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Antwerp's Diamond Industry
Knowing that 80% of rough diamonds pass through Antwerp and 50% are sold in the city, it's hard to imagine that India dominated the diamond trade from the 4th century BC to the 18th century. In the 13th century, Venice was a shipping point for Indian goods (including diamonds) to the West. Strategic cities in Northern Europe maintained trading routes with Venice during the Middle Ages, and eventually diamond traders made their way to Brugge. In fact, it was Lodewijck van Bercken, a Brugge resident, who invented the technique of polishing diamonds with diamonds. The silting up of Brugge's harbor meant the gradual relocation of the diamond industry to Antwerp in the 15th century, and Antwerp's liberal and welcoming atmosphere encouraged immigrants to settle here.
Today, Antwerp's diamond sector maintains its unique multicultural atmosphere. Indians, Jews, Belgians, Australians, Russians, Lebanese, Africans, and Japanese contribute to the hub of activity found here. The heavily guarded Diamond Square Mile is the headquarters of 1,500 firms, four diamond exchanges, 350 workshops, specialized diamond banks, security and transport firms, brokers, consultants, and diamond schools, employing some 30,000 people.
The bourse is the meeting point for buyers, sellers, and brokers. Individuals must become members and adhere to strict rules. Transactions are conducted in a traditional and informal way. There are no written contracts. A handshake and the phrase Mazal U'Brach (may the deal bring you luck) closes a deal. Trade disputes are handled in-house, where two members are commissioned each week to solve conflicts.
Large windows illuminate the four large trading rooms in which sellers and buyers wheel and deal. Twenty years ago the floor bustled with activity but now business is largely conducted in private offices.
The HRD is the customs office for all diamonds moving in and out of Belgium. Each day, the council checks 1,000 diamonds with strict anonymity and objectivity, confirming their authenticity based on the characteristics of each stone using the 4Cs (carat, color, clarity, cut).
The global trade in diamonds has come under a great deal of scrutiny in recent years, particularly in the wake of the Hollywood movie Blood Diamond, which drew attention to so-called "conflict diamonds." Dealers in Antwerp are understandably keen to distance themselves from this tarnished image, and the strict checks carried out by the HRD are there to ensure that all gems passing through the city are ethically correct.
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