Russian emeralds from the Ural mountains for export
by Olivia Kroth
The Russian Federation is one of the biggest export countries for emeralds. In 2021, the Mariinsky mine in the Ural mountains will extend its export of emeralds. An emerald is a first-class gemstone, in the same category as diamonds, sapphires and rubies. Emeralds, a variety of the mineral beryl, are graded according to four basic parametres: colour, clarity, cut and carat weight. A fine emerald gemstone possesses a pure green hue and a high degree of transparency. The crystals obtained in the Urals are considered to be among the best and most expensive in the world, as they are distinguished by a deep grass-green colour. Many of them are kept in museums because they represent national treasures. The most famous of the latest finds have their own names: Miner’s Glory, President, Glorious Ural, Trilith, Jubilee, Zvezdar (Gift of Stars). The Mariinsky mine, located near the small town of Malysheva, about 60 kilometres northwest of Yekaterinburg, was discovered in 1831. It provided beautiful emeralds first to the Romanov tsars, then to the Soviet Union and nowadays it still provides gems to the Russian Federation.
“The Mariinsky mine will supply emeralds for export, in 2021, amounting to 100 million rubles ($1.3 million). The enterprise managed to contract an increasing annual volume of raw crystals. The mine annually processes 150 kg of emeralds” (TASS, 01.10.2020).
The mine informs on its internet site: “The Mariinsky emerald deposit is 220 km long, located on the eastern slope of the Ural ridge. The central part of the strip was named Emerald Mines of the Urals. It is a unique province of global importance. The potential of the Emerald Mines of the Urals, according to geologists, is large. In 2017, on behalf of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, a procedure was carried out to reorganize the enterprise. And in February 2018, the Mariinsky Mine Joint Stock Company appeared on the map of Russia. All shares are owned by the Rostec State Corporation.”
The Mariinsky Mine Enterprise:
Rostec opened the mine for visitors, in April 2019, and announced on its site: “Rostec State Corporation provides an opportunity for everyone who wishes to visit the unique emerald deposit Mariinsky Priisk, for which the enterprise has organized tourist routes. Tourists will be able to see the mining, sorting and evaluating process of precious stones, as well as be prospectors themselves and find their own jewellery. The first excursion to the Ural deposit took place today, on April 11th.”
Rostec’s Director of Communications, Ekaterina Baranova, explained: “The Mariinsky mine has developed three tourist routes, ranging from 40 minutes to five hours. Guests are invited to visit the museum of our enterprise, the lapidary production and the emerald extraction plant. The can also see minerals in the rock and unique lapidary machines. The organizers have prepared an interactive programme. Guides will show how to distinguish artificial stones from genuine precious stones. They will offer to participate in a prospecting sketch, so tourists can wash ore.”
According to Ekaterina Baranova, the development of industrial tourism gives people an opportunity of discovering technological secrets and meeting the people who work in this industry. “All of this allows us to create a new, open and modern image of the Russian industry. We have no doubt that the Mariinsky mine, which is one of the three largest emerald deposits in the world, will attract great attention and be visited by Russian as well as foreign tourists,” she added.
Russia’s emerald export received a huge boost, after the biggest emerald in 30 years was found at the Mariinsky mine, in May 2019. It weighed 1.6 kg. “This was the country’s largest find in almost 30 years, a real natural sample, unique not only for its size but also for its crystal form. Experts attributed the mineral to the second category of green colour and to the third category of value, due to the presence of natural cracks” (TASS, 28.05.2019).
The Mariinsky mine is the largest in Europe, one of the three biggest worldwide and the only one of its kind in Russia. It was discovered, in 1831, in the Sverdlovsk Oblast of the Urals, an area rich in resources. After the Russian Revolution, the oblast was named after Yakov Sverdlov, a Communist revolutionary.
Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov (Яков Михайлович Свердлов; 1885–1919) was born in Nizhny Novgorod to a Jewish family. He supported Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik faction and became Chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, from 1917 to 1919. Yakov Sverdlov helped to consolidate Bolshevik control of the new Soviet Administration.
Yakov Mikhailovich Sverdlov (1885-1919):
Yakov Sverdlov died in March 1919, at the age of 33. He is buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. In 1923, the Russian Navy’s destroyer “Novik” was renamed “Yakov Sverdlov”. The first ship of the Sverdlov class cruisers also received his name. In 1924, the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals was renamed Sverdlovsk in his honour. Today, Yekaterinburg is the administrative centre of the Sverdlovsk Oblast.
The emerald mine is located near the village of Malysheva (Малышева) in the Sverdlovsk Oblast, about 60 km northwest of Yekaterinburg. Malysheva has about 10.000 inhabitants. The history of this place began with the discovery of emeralds at the nearby Tokovaya brook, in 1831. In the course of the 19th century, several more emerald deposits were discovered around Malysheva.
One prominent Russian, who described and classified emeralds from the Urals, was the geochemist and mineralogist Alexander Evgenevich Fersman (Александр Евгеньевич Ферсман; 1883–1945). He became a member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, from 1919 to 1945.
Alexander Fersman participated in a project of the Academy of Sciences to catalogue Russia’s natural resources. Starting in 1915, he travelled throughout Russia to assess mineral deposits. Vladimir Lenin subsequently consulted him for advice on exploiting the country’s mineral resources.
