It’s late August, 2002, and I’m exhaust-
ed, flying Aeroflot from Los Angeles to
Moscow and then a domestic jet to
Ekaterinburg, jumping-off point for the
Ural Mountain gem mines. Yes I’m tired,
but – damn the torpedoes – somebody has
to do it. Why, you ask? Because the Reds
have just dug up what promises to be one
of biggest finds of green in a century.
Green as in demantoid garnet, imperial
gem of Fabergé and the Czars.
After arrival, Vadim, the mine manager,
meets us and we drive out to the mines. In
the Urals, the mining season is short – just
three to four months – and only in the last
two weeks has the insect population
become bearable. It was at the Kladovka site
that demantoid was first found last century.
Indeed, researching that historic discovery is
what led Vadim and his team here.
Exploration started in May, but by
July, they were on the verge of giving up.
Then, Mother Russia threw her children
a little treasure. Workers
exposed a vein
Ural pearls were being unearthed
in unheard-of quantities.
In one vein, I see green
garnets formed in crystals and
aggregates. The best pieces are
isolated in lines of nodules,
glistening like green, polished
tears. These are up to a quarter
inch in diameter.
Above the pit, pea-sized
pieces of demantoid are scattered
across a piece of canvas in a
spectacular display of newly dug
treasure. We marvel at the scene, turning
beautiful, crystal-clean demantoids in our
fingers. The likes of this have hardly been
seen since the time of the Czars.
A few of the rocks are broken up,
revealing nodules of an extraordinary green
color. As the last sunlight fades, we retire to
camp, where a barbecue has already begun.
We take several fine demantoid samples
back and display them like hunting
trophies on the dinner table.
That evening, over a toast, our Russian
friends invite us to return again. As Nicolai
raises his glass, he winks at me and says: “I
love this business. We travel far and wide in
search of these charms of nature. And in
doing so, we ar