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Antwerp and the Diamond Trade

Of course it is universally recognised that Antwerp is globally famous for its association with some of the most exquisite diamond collections in the world. With its rich history and trading traditions that are still employed today, Antwerp is a vibrant and lively city. Diamonds and Antwerp have been closely linked for centuries. One of the biggest and most important diamond centres of the world, Antwerp has played an important role in the diamond industry since the 14th Century during the rule of Charles V (1500 – 1550). The city is Europe’s cultural and cosmopolitan capital.

Lying in the heart of Europe, Belgium is bordered by France, Germany and the Netherlands, and close to the United Kingdom. Antwerp is one of the largest of the world’s ports and is a short half-hour journey to Belgium’s capital, Brussels, headquarters of NATO and the European Union. (EU).

A city of impressive architecture, it is renowned for its art and museums; its much-deserved reputation as a paradise for those who love to shop for designer fashion and accessories. Antwerp’s port is a crossroads of global supply chains and reconciles economic, social and ecological interest wherever possible. It is of great public interest with more than 150,00 people working at the port, supporting the museums and the countless events that take place in Antwerp.

Its role as a globally recognised business centre, open to all cultures and free enterprise has placed Antwerp as the world’s leading centre for the diamond trade.

The Craft of Masters

As expected from a centre so renowned for craftsmanship, Antwerp has the best diamond craftsmen in the world. The result of being so closely associated with diamonds has meant that Antwerp is in the forefront of modern techniques and expertise, developed by diamond research centres within the city. The most coveted trade-mark for a perfectly polished diamond would of course be ‘Cut in Antwerp’.

Antwerp’s Unique Infrastructure

Antwerp’s Diamond Square Mile, a secured area which houses the headquarters of more than 800 international diamond companies, is also the site of four diamond bourses; diamond grading laboratories; brokers; consultants; schools; insurance, security and transport companies, and travel agents. All of this is the centre of a lively social hub with many restaurants and hotels.

The Diamond Square Mile

The unique atmosphere of the area, enticingly named the Diamond Square Mile is centred around the Hoveniersstraat, Vestingstraat, Pelikaanstraat, Schupstraat, and Rijfstraat, an area adjacent to the Central Railway Station. It is a thriving, bustling business community with a mix of nationalities living, working and socialising side-by-side, while respecting each other’s individual community’s cultures and traditions. The diamond trade is of course at the forefront of this, with import and export trading in polished diamonds, as well as diamonds for industry. Every possible shape or form, quality and colour of diamond is traded here. Antwerp is the home of four diamond bourses (organised trading or market places),

  • Diamantclub van Antwerpen
  • Beurs voor Diamanthandel
  • Vrije Diamanthandel, and
  • Antwerpsche Diamantkring.

These ‘marketplaces’ and commercial infrastructure of diamond trading are an essential part of diamond buying and selling and act as the accepted points of contact for buyers from all global diamond markets.

Antwerp World Diamond Centre, an exclusive organisation

AWDC, or the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, coordinates activities within Antwerp’s Diamond Centre, and acts as its spokesman. Representing the interests of the Belgian diamond sector, AWDC is the official liaison with national and international governments, and is the Antwerp diamond industry and trade’s marketing administration.

It falls to the AWDC to ensure that the image of quality so linked with Antwerp and its international trade is maintained at the highest levels, and ensures that the diamond industry it is so famous for remains vigorous and successful.

The facts

  • 1in 2 of all polished diamonds pass through Antwerp
  • 8 in 10 of the world’s rough diamonds are processed in Antwerp
  • Antwerp is famous for its craftsmanship and has the world’s most renowned diamond polishers
  • In 2007, the Antwerp diamond sector realised a total in, and export of, $42.3 billion
  • Antwerp’s diamond trade is responsible for 5% of Belgian exports and 8% of Belgian’s Flemish region’s exports
  • The highest international mark of endorsement for polished diamonds is the ‘Cut in Antwerp’ trade mark
  • 34,000 people are directly and indirectly employed by the Belgian diamond sector
  • More than 1800 international diamond companies are located in the diamond square mile in Antwerp

DIAMOND TRADE

Rough diamonds

Locating diamonds is carried out by geologists using traditional methods alongside innovative technology. An assessment of economic viability and yield is carried out on the deposit when found. Less than one in two-hundred deposits of kimberlite becomes a major mine. 6,500 kimberlite deposits have been found world-wide to date. Only fifty of those are sustainable diamond mines.

State-of-the art techniques are used to recover diamonds for the ore, a multi-stage task using alluvial, under-ground, marine and coast methods of diamond mining.