Alexander Evgenevich Fersman (1883-1945):
Alexander Fersman wrote more than 1.500 articles and publications on crystallography, mineralogy, geology, chemistry, geochemistry and similar topics. Among them were: Geochemistry in Russia (1922); Chemical Elements of the Earth and Cosmos (1923); Geochemistry, vols. I–IV (1933–1939); The Search for Mineral Deposits on the Basis of Geochemistry and Mineralogy (1939).
This eminent scientist was also a great popularizer of science in Russia. In addition to his contributions to Priroda (Nature) and other journals, he wrote many books of popular science for interested readers, including: Mineralogy for Everyone (1928, updated and re-published 1935); Twenty-Five Years of Soviet Natural Science (1944); Reminiscences about Minerals (1945); The March of Soviet Science (1945); Geochemistry for Everyone (pub. 1958).
For his many achievements, Alexander Fersman was awarded the Lenin Prize (1929), the Stalin Prize (1942) and the Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1943). His name was given to the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in Saint Petersburg. Since 1946, the Soviet/Russian Academy of Sciences has been giving the Fersman Award for outstanding research in geochemistry and mineralogy.
In the 19th century, the Urals provided beautiful emeralds for the Russian Imperial Romanov family’s world famous jewellery collection, which contained some of the greatest, most luxurious emeralds worldwide. Two aristocratic ladies, who liked to wear emeralds, were Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (1854-1920) and Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fyodorovna of Russia (1864-1918).
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (Мария Павловна) was born Duchess Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in Germany. When she lived in Saint Petersburg, she often wore a native Boyar costume and displayed her emerald brooches. One of them contained a rectangular emerald of 107 carats.
The magnificent brooch was given to Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna as a wedding present by Tsar Alexander II, when she married his third son, Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, in 1874. The Grand Duchess had a passion for jewels and her collection was renowned. She was often called ‘the grandest of the grand duchesses’.
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (1854-1920):
Her home, the Vladimir Palace in Saint Petersburg, became the centre of Russian aristocratic society. Following the Russian Revolution, a family friend rescued the jewels from her palace safe and smuggled them out of Russia. After the Duchess’s death, they were sold by her children to support their lives in exile.
Another splendid example of the Romanov jewellery collection is a magnificent tiara with Russian emeralds from the Ural mountains. The tiara in the form of a “kokoshnik”, a typical Russian female headdress, was given to the German Princess Elisabeth of Hessen and by Rhein (1864-1918), when she became Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fyodorovna (Елизавета Фёдоровна) after her marriage to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, the fifth son of Tsar Alexander II.
Diamond and emerald tiara of Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fyodorovna of Russia:
Charming and with a very accommodating personality, Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fyodorovna was considered by many historians and contemporaries to be one of the most beautiful women of her time. She made a good impression on her husband’s family. “Everyone fell in love with her from the moment she came to Russia from her beloved Darmstadt”, wrote one of Sergei’s cousins. The couple lived in the Beloselsky-Belozersky Palace in Saint Petersburg.
However, she might not have been loved that much by the poor Russian people, who could never afford to wear such splendid diamond and emerald tiaras. The Duchess was certainly not admired at all by the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin, who ordered her arrest and death, in 1918. She was exiled first to Perm, then to Yekaterinburg, where she and the other members of the Romanov family were executed.
Grand Duchess Elisabeth Fyodorovna of Russia (1864-1918) with her diamond and emerald “kokoshnik” tiara:
In 2013, the Museum for history of stone-cutting and jewellery-making in Yekaterinburg organized an exhibition in cooperation with the Moscow Kremlin Museum. From May to November 2013, it displayed “An Emerald Room,” designed as representation of the mineral wealth of the Urals. The exhibition was held in the art gallery of the Governor’s Residence of the Sverdlovsk Oblast. The house is also known as Merchant Tarasov’s Mansion.
The gallery hosted 450 masterpieces from various Russian museums and private collections. Among them were miraculous emeralds, including the first pieces found in the 1830s. Fifteen jewels from the 19th and 20th centuries, with emeralds from the Urals, came from the collection of the Moscow Kremlin Museum. Some of these items were created by the distinguished Russian jewellery firms of Carl Fabergé and Ivan Khlebnikov.
Russian emeralds in the Moscow Kremlin Museum:
Already in antiquity, emeralds were used as mystical talismans. They were believed to confer power and riches, eloquence and wit. Purportedly, these gems strengthened the memory and made its owner able to predict future events. The soothing green colour was thought to be restful to eyes under strain.
People also hoped that the emerald gemstone would protect them against possession by demons. As a revealer of truths, the emerald reputedly could cut through all illusions and spells.
May these beautiful green crystals from the Ural mountains keep protecting the Russian people against all demonic influences, for example hostile interference from abroad, incursions on Russia’s sovereignty and the activity of foreign agents on Russian soil.
Wearing an emerald talisman, Russians will always remember the long and proud history of their homeland. They will also look clear-sightedly into the future. With the help of its mystical emerald gems, the Russian Federation will remain rich and powerful forever.
Vintage Russian emerald earrings:
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Russia.
This text was also published in THE DURAN: