Since the 15th century, Antwerp has been at the centre of the diamond industry and while other markets such as Dubai, India and Russia have all built their reputations in the last century, it is still the humble Belgian city that leads the way in polished and rough diamonds, with billions worth of stones being turned over every year.
And with such impressive turnover, you would expect the streets of Antwerp to be paved in diamond dust, however the unassuming square mile nestled next to the city’s impressive station and close to the world famous Antwerp Zoo, is much more discreet than that.
Stepping off De Keyserlei which is home to the high street diamond jewellers (and the renowned Del Rey Café) and onto the Hovenierstraat which is home to the real heart of the diamond world, you would not imagine you were any other business district if it weren’t for the armed guards standing quietly outside the Antwerp World Diamond Centre and the impressive security barriers inside every building.
It is in these buildings that the rough and polished diamonds from around the world come into Antwerp and are then sold around the world. Where the generations of diamond traders whose families have been a part of the industry for hundreds of years, meticulously examine every stone to ensure it is of the quality that the diamond houses of Antwerp are so famous for and provide to brands such as Cartier, Graff and Tiffany.
But while the glamour of the seeing the safes stacked high with diamonds of all colours and carats is understandably thrilling to see, what is also so charming about this small neighbourhood is sitting right next door to the towering office blocks teaming with dealers and brokers, are the tiny workshops who are dealing in millimetres rather than millions.
Home to the world’s most talented goldsmiths, polishers and setters, it is these craftsmen and women who transform the stones from the rough to the jewel. Walking through the quiet mazes of small offices, to a newcomer it seems as if no one is home, but once you step inside (again, past the secure entries, obviously!), you are immediately thrown into the hustle and bustle of a workshop. In unassuming, crammed rooms the desks are lined up and covered in dirt and polish that is only highlighted by the bright desk lamps overhead, and for a moment you might imagine you were picking a car from a garage… if it wasn’t for the unbelievably stunning 5ct diamond engagement ring sitting nonchalantly in the block.
Antwerp is steeped in tradition – many deals are still done over a handshake in the ancient trading hall at The Diamond Bourse – but it has also embraced the new technologies that have changed the landscape of the industry. From equipment that can test for lab-grown diamonds to incredible advances in polishing, the Diamond District is a very different place to where it was even 30 years ago. But what is so refreshing is how the the new generations continue to adapt and change to the markets’ trends, ensuring it will always be centre - and a home - to the world’s most glamorous commodity.