De Beers Group

De Beers is the world-class leading diamond exploration organisation for mining and marketing diamonds. Along with joint-venture partners it conducts business across five continents, in more than twenty countries, and employs around 20,000 people. This multi-national company has mines in Canada, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia and produces approximately 40% of the world’s rough diamonds, on valuation. There are three shareholders of the company, Anglo American plc holds 45%, the Oppenheimer family holds 40%, and the Government of the Republic Botswana (GRB), 15%.

De Beers also holds a 70% shareholding in De Beers Marine, Namibia, and joint 50% interests in Debswana Diamond Company (Proprietary) Limited and Namdeb Diamond Corporation (Proprietary) Limited with GRB and the Government of the Republic of Namibia (GRN). De Beers also has a 74% interest in the De Beers Consolidated Mines Limited ((DCBM) in South Africa, along with the Ponahalo Group, a broad-based black economic empowerment consortium holding the balance.

De Beers holds 100% of the Diamond Trading Company (DTC), and sales and marketing joint ventures with the GRB in DTCB, the Diamond Trading Company, Botswana, a company which sorts and values the diamond output of Botswana and performs sales and marketing, and with the GRN in Namibia Diamond Trading Company, again a company which sorts and values the diamond output in Namibia and carries out sales and marketing.

BHP Billiton

BHP Billiton is a leading global resources and among the world’s largest producers of major commodities, such as aluminium, coal, copper, iron ore, manganese, nickel, silver and uranium. They also have substantial interest in oil and gas, and an unrivalled portfolio of high quality growth opportunities.

BHP Billiton owns 80% the Ekati Diamond Mine, located in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The mine produces four million carats of rough diamonds annually, and represents approximately 3% of current world rough diamond supply through, and 6% through value. BHP Billiton makes accessible up to ten per cent of rough diamonds to two Canadian cutting factories, and sells a limited quantity of polished diamonds to jewellery retailers and wholesalers. Most of its rough diamonds are sold to international diamond buyer through its sales office in Antwerp.

Rio Tinto

Rio Tinto mines and processes much of the earth’s mineral resources and is one of the world’s leading exploration and mining companies. They mine minerals and metals such as aluminium, copper, energy products, gold, industrial minerals, diamond, and iron ore, substances essential in today’s growing industrial and retail market places.

The Rio Tinto mines are autonomous, thus ensuring that wherever the particular mine is in the world it retains its local and cultural identity. This means that from diamond mining to diamond sales, each diamond can be linked to the mine and country of origin. With provenance being a particularly sensitive subject in the world of diamonds, Rio Tinto can assure its customers that each diamond is securely sourced.

Sales of rough diamonds from Rio Tinto Diamonds are carried out via their marketing headquarters in Antwerp. They also have offices in New York and Mumbai. The rare and coveted pink diamonds from Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine are retained and controlled by them for cutting and polishing, and sold as loose polished stones to customers globally. The Argyle mine is in Perth, Western Australia, where its cutting and polishing is also carried out.

Alrosa/Arcos

The state-controlled diamond mining company, Alrosa Co. Ltd has a fifty-year track record and is among Russia’s top-ten most efficient enterprises. It holds five diamond mines Western Yakutia (Udachny, Myurba, Mir, Anabar and Aikhal, and is Russia’s premier diamond producer with 97 per cent of overall diamond output. It also holds a subsidiary mining operation in Severalmaz in the north-west of Russia. Within its thirty-three divisions it employs more than thirty-five thousand people.

The strength of Alrosa’s market position, being the second largest diamond mining company in the world with 20% of global diamond output in terms of caratage, means that in value terms it sources twenty-five percent. 95% of its total production are near-gem and gem quality diamonds. Alrosa is present in Angola and currently expanding into other Southern African and sub-Saharan countries. It also operates together with overseas trading companies in Belgium, Hong Kong, USA, UK, Dubai and Israel.

The Antwerp Diamond Square Mile is home to several other diamond producers, along with Rio Tinto, De Beers, DTC and Alrosa.

Diamond Bourses

There are diamond bourses in every major diamond centre in the world. Antwerp’s four diamond bourses are members of the World Federation of Diamond bourses.

Bourses are where brokers and manufacturers meet to discuss business transactions to trade rough, polished or industrial diamonds. Discussions and evaluations take place with regard to supply and diamond, and offers are made, all carried out around a table.

Clients from overseas may also enter the hallowed bourses, providing he or she is accompanied by a bourse member who will be responsible for the guest during their visit. For a payment he is permitted to observe and assess diamonds.