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On falsification of diamond history

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Recently, there has been published the latest issue of the London Geological Society’s journal “GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY - SPECIAL PUBLICATION” (vol. 506, 2021). It is about the women who have played an outstanding role in the history of geological science, and contains a feature titled “Women at the dawn of diamond discovery in Siberia or how two women discovered the Siberian diamond province”. The full text of the publication is available at

https://sp.lyellcollection.org/content/specpubgsl/506/1/261.full.pdf.

The article has two authors - Ekaterina S. Kiseeva and Rishat N. Yuzmukhametov. The first author is positioned as an employee of the Oxford University, the second one represents the West-Yakutian branch of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). I have never seen the works of Ms. E. Kiseeva on diamond history, and R. Yuzmukhametov is undoubtedly a leading Russian historian in this field and the author of many publications, including several monographs. Moreover, Yuzmukhametov is familiar with diamonds not only as an academic researcher, but he used to be an ALROSA official in the past, and now he is the head of the diamond mining Mirny District of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) elected to this post from the United Russia Party.

This work is about the lives of two discoverers of the Yakutian diamonds - L. Popugayeva and N. Sarsadskikh and is basically a compilation of facts from dozens of publications about the life and work of these outstanding Soviet geologists and diamond exploration pioneers. It does not contain any new information, and at first glance, it is a good-quality commemorative text intended for solving purely educational tasks: “Despite being well publicized in Russian literature, to the authors’ knowledge, there are no articles dedicated to the discovery of Siberian kimberlite field in English. One of the goals of this study is to uncover this story to English-speaking readers. Another goal is to commemorate and acknowledge the great input of women into such a difficult profession as geology in the Soviet Union.”

However, the authors put the well-known Popugayeva’s and Sarsadskikh’s story (to a large extent, thanks to Yuzmukhametov’s efforts) in a very peculiar context that deserves close attention and analysis in view of clearly erroneous basic premises.

Let’s start with a very strange statement: “Diamonds had been extensively used in Russian Empire industry since the nineteenth century.” Of course, Fabergé and Bolin fascinated customers with their diamond jewellery, but this can hardly be regarded as a widespread use of diamonds in the Russian industry. In general, wide use of industrial diamonds in the country’s industry began in the 1930s - in the machine-building industry, and first of all, in engine building, which simply did not exist in Russia in the 19th century.

But paying a very backhanded compliment to the Russian Empire’s achievements, the authors resort to direct manipulation writing that “Before 1938, the USSR imported diamonds at a cost of more than two million rubles a year, and that only covered about 50% of the country’s needs. Before World War II, the USSR consumed roughly 23 000 carats a year.”

The actual consumption of industrial diamonds in the USSR in the pre-war period was as follows1:

analyt_28062021_eng.png

One should agree that this is a strange way to increase English-speaking readers’ awareness decreasing the numbers by an order of magnitude. The numbers in the above table are taken from the report by V. Malyshev, People’s Commissar of Heavy Engineering to A. Mikoyan, Chairman of the Economic Council under the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR. In his report, Malyshev emphasized that “the diamonds are imported mainly from Britain (South African diamonds) and partly from Holland” and the main consumers were the People’s Commissariats of the aviation industry and the medium machine-building industry. The factories belonging to these People’s Commissariats manufactured internal combustion engines for aircraft, tanks, and automobiles, and their production targets were strictly observed. So, to meet these targets diamonds were imported in needed quantities. Therefore, Kiseeva’s and Yuzmukhametov’s statement that diamond imports at that time covered only 50% of the requirements just runs counter to common sense. How can it be? In what way were the rest of the requirements satisfied? If 50% of engine cylinders were machined with diamond tools, how were the other 50% honed? Using one’s own bare hands? Of course, there was a popular poem in the USSR saying, “Nails could be made of these people...” and there were other myths extolling the strong character of communism builders. But the artistic image has little to do with technology.

Further on, the narrative of Kiseeva and Yuzmukhametov smoothly turns into a good old fairy tale, “If, during World War II, Great Britain sold approximately 2800 carats of technical diamonds (charging £1 per 2 carats) to the USSR in the form of military aid, with the beginning of the ‘Cold War’ this aid was no longer available. The only remaining way of obtaining diamonds was to pay the market price, which was too financially grueling for a country devastated by World War II. As a result, in 1946, the former head of the Urals Diamond Expedition, M. F. Shestopalov, wrote a letter to Stalin, outlining three key goals for the diamond industry:

(1) To cease the import of diamonds into the USSR in the short term.

(2) To create a Diamond Trust and expand exploration to multiple areas within the USSR.

(3) To target every area of the country where diamonds were found previously.

Less than one month later, Stalin invited Shestopalov to the Kremlin and approved his proposal.”

Everything looks miraculous here! The fact is that the supply of industrial diamonds under the Lend-Lease Act amounted to ₤1,206,000, or 2,412,000 carats (the Pravda newspaper dated 11.06.1944). While in the previous example our “educators of English-speaking readers” made a mistake “just” by an order of magnitude, here they did it by three orders of magnitude! Against this background, mentioning the adventures of the legendary diamond daredevil Shestopalov seems quite natural. To make this good story sound convincing, there is a reference to the article “Expansion of work for the search of diamonds in the USSR in the post-war years. 1946 - 1950” written by Yuzmukhametov and published in the journal “Historical and socio-educational thought. 2013. No. 1 (17).”

