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Antwerp, City of Diamonds

The diamond trade is an antique one, and its beginnings in late Middle-Age Antwerp followed the jewish community as it fled the inquisition in Spain and later Portugal to finally settle here by the docks of Antwerp. This was in the early 16th century, a time when Antwerp was becoming one of the most influential and diversified cities in the world. The Port of Antwerp was the first European port of arrival for merchants who had traveled overseas. The city therefore attracted much of the wealth and arts of the world. The docks were the very heart of the metropole. A heart that beat at the rhythm of the comings and goings of ships with adventurous passengers bringing rare and exotic merchandises from far away lands.

Illustration of a ship and a sea monster by Antoine Tyser

A heart that beat at the rhythm of the comings and goings of ships with adventurous passengers bringing rare and exotic merchandises from far away lands.

Among the merchandise, you could find Indian diamonds. Here in Antwerp, they would be cut then polished and traded as loose gems or set into jewels. So, much like today, the diamond district was made of its traders, cutters, jewellers and surrounded by all that goes with the business. Naturally the industry evolved with time. New mines were discovered, extraction technics developed, cutters and polishers’ skills improved and globalisation started. Together with the rest of the world, the city of Antwerp slowly morphed into what you can see today.

The Antwerp diamond district moved to its new home by the train station. Today the trade happens along this one small S-shaped street, composed mainly by the Hoveniersstraat (Gardeners Street) but also the Schupstraat (Shovel Street) and the Rijfstraat (Rake Street). Like a cared for garden, as the names suggest, the diamond district grew big and healthy, so well in fact that it is today the world center for the diamond industry. According to the App Antwerp Loves Diamonds, “Within the one square mile, you’ll find about 1,700 diamond traders hard at work. In total about 32,600 people working directly or indirectly for this brilliant industry”.

As you walk along the highly guarded street you’ll pass by the four Diamond Trading Bourses of Antwerp, as well as several gemmological laboratories. You will find us at the very heart of the street, Hoveniersstraat 19, just opposite the AWDC building which quietly regulates the trade here. 

Like in any other business, to be successful you need a little luck, lots of work, more work and intuition. 

The district is like a microcosm with an interesting social and cultural mix as well as diversified organisational structures. There is a surprising combination of mindsets operating such an entity that would make the district a thrilling field for an anthropological study. There are a few misconceptions and unusual aspects about diamond trading. One commun misbelief is that you need to be born into the trade to work here. Many traders have taken over a third or fourth generation family business, but just as many have started from scratch. Another big illusion is that people from the diamond industry are all wealthy and successful. Like in any other business, to be successful you need a little luck, lots of work, more work and intuition. Not everyone will have that, even here! 

A fact worth mentioning is that the Diamond District is a very tolerant work place. Most people working in the district come from communities with strong cultural and religious views. Even so religion and politics aren’t a big business argument. Jains, Jews, Muslims and Christians, all trade together based primarily on character sympathy and then, of course, price matters too! The District is also a place where your word is your reputation. When a deal is closed amongst professionals of the diamond trade, wherever you are from, whoever you are, you say “Mazal” and you don’t come back on it. Still today, this word matters more than a signed document!

If you ever wish to come to Antwerp and are interested in buying a jewel, you are very welcome to request an appointment in our Visit Us section. We look forward to meeting you.

Read through our article to know some secrets on buying designer jewellery: An Expert’s Secrets, Buying & Holding Designer Jewellery

 

Credits: illustrations by Antoine Tyser, map from http://historic-cities.huji.ac.il/