Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Russians Are Coming Chapter Seventeen
The most ominous threat to the stability of the diamond invention, however, came from the Russians. For the Soviet Union, diamonds in the postwar years were a strategic objective of the highest priority. When the Cold War began in 1947, the Soviet Union had no secure source of industrial diamonds. It was entirely dependent on the De Beers cartel for the diamond drilling stones it needed in order to explore for oil and gas, the diamond die stones it needed to produce precision parts and draw out fine wire, and the diamond abrasives it needed to grind machine tools and armaments. Without a continuous supply of these industrial diamonds, it would be impossible for it to rebuild its war-wrecked economy-or to effectively rearm its military machine. Stalin, fully realizing that his crucial supply of diamonds could be cut off at any moment by an embargo, demanded that Russian geologists and scientists develop a more dependable source of diamonds. Since no diamond mines had ever been found in the Soviet Union, there were only two possible ways of satisfying Stalin's order: either pipe mines had to be uncovered in the unexplored regions of the Soviet Union through a vast program of systematic prospecting, or industrial diamonds had to be manufactured through a laboratory procedure.
The search for diamonds focused on the Siberian plateau in Yakutia province that lay between the Lena and Yenisei rivers, which Russian geologists concluded resembled geologically the "shield" of South Africa. Both formations had remained stable for cons of geological time, and neither had been deformed or "folded" by convolutions of the earth. Since kimberlite pipes had been found on the South African shield Russian geologists theorized that they might also exist in this Yakutian shield. The first party of diamond prospectors flew into Yakutia in late 1947. The expedition was ill-prepared for the punishing environment, however, and after suffering astounding privations on the tundra, it had to be abandoned. Moscow ordered the search to be continued, regardless of cost, and the following spring more geologists were flown into the wastelands of Yakutia. They were better equipped, with X-ray diamond detectors and other sophisticated prospecting gear, and they found a few microscopic diamond traces-but no pipe. Finally, in 1953, a young Russian geologist named Larissa Popugaieva, working in her laboratory in Leningrad, noticed that the prospecting samples from Yakutia contained an increasing percentage of tiny blood-red garnets called pyropes. Since she knew such garnets had been found in kimberlite ore formations in southern Africa, she proposed that prospectors, rather than searching for diamonds, follow the trail of the garnets. She then joined the diamond-hunting expedition in Yakutia, and intrepidly tracking the garnets, managed to find their source near the Vilyul River Basin within a matter of months. It was a volcanic pipe mine she named "Thunder Flash." Unfortunately, however, the proportion of diamonds in the ore in Thunder Flash was not high enough for feasible production. Dozens of geologists, all looking for traces of blood-red garnets, then began scrutinizing the banks of the Vilyul River for more volcanic pipes (which the Russians call trubkas). In the spring, of 1955, another young geologist, Yuri Khabardin, came across a fox's hole in a ravine with blue earth. He found that it had high diamond content, and excitedly began sending a message over his shortwave radio. It said cryptically, "I am smoking the pipe of peace." In Moscow, the prearranged code was immediately understood to mean that the geologist had discovered and tested a kimberlite pipe.
The volcanic pipe that Khabardin discovered was called appropriately the Mirny, or Peace, pipe. The blue ground at the mouth of the pipe was slightly more than a half mile wide, and covered some seventeen acres. Compared to kimberlite pipes in southern Africa, the Mirny was not an immense pipe. (It was less than one-quarter of the size of the Premier mine in South Africa.) But Soviet planners in Moscow ordered a crash program for getting diamonds out of it.
Before the Mirny pipe could begin producing diamonds, engineers in Siberia had to find ways of overcoming the incredibly harsh conditions at the mine site. During the seven month-long winter in Yakutia, they found that steel tools became so brittle that they broke like match sticks, oil froze into solid blocks, and rubber tires shattered like fragile crockery in the sub-zero temperatures. Moreover, when the summer came, the top layer of permafrost melted into a swamp of uncontrollable mud.
Despite these natural impediments, engineers turned Mirny into an open-pit mine. Jet engines were used to blast holes in the permafrost, and enormous charges of dynamite were used to excavate the surface rock and loosen the underlying kimberlite ore. The entire mine had to be covered at night to prevent the machinery from freezing.