Let’s follow this reference and read the next lines: “As you know, having received this letter, I. V. Stalin invited M. F. Shestopalov to the Kremlin for a special meeting at the Council of Ministers of the USSR where he supported the proposals of the former head of the Ural Diamond Expedition.” So, the trusted source here is named “As You Know…”. Who knows? From whom is it known? What documents is this known from? No answer…

What we know is that on July 16, 1946, L. Mekhlis, Minister of State Control of the USSR, signed order No. 620, on the basis of which Shestopalov was removed from all posts on charges of abuse of office, theft, and sabotage, and was brought to justice. And Comrade P. Lomako (Minister of Non-Ferrous Metallurgy), the immediate supervisor of Shestopalov, demanded to shoot him as quickly as possible2. And Shestopalov did not take part in the “special meeting” at the Kremlin. Mikoyan was at that meeting, as well as Kruglov (Ministry of Internal Affairs), Arkhipov (Ministry of Non-ferrous Metallurgy), and Malyshev (Ministry of geology)... . Shestopalov was not there, he was under investigation in the Urals. And none of the proposals from Shestopalov’s letter were included in the resolution of the Council of Ministers “On the development of National diamond industry” dated 07.09.1946 and signed by Stalin. This is what is known and based on the archival documents that we have been publishing since 2018! But in 2021, in a prestigious British magazine, two Russian historians offer an old joke told by a reliable source named “as you know” in an attempt to increase English-speaking readers’ awareness.

And further on, it becomes even more funny! For the British, of course. “By the beginning of the 1950s, alluvial diamonds were found within a large area in Siberia between the rivers Yenisey and Lena, and a range of Moscow and Leningrad research institutes were given the task of expanding the diamond exploration in that region. This coincided with the new embargo that, in 1950, the USA put on diamond trading with all countries of the Socialist Bloc, leaving the USSR no option other than to push the exploration forward at the fastest rate.”

That’s how it was! As it turned out, it was the damned Yankees who imposed an embargo! Was this valuable information again provided by the source named “as you know”!? Let’s look again at the already mentioned article by Yuzmukhametov, “Indeed, in 1950, the United States placed an embargo on the industrial diamond supply to the USSR and all socialist-oriented countries.” And here, the reference was given to a quite respectable source - John Tichotsky, and the study by the Pacific University of Alaska entitled “Russia’s diamond colony: the Republic of Sakha”, Yakutsk, 2001, p. 114. The source is very influential, so it is necessary to admit the fact of the embargo, isn’t it? But let's not be too lazy to open this very page 114 and see that John Tichotsky claims that in 1950 the United States declared an embargo on industrial diamonds to the Soviet bloc, and this event allegedly accelerated the creation of the Soviet diamond industry. And to "prove" this thesis, Tichotsky cites the opinion of a Soviet expert who bitterly complains about... Britain's monopoly in the world diamond market. This is it, the source of Yuzmukhametov's confidence in the notorious embargo!

How do you like the reasoning of the American colleague? If the world diamond production and sales were Britain’s monopoly, then how did it come about that the embargo was introduced by the United States!? The United States did not recover a single carat and was just an importer of industrial diamonds, so what the hell of an embargo could the US place if it was impossible in principle!? But the formal logic and the luminaries of the diamond history appear to be wide apart...

In fact, there was no diamond embargo during the Cold War. In 1951-1953, the USSR purchased huge consignments of industrial diamonds from Britain, and these supplies were an order of magnitude higher than the pre-war ones by value and by carats. As a result, the State Precious Metals and Gems Repository (Gokhran) created reserves of various categories of diamonds for the industry for the next 6 to 15 years3. By the way, this completely excluded the motive of intensifying geological exploration for diamonds in the interests of the industry. And these facts are confirmed by the archival documents, which we have also published several times since 2018.

You can find many more convincing examples to show that the authors of the work in question ignored new data revealing the true motives for establishing and developing the diamond industry in the USSR, but the data already cited are quite enough to understand the false historical context in which the heroes of the publication are placed. Instead of a true story, an old industry legend was offered “adorned” with myths created by Soviet censorship back in the middle of the 20th century. As a result, groaning about the difficult life of diamond discoverers in Yakutia, the authors did their best to make “English-speaking readers” get a completely distorted, and obviously deliberately distorted, idea of the Soviet diamond industry history, including the significant aspects of the Soviet-British interaction in this area. What for? I do not know the answer to this question, but I would like to note that the United Russia Party, whose nominee is Yuzmukhametov, invariably declares the need to “fight against the falsification of history.” If this “fight against the falsification of history” resembles the work in question, then we can only express our condolences to history.

Sergey Goryainov, Rough&Polished
 

1 The State Archive of the RF. F. 5446. O.24a. D.965. L.2.3.
2 The State Archive of the RF. F. 5446. O. 48a. D.825. L.74.
3 The State Archive of the RF. F. 5446. O.86a. D.1113. L.2-3.