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Diamonds across time

18 january 2021

alex_popov_xx.pngNot so long ago, the global library of professional publications on precious stones was replenished with a unique book about rare diamonds and diamond jewelry published by the World Diamond Museum. Alex Popov, the founder and director of the museum told Rough&Polished about how this book came to life, its concept and future projects within the diamond industry.

Your activity in the international diamond industry is full of significant events, including the creation of the Moscow Diamond Exchange, that of the Indian Fund and the World Diamond Mark, the organization of exhibitions, consulting, interest towards laboratory-grown diamonds and jewelry design, the organization of the World Diamond Museum and the publishing business. How did it all start?

I came into diamond business by chance a bit more than 20 years ago. I visited Geneva quite often and knew a lot of people there in the nineties. One day my brother, who is a jewellery designer, asked me to help his friend, who was in the diamond business. I did, and there it all started. I was lucky enough to enter the world of high-end brands, best retailers and most important diamond manufacturers and traders. So, I learned this business from several angles, and that helped a lot. One cannot easily get into this tight circle of family-oriented businesses, and I came through the family as well.

What are diamonds to you?

My mind was always outside the box or rather outside the loupe. I am not a gemologist, and I don’t consider diamonds a commodity. If I would, I’d never get into this trade. For me, the diamonds are part of the jewellery world, which in turn, is an integral part of the world of art, history and culture – my favourite subjects.

I strongly believe that diamonds form an integral part of our cultural heritage and will remain there forever, despite the efforts of the part of the industry to diminish it to commodity trading. Not that there is something wrong with the commodity trading, it serves the purpose to create art in the same way as metal commodity trading serves the aim to make good cars.

No art or any other form of expression can exist without people. The same way, diamond jewellery or any other work of art have no value unless the people admire and enjoy them.

So everything I do ultimately is related to people interactions. Establishing relationships between Russian industry members and the world, or working on the World Federation of Diamond Bourses projects, or organising jewellery exhibitions – all are part of the same desire to encourage interest and create more business.

Two areas of my activities are a bit separate but peacefully co-exist with diamond and jewellery – lab-grown diamond jewellery and India.

As in diamonds, where the choice is between commodity trading and art, the lab-grown sector, that is growing steadily, is the same. The only difference is this commodity is not as rare as mined stones. There is an ample space to grow yet, but at some point, it will reach saturation, and prices will go down. So the only sustainable solution is to create additional value, that is jewellery design. This is what I’ve been working on since 2018. The current pandemic has been very tough on us and slowed the progress, but we are still determined to get where we planned to be in the first place – to be the most fashionable high-jewellery brand based exclusively on lab-grown diamonds.

How did the Indian theme emerge in your life?

India is my favourite country since I went there fifteen years ago to the WFDB Presidents meeting. Since then, the Moscow Diamond Bourse team, headed by Irina Litvinova, and I have established a working relationship with the Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council and the Bharat Diamond Bourse. Apart from that, as you know, I brought a famous India, Jewels that Enchanted the World exhibition to Moscow Kremlin in 2014 and co-organised the first World Diamond Conference in Delhi same year. That conference was honoured by the presence of Indian and Russian Heads of state and triggered further development of the diamond generic marketing movement.

But India is home not only to diamonds and jewellery. This enormous country has always been an inspiration to all foreigners, from Moghul invaders through British colonialists to modern-day connoisseurs of the beautiful. It is a logical continuation from diamonds and jewellery to art.

I remember this exhibition well. Are you planning more projects related to exhibition activities?

This year the State Tretyakov Gallery announced a major Indian Contemporary Art Exhibition co-organised together with Kiran Nadar Museum in Delhi and my Indian Foundation. Hopefully, it will take place after the current pandemics in 2021.

Tell us about the activities of the World Diamond Museum and the idea of ​​publishing the book.

The World Diamond Museum was established three years ago and united like-minded people around the world. The goal is to preserve the heritage, conduct research and educate the people about diamond and diamond jewellery. It is a gargantuan task that requires a lot of work and a lot of funding. Apart from several conferences and consultancy work, we decided to engage in publishing to reach out to the industry and the general public. Diamonds Across Time is the first such publication.

How is this book different from others on this topic? What is its uniqueness, who are its authors?

From the very beginning, we decided not to follow the path of many other books who recite the story of diamonds from the Golconda beginning of mining in Golkonda till DeBeers’ “A Diamond Is Forever™” in a chronological manner. Therefore the chief curator of our Museum, Dr Usha Balakrishnan, and I, together with the creative team, headed by famous book designer Misha Anikst in London, decided to concentrate on human interaction with the stone.

The book consists of ten seemingly unrelated essays, written by ten different researchers from different countries. It contains over 300 images, including our proprietary photography of famous diamonds and jewellery, archive documents and even some computer-generated historic diamond reconstructions.

I don’t want to recite the content that is on our website. It is, in my opinion, the most exciting book about diamonds ever, both in design and in the contents. I’m biased, of course, but first reviews are very favourable.

What is the main goal of this project? Is the World Diamond Museum planning further publishing activities?

I repeat myself, but it is to educate the people about diamond and diamond jewellery and to have fun and enjoy. We were fortunate to have good sponsors to keep the price of the book low to be accessible to all. Hopefully, it will achieve this goal.

We have already another book in the pipeline. It tells the story of the incredible jeweller Munnu Kasliwal, who was my friend and passed away early. The book is a tribute to his life and legacy. It will see the light next spring.

Based on the success of Diamonds Across Time, we plan to continue looking for exciting books about diamonds to publish in the future.

Galina Semyonova for Rough&Polished