By 1960, huge steam shovels were loading the ore into trucks, which had to transport it some twenty miles to a separation plant (the permafrost at the site of the mine could not hold the weight of the plant). More pipes were later discovered on the very edge of the Arctic circle. To service these mines in the "pole of cold," as this region is called by the Russians, the Russians erected an entirely new city, Aikhal. According to the descriptions in Russian periodicals, Aikhal stands, like some giant centipede, on ten-foot-high steel legs. Each of these steel legs is Imbedded into the permafrost to prevent the city from sinking into a quagmire of mud during the summer thaw. Even in winter, when the temperature falls to 80 degrees below zero, giant pumps cool the air beneath the buildings to prevent the heat of the buildings from causing any melting in the permafrost. All the buildings are interconnected by elevated passageways and wrapped in a heavy shroud of translucent plastic. Aikhal is, as one journal puts it, "a completely enclosed working environment." This herculean effort had a single purpose: the production of diamonds.
Just as diamonds began to flow out of Siberia, Russian scientists in a laboratory in Kiev reported that they had found a commercial process for synthesizing minute diamonds that could be used as abrasive grit. The process, though similar to the one that General Electric had developed in the United States, was based on Russian research in high-pressure physics.
In the Siberian diamond mine, the gem diamonds, which had first been mined as a by-product of industrial diamonds, could now be sold abroad. In early 1962, the Soviet Union agreed to sell virtually all of its uncut gem diamonds to De Beers. Within a few years, diamond production was nearly ten million carats a year, and the Soviet Union exported some two million carats as gems. Diamonds became the leading Soviet cash export to the West. In 1968, Viktor 1. Tikhonov, the head of the Mirny Diamond Administration, said, "We call ourselves the country's foreign exchange department."
Meanwhile, in London, De Beers' executives were mystified by the progressively larger shipments of Russian diamonds that they were receiving each year. In many ways, the Russian outpouring of diamonds involved a number of enigmas that could not be easily resolved on the basis of the available facts. First of all, the enormous production of diamonds from Mirny did not seem consistent with the relatively small size of the pipe mine. Specifically, De Beers' geologists questioned how this Siberian pipe mine could produce five times the number of diamonds that comparable South African mines produced. For example, in 1978, the Finsch mine, which went into production in South Africa at about the same time as did the Mirny mine in Siberia, produced some two million carats of diamonds. That same year Mirny produced well over ten million carats of diamonds. Moreover, the Finsch pipe covered an area more than twice the size of Mirny, and it seemed unlikely to them that Mirny was yielding more than ten times the number of diamonds per surface acre as its South African counterpart. This disparity became even more puzzling when the different mining conditions in South Africa and Siberia were taken into account. The Finsch mine, which processes some 10,000 tons a day, 365 days a year, operated in an ideal arid climate. The machinery at the Mirny mine, on the other hand, must excavate ground that Is frozen solid seven months of the year in sub-freezing blizzards. Under these conditions, it seemed difficult to accept that the Russians could be excavating the tonnage necessary to produce ten million carats from a single pipe.
Russian geologists, when asked about this mysterious production from Mirny, initially suggested that the Siberian ore had an extraordinarily high grade of four carats a ton. This number greatly exceeded any grade of ore in the history of diamond mining in South Africa. Indeed, the Finsch mine, which had the richest grade of any De Beers mine, was yielding only about .8 carats a ton. The Russian technical journals further confused the issue by reporting that the grade of Mirny ore was not actually consistently high, and that at times it was as low as .05 carats a ton (which was inferior to any South African ore). The enigma of Mirny's overproduction, therefore, was not satisfactorily resolved.
The constantly accelerating production from Mirny in the early 1970s was another aspect of the mystery. Diamond pipes are shaped roughly like funnels, with the ore body tapering off below the surface of the earth. This means that in pipe mines the amount of ore excavated declines at deeper depths. In South Africa, after a few years of initially high production, all the pipe mines enter a phase of gradual decline. In Mirny, however, after ten years of intensive excavations, the production of diamonds, instead of leveling off, accelerated. To be sure, part of these diamonds might have actually come from other Siberian mines, such as the Aikhal pipe and the Udachnaya pipe, which went into limited production. The sheer magnitude of the increased production, which went from io million carats in 1970 to 16 million carats in 1975, continued, however, to baffle De Beers analysts in London. Each year they predicted that Siberian shipments would decrease, but each year, despite the calculus of diminishing returns in diamond mining, the Russian consignments to London continued to increase.
