Antwerp: Diamond Capital of the World


Antwerp, and in particular a heavily secured area of about two square kilometers west of Central Station, is the world's most important trade centre of rough, polished and industrial diamonds.  It houses more than 1500 diamond companies and no less than three diamond bourses.  8 out of 10 of all rough diamonds are handled in Antwerp, and 1 out of 2 of all polished diamonds passes through Antwerp.  Also precious stones such as rubies, sapphires, and emeralds are actively traded here.


First, a bit of history...

Diamonds were first discovered in India about 2500 years ago.  The unit of weight first used for diamonds was the carob seed.  From the carob the word carat was derived.
Starting from the 13th century diamonds were exported from India and mainly reached Europe through Venice.  Bruges, being one of Venice’s most important trade partners at the time, gradually became a centre of diamond trade in its own right.
By the beginning of the 16th century Antwerp became the world’s new centre for diamond trade as Bruges’ fortunes waned following the silting of its harbor.  However, at the end of that same century the Spanish conquered Antwerp which triggered an exodus of many of Antwerp’s inhabitants, including highly-skilled craftsmen, to Amsterdam which temporarily became an important diamond trade centre.
It was only several centuries later, at the end of the 19th century, when Antwerp recovered its former status, greatly helped by a steady and plentiful supply of rough diamonds from newly discovered mines in South Africa.


What makes a diamond valuable?  Its weight but above all its sparkle: the better light passes through a diamond the more it sparkles, producing a rainbow of beautiful colors.


If you’re looking to buy a diamond, know your four C’s:

Cut: (also referred to as ‘make’) This is what gives a diamond its sparkle.  To turn a rough diamond into a cut gemstone requires a lot of special skill.  The better the proportions, the better the diamond can handle light and hence produce more sparkle.  Depending on the original shape of the rough diamond the final cut diamond can take one of following shapes: round, oval, heart, pear, emerald, marquise and princess.
Clarity: Most diamonds come with very small imperfections, otherwise known as inclusions.  The less of them there are, the more light can pass through the diamond, thereby increasing its sparkle.  A diamond completely free of inclusions is very rare and of high value.  A loupe or microscope (using 10x magnification) is the most commonly used tool for grading a diamond’s clarity.
Color: Diamonds come in all kinds of colors such as faint yellow or brown, or rare pink, blue and green.  Most diamonds you will come across are anywhere from almost colorless to light-yellow.  However, a totally colorless diamond which allows light to pass through it without obstruction is still the most valuable.
Carat: The weight of a diamond is measured in carats, and each carat is divided into 100 points.  A diamond with 25 points weighs .25 carats.  To give you an idea of its size, a diamond of 1 carat has a diameter of about 6.5mm and a height of about 3.9mm.

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