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07 February 2024, 15:30

Lukashenko: Belarusian Kristall can outcompete top players of international diamond industry

The first diamond was cut at the Kristall plant more than half a century ago. Overall, there were seven such plants in the Soviet Union. Now only two are operational. One is in Smolensk, the other is in Gomel. In November of last year, Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Kristall. The president inspected all stages of production.  In the latest episode of BelTA’s Youtube project “After the Fact; Lukashenko’s Decision” we will tell you about the laser technologies used in diamond processing, the shapes of a diamond and the gold stamped at Krisall.

India accounts for 90% of all diamond processing in the world. Kristall has managed to preserve this specialty from the times of the USSR.  It also branched out into jewelry production. Today, jewelry accounts for 80% of the output at Kristall, diamond processing for 20%.  Let's start with the production of diamonds.

“We receive a batch of raw materials. We do pre-process sorting. Then we do the marking to set the overall tone for the processing of diamond gemstones. As part of the modernization effort, we purchased laser equipment.  We also automated the system of diamond bruting. The use of laser technologies minimizes the human factor in decision-making, which increases the accuracy of processing. The 4P laser machines will enable us to combine 3 to 4 operations. Such as initial polishing, bruting of the crown and the pavilion of a diamond and cleaning,” said Sergei Voskovtsov,Head of Production and Technology Department, Gomel MA Kristall – Managing Company of Kristall Holding.

Thanks to the advanced technologies, the company can compete with the world's diamond manufacturers. Thanks to technical re-equipment the plant has ensured high quality and high speed of operations. 

“Previously, when we applied mechanical processing technologies, gems were ready by almost 60% before the polishing operation. The use of these laser technologies increases the readiness of the gem to 80-85%,” Sergei Voskovtsov noted. 

Unique professions at Gomel-based Kristall 

Manual labor is still used in diamond processing. The diamond industry professions are unique, one might say, very rare. These skills are acquired at a production site.

“All our professions are specific. These are very rare and very niche professions, which are difficult to find in any other industry. It is clear that cutters, cleavers, sawyers, markers are very niche professions that apply only to operations related to precious or semiprecious gems. But we at Kristall do not deal with semiprecious stones. There are some factories in Belarus that specialize in this industry. There are 2 or 3 more enterprises that process synthetic and semiprecious stones,” Sergei Voskovtsov stressed. 

Diamond cutters study the longest, about six months. That's how long it takes to learn basic skills. It takes about five years to learn all the secrets of this trade.

“I became a cutter after school. 00.33 I got a job as an apprentice cutter. My internship lasted for six months. I passed the qualifications exam and became a diamond cutter. It's very difficult at first. The stones are small, you have to examine everything closely. It was hard. Then things improved and everything went well.

The main thing is to stay focused. We have to sit still for about eight hours. It is a huge stress for eyes. We need precision, so we avoid making unnecessary movements. Everything comes with experience,” said Igor Pershin, diamond cutter, holder of the Medal for Labor Merits.

Diamond processing at Kristall

First, an expert evaluates a rough stone. Based on its characteristics, a 3-D model of a future diamond is created. Then laser machines and specialists with golden hands get down to work. The most popular diamond size is from 2mm to 5mm.

“When a diamond arrives for primary processing, it is split into two pieces and polished. After that it undergoes bruiting and faceting. There can be all kinds of shapes: marquise, pear shape, all sorts. The most traditional diamond shape is round. The round diamond cut has 57 facets bringing out the diamond’s brilliance, sparkle in the best possible way,” Igor Pershin said.

The work of local diamond specialists is acknowledged and rewarded. Last year, two employees of the company were awarded the Medal for Labor Merits - jeweler Sergei Vladymtsev and diamond cutter Igor Pershin.

“I was happy, of course, to get the medal. I had been working for so many years. I was awarded for my work. Congratulations were pouring in, everyone was happy and joyful. Not everyone gets honored in such a way,” Igor Pershin said.

“Not everyone can do this. One needs to be able to stay super-focused and have very good eyesight. In general you should be a very healthy person because of the specificity of the work. Every year the company employees undergo a medical examination to check if they are physically fit to work,” said Sergei Voskovtsov. 