There was an equally inexplicable pattern during these years surrounding Soviet purchases of industrial diamonds in Europe from De Beers and its clients. Diamonds in a pipe occur in a wide spectrum of sizes, shapes and different qualities. Usually, a small proportion are sorted out for gems; a larger proportion of the twisted, deformed, and discolored diamonds are sorted out for drilling stones, dies, and industrial tools; and the balance is ground for abrasive grit. For the Siberian mines to produce some 3 million carats of gem quality diamonds, which were exported to the West, they would also have to produce a substantially higher quantity of drilling stones, die stones and other industrial diamonds. On the basis of Russian gem exports, De Beers analysts assumed that the Russians would also have an enormous amount of industrial diamonds to export. Instead, they found to their surprise that they were heavily increasing their imports of almost all categories of industrial diamonds except for abrasive grit (which they manufacture). Since by 1975 the Siberian mines were assumed to be producing in excess of 10 million carats of industrial-grade diamonds-- a quantity that could not possibly be entirely consumed by Russian industry, De Beers' executives wondered what had happened to the millions of missing Siberian drill and die stones. When asked about this quirk in the diamond equation, Russian geologists explained that Siberian diamonds could not be used for certain industrial purposes such as drilling and drawing out wire because they contained air bubbles that often explode under heat and pressure. In other words, Siberian diamonds were flawed for the very purpose they had originally been needed-industrial stones. This explanation raised more questions about the nature of Siberian diamonds than it answered.
The De Beers sorters in London also noticed that the Siberian diamonds had some extraordinary aspects. For one thing, they tended to have a greenish tint to them and sharp angular edges, which differentiated them from most other consignments of diamonds in the De Beers vaults. Secondly, the diamonds were remarkably uniform both in size and shape. With very few exceptions, the entire consignment consisted of melees, or medium-grade diamonds ranging from one-tenth to seven-tenths of a carat in weight. The vast preponderance of these diamonds weighed about a quarter of a carat and fitted through a sieve opening that was one to two millimeters wide. Whereas African diamonds came to London in a multitude of shapes-round, square, oblong, flat, triangular and twisted-the Siberian diamonds tended to be mainly octahedrons with eight sharp edges. The consistent regularity of these diamonds made separating and evaluating them far easier.
By 1976, De Beers was choking on the ceaseless flow of greenish diamonds that arrived each month in London on the Aeroflot let from Moscow. De Beers had little choice but to accept the consignments. Otherwise, the Russians would almost certainly dump these diamonds, which now amounted to some 2 million carats a year of gems, on the world market, and cause a ruinous collapse in prices. There was, however, a limit on the number of small diamonds that De Beers could absorb. The De Beers board of directors was becoming increasingly concerned with the seemingly magical capacity of the Siberian mines. They wanted to know how many more millions of carats of diamonds would be produced; and also why previous De Beers estimates of waning production in Siberia had proved so wrong.
Before renewing its commitment to buy diamonds, De Beers asked the Russian authorities to allow a group of executives to visit the Siberian mines and make their own appraisal. The Russians agreed to the De Beers visit on the condition that Russian geologists be allowed to observe De Beers' mines in southern Africa.
Sir Philip Oppenheimer, who had conducted most of the negotiations with the Russians in London, arrived in Moscow in the summer of 1976. He was accompanied by Barry Hawthorne, who was then De Beers' chief geologist in Kimberley, as well as a De Beers mining engineer, cost accountant and sales executive. Every night for nearly a week the Oppenheimer party was taken to the best restaurants in Moscow by various officials for caviar-laden meals. They also met during the day leading geologists, mineralogists, engineers and mine managers. Despite these thorough briefings, Sir Philip insisted on personally inspecting the mines, some four thousand miles away in Siberia.
After some procrastination, the Soviet Diamond Administration finally organized air transportation to Yakutia for Oppenheimer and his associates. Fog delayed the flight for nearly a day, however, and by the time they had completed the arduous Journey to Mirny, they had to begin preparing for the return journey to Moscow, which had been very tightly scheduled. "We had about a twenty-minute tour of the mine," Hawthorne recalled, "and seeing any other mine in Siberia was out of the question." Even in that brief period of time, the Oppenheimer party was able to get some picture of the Siberian mining operation.
The mine itself, which looked like any open-pit mine in South Africa, was far less deep than they had calculated. This meant that less ore had actually been taken from this mine since 1960 than De Beers had assumed, further deepening the mystery of how the Russians produced vast quantities of gem diamonds.
