Though competitors have sprung up in India and Israel, the Belgian port of Antwerp still considers itself the capital of the world's diamond cutting industry.
Though competitors have sprung up in India and Israel, the Belgian port of Antwerp still considers itself the capital of the world's diamond cutting industry. Last year, the city's diamond trade earned 29,000 million Belgian francs (GBP290 sterling) in exports -- over four per cent of the national total.
Currently, Antwerp's cutting and polishing industry is staging a suitably glittering exhibition at a city hall.
The industry started nearly 500 years ago when a single merchant moved his newly-perfected cutting and polishing business from neighbouring Bruges. Today's exhibition is mounted by 35 of the chief manufacturers currently operating from Antwerp.
Between them, they reckon to handle about half the world's cut and polished diamonds. Their exhibition shows the industrial processes involved, and concentrates on many of the example's of the jewellers' art that flourishes alongside the cutting industry.
SYNOPSIS: Antwerp is the capital of one of the world's most glamorous industries -- diamond polishing and cutting. Thirty-five of the city's chief manufacturers have this week been publicising their centuries-old trade with a major exhibition. They reckon that about half the world's diamonds are cut and polished in the city, and though competitors have sprung up in India and Israel, Antwerp's status as the world centre of the industry remains unchallenged.
Last year, antwerp's diamond trade earned exports worth the equivalent of nearly three-hundred million pounds sterling -- over four per cent of total national exports. As the import of rough diamonds is paid for in dollars, and a large proportion of the processed gems go to "hand currency" countries like Japan and West Germany, the trade plays on especially important role in Belgium's balance of payments.
Though diamonds for industrial use now command a big share of the market, the largest single use is still for dazzling decoration. And the Jewellers' art still flourishes in Antwerp. The whole industry began nearly five-hundred years ago when a single diamond merchant moved to Antwerp from neighbouring Bruges. Today, there are five-thousand merchants and brokers who trade in diamonds, evaluating them for the "Four C's" -- carat weight, clarity, colour and cut.
Antwerp also has sixteen-thousand diamond cutters, possibly the most skilled craftsmen in the trade. Because the crystal is the hardest known natural substance, the only way to cut a diamond is with another one -- or a tool impregnated with diamond particles. It's a fascinating craft that continues from generation to generation at the world's capital.
Despite tight security the Antwerp industry is based largely on trust. Dealers often handle game worth millions with no other guarantee than their reputation.