Russia is the largest country in the world – significantly larger than its runner up, Canada, and comprising more than 10% of the world’s landmass. Within its borders, you will find some incredible landscapes – environments that stand among the most wild and ferocious on the planet. From the white tundra to the frozen forests of Siberia.
Beyond the rugged beauty of its sprawling landscapes, Russia also represents the most bounteous areas of the diamond world, producing millions of carats worth of diamonds each and every year. The country produces tens of millions worth of carats’ each and every year, and millions more than Africa’s largest producers like Botswana and South Africa.
Interestingly, however, the overwhelming majority of diamond mining in Russia takes place in one, relatively small area known as the Yakutia region – also known as the Republic of Sakha – in the Russian Far East. We say relatively small because, in reality, the Yakutia region is larger than many countries, covering more than 3 million km2. But compared with the immense sprawl of Russia – and its population – it represents just one part of a much bigger whole.
But, whether you think of it as dauntingly large or just a small piece of a larger whole, the fact remains that this corner of Russia holds unparalleled significance for the global diamond industry – and vice versa. With great swathes of Yakutia’s modest population involved in the production and exportation of diamonds, these rough stones represent a vital source of livelihood for many, many Russians.
Despite the fact that diamonds are billions of years in the making, commercial diamond mining in Russia only began in the mid-century – less than a hundred years ago. Now, however, Yakutia accounts for around a quarter of all diamonds mined in the world, thanks to the area being rich in kimberlite ore.
Kimberlite ore is a crumbly, igneous rock that can contain high levels of rough diamond. It is found in volcanic ‘pipes’ – funnels formed by eruptions deep underground, that widen as they reach close to the surface.
The first kimberlite ore in Yakutia was found in the 1950s – and, from that point on, it became a case of establishing the vast infrastructure needed for producing such a high level of output in parts of the country that, until that point, were barely inhabited.
These days, diamonds are found in these kimberlite mines as well as many alluvial deposits (where rough diamonds are deposited on riverbeds). The region has produced some remarkable diamonds over the years, like the ‘Matryoshka” double diamond (the first of its kind), and the 14.83 carat Spirit of the Rose diamond, which made headlines in 2020 when it sold for $26.6 million.
But, more than that, the area is now responsible for around a quarter of the world’s diamond output, and a major source for many of the world’s most prominent jewelry companies. Tiffany & Co., James Allen, Blue Nile, and Brilliance represent just a few examples. Here are more examples and reviews.
As with any of the world’s diamond sources, we need to be able to trust that measures are in place to ensure that consumers are not investing into diamonds mined by oppressed or exploited workers, and that both the communities and surrounding environment are protected by sustainable efforts.
It’s no secret that diamond mining is a highly intensive process. Even when mines deploy the most sophisticated machinery and techniques they have at their disposal, the fact remains that kimberlite ore is often buried within the layers of the earth, and that the only way to access it is to shift countless metric tons of earth out of the way.
In Russia’s Far East, much of that ground is frozen – or even buried under a layer of snow and ice – except during its brief summers, when temperatures climb uncomfortably high. It requires considerable manpower and exhaustive efforts. Mines can prove bountiful for decades, and ensuring output remains high means working round the clock, in some pretty harsh conditions.
If you’ve read our guide to ethical diamonds already, you’ll know that this makes miners vulnerable to exploitation – unreasonable conditions engineered to ensure the highest possible output, with the least effort given to ensuring the safety or welfare of their workers. This can happen anywhere, particularly in the case of remote mines where workers have few options, and the companies in charge of them are not under constant scrutiny from the industry.
These days, however, around 95% of Russia’s diamond production is led by ALROSA, a mining group founded in 1992. The group is there to ensure that Russia’s diamond output meets some rigorous standards for ethics and sustainability, in order to ensure that it can continue to represent a strong source of GDP.
In 2017, ALROSA became a certified member of the Responsible Jewellery Council, which keeps an incredibly close eye on its members commitment to their Code of Practices for sustainability and human rights. By 2019, the RJC’s Standards Committee featured representation from ALROSA.
This is an important certification for ALROSA, as it offers third-party confirmation that Russian diamonds are meeting some rigorous standards, and that Russia’s keen influence over the global diamond market does not represent the dark cloud that it easily could.
They also talk openly about their own efforts not only to pay their employees above the national average wage, but also to give back to local communities. Furthermore, they have collaborated with mining group De Beers on utilizing blockchain within the diamond industry, as a way of ensuring traceability is able to be made watertight in the years to come…
Over the past three decades or so, ensuring that the global diamond industry is able to meet certain standards for ethics has not always proven easy. Traceability is a major issue, particularly when so many regulated and unregulated mines operate over such vast expanses of land, and rough diamonds are entering the market from every conceivable angle.
The fact that ALROSA is responsible for so much of Russia’s diamond output ensures a very high level of traceability. Their standards for ethics and integrity meet with those held by pivotal organizations, such as the RJC, and provide a strong assurance about the background of diamonds being sourced from their mines.
While the conditions in Yakutia are very different to the conditions found in Africa’s diamond producing countries, the outcomes of poor standards of health and safety can be the same. Firm regulations need to be in place, particularly in such remote regions.
This is why ALROSA is so pivotal for the Russian diamond industry. It has funded the creation of roads, hospitals, sporting and leisure facilities, and vital infrastructure for those living in Yakutia. In 2017, for instance, Diamonds Do Good reported on the mining groups’ donation of $4 million to schools – part of a total $10 billion reported to have been ‘given back’ by ALROSA.
Their work also extends to the environment, which can easily be harmed by largescale mining practices. They have made efforts to preserve rare wildlife in the area, including the reindeer. Thanks to the introduction of the Living Diamonds Park, which supports the migration patterns of Siberia’s reindeer, proactive steps are being taken to eventually see these animals removed from the vulnerable species list.
As with so many of the diamond producing countries we have looked at already on WillYou.Net, Russia has worked to establish and maintain a robust and resilient diamond industry – one that looks to conserve the very environment that sees these diamonds brought to light for the first time.
As a result of this work, Russia’s diamond mining industry holds incredible significance for the diamond world – as well as the communities it touches. This means, not only is it responsible for so many of the diamonds that enter onto the global market, but it is also responsible for the people and places that are most impacted by this industry.
In 2017, the mining group brought more than 500 initiatives into fruition, with the majority of those initiatives focused on the Yakutia region, where so many of its employees (and their families) reside. It has also proven indispensable in the Russian government’s ongoing work to ensure that the country meets the requirements of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, having been a member since 2003.
Russia’s diamond industry is set to continue supporting a large portion of global demand well into the future, and to continue providing a source of income and community support throughout the country.
At WillYou.Net, we are highly committed to equipping our readers with the knowledge and understanding they need to make an informed decision, particularly when it comes to making sure that the diamond they select is one that comes from a safe, fair, and beneficial background. This means selecting a reputable jeweler – one who has a clear understanding of their own supply chain. You can use our Jewelry Store Locator to find an approved retailer in your area, to guide you through this next part of the process.