The Oppenheimer party was next taken for a whirlwind tour of the treatment plant itself. They were "astounded," as Hawthorne put it, to find that the Russians did not use water to separate the ore from the diamonds. In all the other diamond mines in the world, centrifugal baths are used to remove the non- diamondiferous material. An engineer explained that because it is too cold during the Siberian winters to prevent water from freezing, the ore at Mirny was first crushed by machines to a standard size and was fed through a battery of X-ray sorting machines. As a kimberlite geologist experienced with pipe mines in South Africa, Hawthorne found this explanation difficult to understand. In the De Beers diamond mines, more than 99 percent of the non-diamondiferous ore was washed away by the centrifugal baths, and thus only a minute fraction of the ore had to be processed through the X-ray machines. If they separated all the ore from the mine by X-ray machines, the separations would require over a thousand Sortex machines and millions of volts of electricity.
Hawthorne subsequently told me that he had not seen any of the Sortex machines or any evidence of power lines at the mine site. Moreover, judging from such standard mining parameters as the surface area of the open pit, the depth of the excavation, the height of the waste dumps, and the capacity of the earth-moving equipment and other machinery, he found it difficult to account for the vast quantity of diamonds that the Soviet Union had sold to De Beers. In 1978 alone, it delivered Some 2.5 million carats of gem diamonds-almost one-quarter of the world's supply.
The enigma of the Russian diamonds became all the more perplexing when De Beers received fragmented reports about Russian advances in high-pressure physics. Even though the specifics of the Russians' progress remained clouded in secrecy, it had become readily apparent to everyone in the diamond industry by the mid-1960s that Russian scientists had developed the technology for mass-producing synthetic diamonds for industrial purposes. Russian factories, located mainly in Kiev in the Ukraine, began to churn out a wide variety of diamond grit and other abrasives, which were offered for sale to European dealers; at international conferences, Russian technicians claimed that they had developed synthetic diamonds ten times larger than had been produced in the West.
In 1966, Henry Meyer, an English mineralogist attended a conference on crystallography in Moscow with Dr. Kathleen Lonsdale, one of England's foremost crystallographers, and a member of the Soviet Academy of Science. During the meeting, a Russian scientist told of the enormous progress the Russians had made in the field of high-pressure physics-including the construction of a hydraulic press some ten stories high-and offered to show the English scientists some crystals that had been produced in the laboratory. That afternoon, both Dr. Lonsdale and Dr. Meyer accompanied him to a research facility on the outskirts of Moscow where he produced a tray of some half dozen small, white gem diamonds, all perfectly shaped and weighing approximately a quarter of a carat apiece.
Dr. Meyer, who specialized in analyzing the mineral inclusions in diamonds, closely examined the stones. They were not like any gem diamonds he had ever seen. The Russian scientist then explained that all these gems had been synthesized from carbon in a hydraulic press. He boasted that manufacturing gems was no longer a scientific problem in the Soviet Union but an economic one. Both English visitors were astounded at this casual disclosure. No laboratory in the West had come even close to synthesizing a gem diamond. (The General Electric breakthrough occurred later.)
In Johannesburg, De Beers' scientists soon heard of the Russian breakthrough, but they assumed that Meyer and Lonsdale had merely witnessed a laboratory experiment in crystal-growing, rather than any sort of new invention of technology.
The following year, however, there was further confirmation. Professor Bakul, the director of the Soviet Synthetic Research Institute in Kiev, recruited Joseph Bonroy, one of the finest craftsmen in Antwerp, to cut and polish some highly unusual Russian diamonds. Bonroy, who specialized in sawing distorted and difficult-shaped stones, found these diamonds particularly difficult to penetrate. He saw that they were gem crystals of excellent purity and nearly ideal octahedron shape, but as he studied them, he found that they all tended to have very unorthodox sawing directions.
To assist Bonroy, Professor Bakul explained that all the diamonds, which weighed about one-half carat and were slightly tinted, had been synthetically manufactured In Kiev, He asked the Belgian cutter to keep secret the fact that the Russians had manufactured gem diamonds, since, as Bonroy later put it, "the hypersensitive diamond market would be rocked by news such as this."
Bonroy found the solution to cutting the synthetic gems. When he completed the work, and polished and buffed the synthetic diamonds, they looked exactly like gem diamonds. Bonroy kept the secret of the Russian diamonds for four years. Then, in April 1971, he was asked to speak at a symposium in Kiev on the problems of cutting synthetic diamonds. Bonroy, concerned about the future of the diamond industry, asked Bakul whether the Soviet Union intended to mass-produce these synthetic gems.
