Eugene Korsunov is an expert on Russian gemstones and geology. Having been our CEO Steve Bennett’s guide when he travelled to the Chrome Diopside mine last year, Steve invited him to come and visit us here in the UK. His English is a little rusty, but I managed to find a few minutes to chat with him as he sat in Steve’s office, sorting out an array of gorgeous Russian gems.
I knew very little about him, so we went right back to the beginning. Eugene explained that he was originally from Kazakhstan, but moved to Novosibirsk in the Siberian Federal District to attend university, where he eventually chose to take up geology and geochemistry. He tells me:
“I was introduced to geology at university at Novosibirsk. It had the best university in our country then, although it still is now. When I came to Novosibirsk, where there are around 30 scientific institutions, I decided that it was the place I wanted to be educated. Everybody is a scientist and very clever and interesting. But I wasn’t sure what to study. I was thinking… physics? That’s not good. I’d have to stay inside reading all through the summer. Biology? That’s not good, I’d have to take care of animals. It was suggested to me that I do geology. It’s not hard to learn and in the summer you can go everywhere and not pay anything. That’s how it is with geologists. With cookers out in the snow and on volcanoes and everywhere. For five years every summer I went travelling everywhere and didn’t pay a thing. I didn’t know anything about geology when I started university, nothing.”
Clearly a nature-lover, Eugene goes on to tell me that his favourite gemstones are the ones that are green and remind him of grass in the spring. He says that his love of nature was the driver behind completing his degree, “I only liked nature and I liked to investigate. It was great because I knew a lot about our planet and I learnt to see things differently – everywhere outside there are stones, but most people do not know what they are. It is very interesting because inside each stone there is the history of our planet and I like that.”
He explains that Russia has some unique geology that can create some extraordinary gemstones and that the most interesting parts are the Ural Mountains and Siberia. Siberia boasts Diamond deposits with similar geology to the famous Kimberley deposit in South Africa. Siberia also has Chrome Diopside, Charoite, gold and platinum and more. In the area around Lake Baikal they find Tourmaline, Shell and Seraphinite. Sadly, discovering more about the local geology is difficult since geologists can only work for a couple of months every summer. The winter temperatures can easily reach -50 or -55°C in Siberia.
He goes on to tell me that the Ural Mountains in Western Russia are milder. The mountains are formed by the collision of the Europe and Asia tectonic plates. These extreme forces have formed Amethyst, Smokey Quartz, Sapphire, Jade and many more gemstones besides. Most famous of all are the Emeralds from the Urals, which look uniquely different from those from Zambia, Columbia or Brazil.
I ask him about the Chrome Diopside mine near Aldan in Siberia. He smiles as he tells me that it is owned by his good friend Dmitri, “Mining started there in around 1979. Dmitri has a mining license from the government. The mining season is short, three months, no more. He mines in the summer, then over winter they grade it in Aldan. They can’t use explosives as it may destroy the gem. Dmitri mostly sells to China. It is an open cast, single deposit mine. There are around 30 staff – ten of them are miners.”
The Charoite mine is in the same region, but is much more difficult to get to. Named after the Chara River, he tells me, “It’s a 2km area, but only some parts are mining, two or three spots in the area. It is a harder place to work. The Diopside mine has a road, but the Charoite mine is in an empty, deep forest, where it is very difficult to work. The Charoite mine belongs to the government, like the Emerald mines in the Urals. Again though, they can only mine for a few months every year.”
However, both of these tiny deposits are strongly contrasted with Russia’s biggest gemstone export – Diamonds. Russia has half the world’s biggest Diamond mines and Eugene is lucky enough to have visited a few of them, including three of the largest mines in the world – at Mir, Aikhal, and Udachny.
“The biggest Diamond town is Mirny. When you land, you can see a great hole in the earth, it is the kimberlite pipe Mir. It is a very industrial place. Because you know, it has Diamonds,” he says with a laugh. “We now have two regions of Diamonds, the other is in the North West near the Baltic Sea.”
The Yakutia (also called Sakha) region is vast by UK standards, so it is difficult to really understand the distances from mine to mine – he explains that it is around 1700km from the Chrome Diopside deposit near Aldan to the Diamond mine at Mirny, but that it is the same area.
This area also has other gemstones often found as a by-product of larger mining operations. Eugene explains that pink Spessartite Garnet is found alongside gold; Peridot and red Pyrope Garnet are found alongside Diamonds. Sadly, these are scarcely ever gem quality.
Eugene had been pleased to be able to welcome Steve to Siberia last year, but he explained that it could very easily not have worked out:
“When Steve came to visit I worried because before he came for two months it was rain, rain, rain. The when he came, it rained all the way from the airport to Aldan. Then it rained all the way to the Chrome Diopside mine. But when we reached the deposits, the clouds disappeared, and the sun came out with a beautiful rainbow. Everything in the deposits was washed clean, where usually it is dusty everywhere, every detail was washed clean by the rain. As soon as we left, it started raining again. I told Steve he should be a very happy man – just two hours without rain, all for him and he got to meet me, nobody from outside this area has had the chance to talk to me about geology before. He agreed with me!”
Eugene’s expertise has taken him across the world, but he has never been to the UK before. It is clear that he has wanted to come here for some time though, English literature was a big part of his upbringing:
“When I was a child, I liked Oliver Twist, I read it and I cried. After that, I read David Copperfield. In my childhood I liked Robert Burns and Shakespeare. I like your culture; I like your literature. I never formally learnt English. I learnt to speak English when I tried to read Lewis Carroll in English! It’s been very exciting and nerve-wracking coming here and being on television. I am not a public man. For most of my life I have been in deep forests with mosquitoes and with bats, not people!”
Finally, I asked Eugene what he thought of Steve when they first met. He tells me:
“I was in wonder. It was a great day in my life when I met Steve Bennett. He is a very interesting man. After that I was introduced to his Facebook page and YouTube channel. I was very interested in your films about gemstone sources. I appreciate that Gemporia not only sells gemstones, after all your customers could buy gemstones in any jewellery shop, but you also give people knowledge and understanding. You explain where these gemstones come from and what the differences are about their origin and so on. I don’t know of anywhere else like that. Everyone is very polite and very intelligent. You’ve made me feel very comfortable and welcome here. I hope to come back again, to your country. I invited Steve to come to the Ural Mountains, to show him the forest where I work. Not to show him gems, but geology.”
I thank Eugene and turn to leave, but he stops me. From a desk strewn with gloriously colourful and beautiful gems, he hands me a dull, dark, lump of rock. Beaming with enthusiasm, he tells me it is the piece he has brought to show Steve he is proudest of. “This,” he explains, “is a piece of meteorite that fell to the earth four and a half billion years ago.” Ignoring the glittering Emeralds, Sunstones and Chrome Diopsides on every surface around us, he is, wonderfully, most besotted by a lump of iron. I acknowledge that he is right though, sometimes the most beautiful rock is the one that has a fascinating story to tell.
Explore Gemporia's selection of beautiful Chrome Diopside jewellery here.