Russell Beck 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 travelled widely from the Arctic to the Subantarctic and inspected most of the world's nephrite deposits occurring in China, North America, Siberia, East Asia and the South Pacific.
Russell was the author of New Zealand Jade: The Story of Greenstone, first published in 1970 and revised over two subsequent editions. He also co-authored many international publications, written articles and papers and delivered lectures about New Zealand jade in New Zealand and overseas.
Russell was a carver of jade as well as a sculptor. His work 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 passed away in 2018.