The professor pondered the question for a moment and replied that the Russians still found it economically unfeasible to synthesize gem-quality diamonds. It was, however, not clear from his answer what the conditions were under which the Russians would use this technology to manufacture diamonds.
Even though the mysteries surrounding Russian diamonds were never fully resolved, De Beers succeeded in absorbing the constantly expanding production. Although at one point in the mid-1970s, it had to reduce its own production of diamonds from Namibia to accommodate Moscow's, De Beers gradually developed new markets for diamond jewelry in both Asia and America.
The De Beers arrangement with the Soviet Union was only for uncut diamonds. The Russians had always reserved a small percentage of its production from Siberia for its own Jewelry manufacturing. In the late 1960s, these Russian-cut jewels began to appear in ever-increasing number in the grading halls of Antwerp. Cut and polished in Russian factories in Moscow, Kiev and Sverdlovsk, the diamonds were called "silver bears," and had some extraordinary features. To begin with, most silver bears were almost exactly the same size in girth, and weighed approximately two-tenths of a carat each. Moreover, each of them had the same octahedron shape, and they were nearly identically faceted and polished. It was almost as if, as one Belgian trader observed, the silver bears had all been cut from the same pattern.
Initially, diamond experts in the West were baffled by the inordinate regularity of the silver bears. How could miniature diamonds that could fit on the tip of a pencil point be so identically matched in size, shape and cut?
Louis Asscher, one of the renowned master cutters of Europe, attempted to resolve the question by microscopically examining a sample of silver bears. He had a lifelong experience with diamonds; his father, the third generation of the House of Asscher in Amsterdam, had re-cut the crown jewels for the British royal family in 1907, and he himself had invented and popularized the Asscher cut (the "brilliant cut" of a triangular diamond). When he studied the silver bears, he found that they all contained a similar striation mark on certain facets. He concluded that this tell-tale mark came from a machine, and he suggested that the Russians had invented an automated diamond-cutting machine that accounted for the silver bears.
A number of master cutters in Antwerp took issue with Asscher. They found that the Russian cut on the silver bear was "too good, too regular, too perfect," as one of them put it, to be anything but the work of skilled human hands. The Antwerp experts theorized that the Russians had imposed draconian standards on their diamond cutters, and diamonds that failed to meet these criteria were simply ground to dust and used for industrial purposes. They recognized that in order to achieve such uniform diamonds, the Russians would have to sacrifice a considerable portion of the average "yield"-the weight of the finished gem-but they assumed this was a cost that the Russians were willing to pay in return for standardization.
As the Russians vastly stepped up their export of silver bears to Europe, the concern over Russian cutting techniques was replaced with a much more urgent one about their marketing objectives. The Russian diamond-trading organization opened up offices in rapid succession in 1969 in Antwerp, Zurich and Frankfurt. Italy began offering large discounts to American manufacturers, who needed a uniform product for their inexpensive assembly-line jewelry. In addition, reports reaching western Europe asserted that the Russians were training thousands of new diamond cutters at a center in Kostrana, some 180 miles north of Moscow.
The Russian trading organization itself conspicuously avoided releasing any meaningful data on the volume of its exports of polished diamonds to Europe. By 1970, however, diamond dealers in Antwerp reckoned that the Russians were putting at least a half million silver bears on the market each year. Manufacturers in Tel Aviv, as well as Antwerp, became increasingly apprehensive about these Russian diamonds. What they had first considered a novelty now seemed a threat to the very existence of their respective cutting centers.
The Soviet Union already was selling polished diamonds. For example, one New York dealer, Fred Knobloch, told me that he had been invited to Moscow on several occasions to buy cut diamonds by Russ Almaz, the Russian diamond-trading company. In Moscow, he described being escorted to a glass skyscraper at 29 Kalinin Prospect, where he was ushered into an austerely furnished room full of diamond buyers from Asian and European countries. A Russian official then emptied a canister of some 1,500 small polished diamonds, all under a carat in size. The official explained that the rules were the same as those insisted upon in London by De Beers, there was to be no bargaining, and cash had to be paid in advance of delivery. When Knobloch agreed to buy the lot of diamonds on the Russian terms, the Russian official said-ill perfect Yiddish-"Mazel und Brucha," literally: "Good luck and blessings," the same phrase that is used to conclude a deal on 47th Street in New York, Tel Aviv or Antwerp. A few feet away, at another table, he heard another Russian official saying "Mazel und Brucha" to a Japanese buyer. He realized then that the Russians were as capable as De Beers in conducting an international diamond business-right down to giving the traditional Jewish blessings.
