and data. I defended my thesis at the Saint-Petersburg State University of Economics and Finance, the procedure lasted for two and a half hours and I answered 72 questions – everybody was interested in the subject. There was a proposal to do academic work but it is not my thing. Doing my own business is interesting because it is the means to implement my own ideas. And such large-scale enterprises like the Russkiye Samotsvety company have different management methods and tasks.

And what about polished diamonds?

I like everything perfect and a diamond is the hardest mineral on the Earth. This is a stone that decomposes a white colour into all the colours of the rainbow. Cutting is a real science - rough diamond planning, nowadays, there are laser technologies, all operations improved and became faster. And there is some magic in this stone. As for jewellery, I play it cool, I am even indifferent to it. But there was such a case: once a difficult task was set – to make a ‘riviere’ necklace using a 3-carat central diamond and down to 0.3-carat ones. As usually, it should be made as soon as possible and we finished the work at 11.00 p.m. And the next day, when we washed it and put under the warm light it looked like a fire snake. I was under great impression – for the first time, I felt the magic of diamonds.

And even from the physical point of view: when you polish the metal of the jewellery, nothing happens to the stone. Other stones deform, and a polished diamond is hard. I like to work with it.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished

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