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Russell Beck has studied all aspects of nephrite jade for over fifty years, especially research into Maori usage, and involvement with the discovery of new sources and their preservation. A qualified gemmologist (FGA), he was also director of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery for twenty-three years, until his retirement in 1999.

He has travelled widely from the Arctic to the Subantarctic and has inspected most of the world's nephrite deposits occurring in China, North America, Siberia, East Asia and the South Pacific.

Russell is the author of New Zealand Jade: The Story of Greenstone, first published in 1970 and revised over two subsequent editions. He has co-authored many international publications, written articles and papers and delivered lectures about New Zealand jade in New Zealand and overseas.

Russell is a carver of jade as well as a sculptor. His work has attracted several awards and is represented in public and private collections. In 2000, Russell was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM). He lives in Invercargill.