In its public statements, De Beers desperately attempted to calm these fears in the trade. In its 1971 issue of the International Diamond Annual, it went to considerable lengths to explain: There has been no indication that the Russian authorities have the slightest intention of "dumping" their polished goods on Western markets. On the contrary, the Russian authorities appear to accept that the industry they have been at great pains to develop and establish would founder if the market for diamonds in the Western world were undermined or were not held in strong hands.
In their private deliberations, however, De Beers' executives were far less certain as to whose "strong hands" the Russians wanted controlling the diamond trade. They certainly did not want to afford the Russians the opportunity of establishing direct relations with the American, Belgian, and Japanese wholesalers. If the Russians succeeded in bypassing the diamond distribution chain that De Beers had ingeniously devised over a half century, they obviously would be one step closer to taking over the diamond cartel from Dc Beers. The silver bear offensive raised a more immediate problem: the excess of silver bears had to be drained from the market and brought under control. De Beers therefore strongly encouraged a number of its own dealers to buy silver bears directly from the Russians and then, when market conditions were tight, redistribute them through their own marketing channels. The chief operative in this endeavor was Joseph Goldfinger, De Beers' man in Tel Aviv.
Goldfinger had been born in Lithuania, and studied to be a rabbi at the Yeshiva before emigrating to Palestine in the mid-1930s. When the diamond industry began in Natanya during the Second World War, he trained as a cutter, and then began dealing in both uncut and cut diamonds. In 1949, he was invited by De Beers to attend their sight in London, and quickly proved himself to be both resourceful and dependable. Because the Israeli industry was expanding at a breakneck pace, De Beers needed a distributor in Israel who could shrewdly apportion its supply of melee diamonds among the hundreds of small manufacturers scattered around Tel Aviv. Goldfinger, who had demonstrated that he had both the requisite energy and judgment, was given a "dealer's sight" in 1962, which meant that he received diamonds not only for manufacturing himself, but also for redistributing to other Israeli dealers. By 1973, he was receiving up to $20 million worth of diamonds in his box at the London sights, and he had become De Beers' third largest client.
With this enormous sight from De Beers, Goldfinger became known as "Mr. Diamond" in Israel. He became heavily involved in every phase of the Israeli diamond industry and built up a network of wholesalers of polished diamonds that extended from Tel Aviv to Hong Kong and Tokyo. When the silver bear crisis arose, Goldfinger was logically the man that De Beers turned to: Not only did he have the vast experience in marketing small polished diamonds but he had a very strong interest in preventing the Russians from making inroads into this market.
The original plan, in 1973, was for Goldfinger to go to Moscow and to buy from Russ Almaz the selections of silver bears most in demand by American and Japanese manufacturers. Together with the uncut diamonds that De Beers was itself buying from the Russians, these purchases of polished diamonds would help reduce the Russian exports to Europe to manageable proportions.
The Soviet Union, however, in deference to Arab demands for a boycott against Israel, preferred not to deal directly with Goldfinger. Instead, it was arranged that I. Hennig, the broker next to De Beers on Charterhouse Street, would buy the diamonds in Moscow for Goldfinger's account, and turn them over to Goldfinger in London. In early 1974, representatives of I. Hennig traveled to Moscow and were lavishly entertained by Dolnitsov, the head of AmRuz. The London brokers purchased substantial quantities of the silver bears for Goldfinger's account, effectively withdrawing them from the market. On a subsequent trip to Moscow, the brokers were surprised to find that Dolnitsov had been replaced by a more dour official. No explanation for the change was offered. The arrangement remained intact, though, and the brokers were able to arrange delivery of some $2 million worth of silver bears a month. These preemptive buys succeeded in stabilizing the polished diamond market.
Even as De Beers extends its alliance with the Russians, it remains extremely vulnerable to any Russian policy change. For example, in 1980, the Russian trading company slashed its price without warning on its silver bears in Antwerp by 15 percent. To prevent prices from failing, De Beers compensated by distributing fewer such diamonds to its own customers. Like the Goldfinger preemptive buyout, this was, however, only a temporary expedient. If Russia continues to expand its own production of both uncut diamonds and silver bears, De Beers will be unable to stockpile or sell the increment-- or maintain the diamond invention.