According to him, mistakes happen, but they are fixable: “If an employee fails to fulfill the technologist’s instructions, cuts off a facet, or goes beyond the specified diameter, this obviously causes some damage to the company and this person is given a reprimand and is stripped off bonuses. However, this kind of mistakes can be fixed.”
 
What determines the price for a polished diamond? 

Each gem, regardless of size, has 57 facets. Diamonds that shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow are most valuable. The more intense the color, the higher the value. There are four parameters (the four Cs) that determine the value: carat, cut, clarity, and color. 

“The price for our diamonds depends on the cost of rough stones that we buy and the cost of processing them. When we buy diamonds, we can get a discount or pay a premium depending on the situation on the world market. 
We have our own diamond sorting bureau, which sorts them by color and quality, as well as quality of cutting. There is a certain price list approved by the company, which serves as a benchmark for setting the price for a particular diamond. We can add a certain mark-up depending on the situation on the world market,” said Sergei Voskovtsov. 

Export destinations for Belarusian diamonds

The company processes 25,000 carats of rough stones per year. The output is about 10,500 carats of diamonds. Kristall uses Yakut diamonds mostly. They are considered the world’s best for their quality. But there are also alternative markets.

“Zimbabwe is one of the world’s biggest producers of gold and diamonds. They hold Belarus in high esteem. They have collected the largest grain harvest on record. Thanks to us, our technology, our assistance they have managed to meet the domestic needs for bread for the first time in their history. This is an extremely resource-rich country!

We have a lot of interest there with respect to raw materials for your company. We have set our foot in the door! The window to Zimbabwe is wide open. If you need anything, just let me know. You need to work hard. We will support you in every possible way,” the Belarusian president said talking to the Kristall workers during his working trip to Gomel in November 2023. 

The company exports some of its diamonds, mainly to Russia. The rest is used for making jewelry. Kristall sells rings, earrings and bracelets through its own retail network. The company opened one of its latest stores in the First National Trading House shopping center in late 2023. Aleksandr Lukashenko attended the official opening of the shopping center. The Belarusian president emphasized the importance of preserving the country’s diamond processing industry.

Why does jewelry business need constant upgrading?

The jewelry industry has its features. Some jewelry is made through casting. Some items are cut from gold pipe. For example, wedding rings. 3D modeling is the most advanced method used in jewelry today. Thanks to this technology, it is possible to make jewelry of any shape and size. 

“Modernization in jewelry business is a never-ending process. We cannot say that we can rest on our laurels after conducting the upgrade in 2023. We live in a fast-moving world where technology keeps evolving. Any jewelry and diamond processing production should be upgraded on a regular basis. New technologies emerge every six months. In order to keep pace, we keep upgrading our facilities and launching new products,” Yuri Dedov, Deputy Director General of Gomel MA Kristall – Managing Company of Kristall Holding, said.

Kristall started casting gold bars in 2022. Gold bullions range from one gram to 100 grams each. The customers are the country’s National Bank and the Finance Ministry.  Belarus used to buy gold bullions in Europe.

Thanks to modernization and reduction of production costs, the company keeps its output stable. The company produces about 300 types of jewelry. It designs new models, too. Kristall finds a way to move forward even under sanctions.

“We are neighbors with European countries. All the equipment used at our enterprise was imported. Sometimes we need imported consumables, components. Analogs do not always work well, which sometimes affects product quality. That is why we choose analogs very carefully. We always carry out all necessary tests,” Yuri Dedov, Deputy Director General of Gomel MA Kristall – Managing Company of Kristall Holding, said.

The company runs tours around its grounds. For obvious reasons, visitors have no access to workshops, where precious metals are processed in large volumes. Guided tours, however, offer the chance to explore most of the production process. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Lukashenko sets an ambitious task for the enterprise, which is to increase the output and outcompete other industry players:

“We will buy cutting-edge equipment for you. I am convinced that we will not just reach the world level in jewelry production, we will surely be on top of it. We can do it. We will invest in you, and, of course, we want results. We will create conditions for you to become the top player in your industry,” Aleksandr Lukashenko expressed his confidence in the future of the Belarusian diamond processing industry and the Belarusian jewelry production during his visit to Kristall in November 2023.
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