Antwerp has been and still is the largest and most import centre for diamond trade worldwide. Approximately 80% of all rough and 50% of polished diamonds pass the Antwerp Diamonds square mile on their way to the final customer. Approximately 220 million dollars’ worth of diamonds are being shipped daily.
Antwerp’s diamond history starts in the early 15th century, when the first rough diamonds coming from India arrived from the port of Bruges. Antwerp and Bruges were the first polishing centres and also developed a jewellery sector. Rich traders and nobility were the first customers. In 1456, Lodewyk van Berken invented the Scaif – a polishing wheel on which a layer of oil mixed with diamond dust was placed. Suddenly it was possible to polish more facets on a diamond and create symmetrical facets to reflect the light in ways that were never seen before. This invention put Antwerp on the map as a global diamond centre.
In 1585, Antwerp was conquered by the Spanish, this caused most of the Jewish diamond cutters to flee to Amsterdam. For almost a century the trade in diamonds was mainly based in Amsterdam. After the Thirty years war ended in 1648, the polishers started to move back to Antwerp. It took nearly a century for Antwerp to regain its commercial strength. In that times, Amsterdam only supplied lower quality rough stones, which caused polishers to seek new and innovative ways to extract high quality results out of lower quality rough material, this competitive edge was maintained for centuries to come.
In 1815, when Napoleon was defeated, Antwerp was absorbed by the Netherlands. Under the Dutch flag Jewish communities were granted equality. This caused the Jewish polishers to return to Antwerp and re-establish their businesses. In 1863, the first Antwerp Diamond Bourse opened its doors. At the turn of the 19th century, diamonds were discovered in the Kimberly region in South Africa and in Congo. This gave Antwerp first pick of rough diamonds.
In the 1920’s, Belgium hosted the Olympics and in 1930 the world expo. This caused the diamond industry to flourish again. In the late 30’s, Antwerp was hit by the Great Depression and later the second world war, which caused the diamond Industry to significantly reduce its importance. After the World war Antwerp regained its position as diamond trading surged. Mining companies and specialised diamond banks established themselves in Antwerp. Since then Antwerp has maintained its competitive edge and remained the World Diamond Capital.
In 1973, the HRD (Hoge Raad voor Diamant) or Diamond High Council was established at the initiative of the Belgian government. Its mission was to protect and promote the diamond sector in Antwerp, to cement its importance and to issue Diamond reports. In 2007, the HRD was split in two different enterprises. The first one – Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) – is responsible for representing the diamond industry and promoting its importance. The second enterprise – HRD Antwerp – became the collective for the Diamond Laboratory and education services.
The diamond centre today
Today approximately 1700 diamond companies are registered in Belgium with about 4500 diamond dealers active and about 10.000 people directly active in the industry. This is a multicultural community where people from various backgrounds work together in a stable and neutral setting. The city contains numerous specialised Insurance companies, shipping, security, laboratories and logistic providers that are all connected to the Diamond industry.
In Antwerp there are four diamond Bourses, the Diamant Kring, Diamant Beurs, Diamant Club, and the Beurs voor vrije Diamanthandel.
In the centre of Antwerp’s diamond quarter stands the Diamond Office, a specialised customs office that streamlines the enormous flow of diamonds entering and exiting the city. Through a sophisticated system of procedures and controls all the diamonds are being evaluated and their compliance checked. Rough diamonds must be accompanied by a Kimberly Process Certificate (KP). All diamond traders must follow Anti Money Laundering (AML) rules. Not only do Antwerp diamond dealers follow the internal diamond compliances but the EU rules also apply, this makes Antwerp the most secure and ethical diamond centre. It’s being viewed as a role model for the diamond and jewellery industry.
In Antwerp there are four diamond Bourses.
– The Antwerpsche Diamantkring was established in 1928 to become the first diamond bourse worldwide that is dedicated exclusively to rough diamond trade.
– The diamant Beurs was founded in 1904 by Antwerp diamond merchants looking to secure an organized place of business after having traded in public café’s for decades.
– Diamant Club was estabilished in 1893 by 393 founding members.
– Vrije Diamanthandel NV was estabilished in 1950 and is the last bourse that was estabilished in Antwerp.