In the world’s diamond capital, the Belgian city of Antwerp, diamonds are more than a girl’s best friend. The sparklers drive the economy. As many as eight out of every 10 diamonds in world trade passes through Antwerp at least once; there are nearly 1,850 diamond dealers stashed within the Diamond Square Mile; a 500-metre street does annual diamond business worth €42 billion; of the 30 Diamond Exchanges around the world, four are in Antwerp, including the only one for rough diamonds. Diamonds love Antwerp, as the city’s famous tagline goes.
Baugrand’s peacock came to the city several decades before the first Indians sailed into Antwerp at the behest of the ruler of a small village in Palanpur, Gujarat. Circa 1930s, the nawab sent his Jain administrators to buy diamonds from Antwerp for Indian and Nepalese royalty. The visits became more regular in the 1960s. By 1970s, there were 300 Indian families in Antwerp, almost all from Palanpur. The Hassidic Jews had a stranglehold on the large diamond business; the Indians created a new industry based on small, low-quality rough diamonds. Now, even the not-so-rich could afford a diamond. There are nearly 500 Indian families in Antwerp today, directly involved with diamond trade. In the past 20 years, the Indian share of Antwerp’s €26-billion a year diamond revenues has grown from a meagre 25 per cent to roughly 65 per cent, while the Jewish share has fallen from 70 per cent to approximately 25 per cent.
Step into the narrow, cobbled pathway of Hoveniers Straat, which has 300 close circuit cameras, and the first thing you notice is the Indian flag fluttering in the crisp Antwerpen air. Look up and there’s the board of Antwerp Indian Association. Founded in 1979, this cultural organisation helps Indians integrate into the Belgian community (cricket tournaments are popular). It’s no surprise here to come upon the hum of a Gujarati conversation, familiar surnames (Patel, Shah, Jawhrey) or a bunch of Indians huddled on the street sorting diamond trade plans. So important are the Indians to the lucrative diamond trade that the Belgian government has established special security arrangements for traders who are on the radar of Italian mafia.
Around the street have mushroomed several Indian landmarks. State Bank of India, ICICI Bank and Bank of India have Antwerp branches. There’s Bollywood Indian Restaurant and the Shanti Shop Indian supermarket. Not too far in the Jewish Quarters is Patel’s Cash & Carry. Travel India has set up shop exclusively for the Indian diamond traders.
To cement the Indian success further, HRD Antwerp Institute of Gemology has set up a diamond laboratory in Mumbai, where grading experts hunch over microscopes and laser machines to classify diamonds according to the 4 Cs: carat, cut, clarity, colour. An HRD Antwerp Diamond Certificate confirms authenticity; the laboratory is accredited with international standard NBN EN ISO/EC 17025.
“The share of Indians in Antwerp diamond trade is growing and they play an important role in the Antwerp Diamond Master Plan and the Diamond Project 2020,” says Caroline de Wolf, Manager Communications, Antwerp World Diamond Centre.
The history of diamond cutting in Antwerp dates back to the early 1500s. Here, each hour, diamonds worth $4.5 million are traded. Sniff hard and Antwerp just might smell of diamond. Indian diamonds!