Russia’s 40-Year-Old Diamond Secret: Popigai Astroblem

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Russia dominated the diamond market in the 1970s with its abundant natural resources and its partnership with De Beers, which at the time was distributing most of the world’s diamonds. Perhaps this is why Russia decided to keep its massive find secret.

The discovery of a 62-mile-wide asteroid crater called the Popigai Astroblem — said to contain 10 times as many diamonds as are currently believed to be in all the world’s reserves — was kept classified. The Popigai diamonds are said to be twice as hard as ordinary diamonds and were either present in the meteorite before impact or created upon impact with an area rich in carbon. Scientists were barred from revealing the secret, and the massive find was simply left alone. Until now.

Russia produces about ¼ of the world’s diamond output. The largest, and possibly the most well known, location was an opencast mine known as the Mirny Mine, which was over half a mile wide and half a mile deep. Perhaps the permanent closing of the Mirny Mine in 2011 prompted Russia’s declassification of their approximately 40-year-old discovery last week. Finally, the world was let in on the secret when scientists from the Novosibirsk Institute of Geology and Mineralogy in Moscow announced that a Siberian meteorite crater holding trillions of carats of industrial diamonds had been found, a discovery that could revolutionize the global market.

Although there may be some speculation as to the accuracy of this unbelievable claim, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Russia’s diamond reserve has exponentially grown. If confirmed, it is projected that Russia would continue its global dominance of the industrial diamond market for the next 3,000 years.

Diamonds are one of the earth’s major natural resources. Stones fall into two main categories: gem quality and industrial grade. Gem-quality diamonds account for roughly 30% of the diamonds produced each year, and contribute to the estimated $72 billion in global diamond jewelry sales. The remaining 70% of the annual diamond production consists of industrial-grade diamonds, also called “bort,” which accounts for an estimated $13 billion dollars in sales annually. Bort are diamonds that are not suited for jewelry, but have important characteristics like hardness, thermal conductivity, and optical dispersion, making them a resource uniquely useful for industrial applications such as drilling, grinding, and polishing. Industrial-grade diamonds are also used in technical applications such as the production of microchips, computer processors, and lasers.

Amy Richey – Bellevue Rare Coins

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