Some 85% of the world's uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp, and the diamond trade has its own quarter, where the skills of cutting and polishing the gems have been handed down for generations by a tightly knit community. Multimillion-dollar deals are agreed upon with a handshake, and the Antwerp Diamond High Council was established in 1975 to further the industry. Twenty-five million carats are cut and traded here every year, more than anywhere else in the world. The district occupies a few nondescript city blocks west of Centraal Station. A large part of the community is Jewish, so you'll see shop signs in Hebrew and Hasidic men with traditional dark clothing and side curls. Below the elevated railway tracks, a long row of stalls and shops gleams with jewelry and gems.
Diamond cutting began in Brugge but moved to Antwerp in the late 15th century when a new technique for polishing and cutting gems evolved here. When a flood of rough diamonds from South Africa hit the markets
in the 19th century, Antwerp rose to the top of the field. Today the industry employs some 8,000 workers, including expert polishers and cutters, serving 1,800 dealers. Jewish establishments close on Saturday for the Sabbath, but there are still enough shops open in the neighborhood to have a good browse.