The search for the perfect diamond – a symbol of eternal love and the quest for perfection – has always been associated with the city of Antwerp. A place of profound importance for the international diamond trade, Belgium’s biggest port has rightfully earned its place as the capital of the world’s diamond business.
Antwerp has been known as the diamond capital of the world for several centuries, a title which hasn’t been easily earned. The diamond trade in the port started nearly 500 years ago when the first rough stones were brought over from India. Gradually, local diamond traders rose to prominence with their attention to detail and exuberant selection until even the King of France, François I, started ordering his diamonds from the master cutters in Antwerp rather than in Paris.
Established in 1973, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) is one of the world’s most renowned private companies that officially represents and coordinates the Antwerp diamond sector. Located in heart of Antwerp in the Hoveniersstraat, it directs the import and export of diamonds in and out of Antwerp. Antwerp is home to all major diamond mining companies, which sources diamonds for thousands diamond dealers across the globe.
How and When It All Began – A Tale of Diamond Traditions
Historically, Antwerp has always been a place of unlimited opportunity. The diamond industry, established in the 15th century, expanded considerably as it became a trading axis that traversed Europe and led all the way to India – where the first trade with rough diamonds had begun. The diamond district of Antwerp is where the four most important diamond markets are located, each with their own expertise:
– The Beurs voor Diamanthandel specializes in polished diamonds
– The Diamond Club van Antwerpen specializes in polished and rough diamonds
– The Vrije Diamanthandel specializes in polished and rough diamonds
– The Antwerpse Diamantkring specializes in rough diamonds.
By the end of the 15th century Antwerp had become a primary diamond center thanks to its strategic location – located on the Scheldt river it has direct access to the North Sea. The first recorded evidence of the existence of diamond trade in the town dates back to 1447. It was at that time that a city magistrate issued an edict for strict measures against the trade in false precious stones, including diamonds. In 1476 Lodewyk van Berken transformed the industry by inventing a new form of diamond polishing tool, the scaif, which enabled the creation of the stereotypical sparkling, multifaceted diamond, and thus attracting orders from European aristocracy. When in 1477 Archduke Maximilian of Austria presented his wife-to-be Mary of Burgundy with a diamond ring, establishing the tradition of diamond engagement rings – there was nothing to stand in the way of the flourishing diamond trade thereafter.
Antwerp’s position in the diamond trade grew stronger with the discovery of a direct sea route to India by the Portuguese mariner Vasco da Gama in 1498. This resulted in a shift in the trade balance from Venice to Lisbon. The relatively easy passage between Lisbon and Antwerp allowed the port to continue to consolidate its position in the diamond trade and industry.
After the end of the Second World War, the vibrant Jewish community dominated this industry, elevating Antwerp to its status of an epic center of world diamond trade. With the birth of a new market for diamond jewelry, there was finally a place, where discerning customers could source the sought-after stones. Today, about 1.500 diamond firms are headquartered in Antwerp, which is by far the largest concentration in the industry. South African, Australian, Russian and Canadian mines directly ship diamonds to Antwerp.
85% of the world’s rough diamonds, 50% of the polished diamonds and 40% of industrial diamonds are passing through the diamond district — highlighting its status as the diamond capital of the world.
The Road to Exclusivity
The Antwerp Diamond District or Diamond Quarter (Diamantkwartier), which is an area of about one square mile, is the largest diamond center in the world with a turnover of $54 billion a year. The district has 380 workshops that provide 1.500 companies with gem cutting and polishing services. Antwerp’s diamond district consists of several square blocks directly adjacent to the Central Station (Antwerp Centraal) and is a few minutes’ walk to Meir, Antwerp’s main shopping street. That part of the town still preserves the traditions and spirit of the original merchants and diamond dealers, who established the diamond industry in the 1890s after coming with their families from Amsterdam.
Often, the search for a customer’s perfect diamond could last several hours, traveling from office to office. During these visits, the seller showcases unique diamonds that can be incorporated into exquisite pieces for weddings, anniversaries, engagements and family heirlooms. The shopping experience at any of Antwerp’s diamond markets is made all the more special by knowing each diamond is handpicked especially for the client. This is a unique process with stunning diamonds selected amongst thousands on offer to accommodate any request for exquisite pieces.
For centuries, Antwerp has been synonymous with quality in the diamond industry and has evoked a feeling of class and superior craftsmanship. And it seems the world’s leading diamond center will continue to be revered as a market of unimaginable riches and variety that captivates the imagination of the public and attracts traders from around the globe in search of diamonds of superior quality.