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Weathering the Storms: The History of the Belgian Diamond Industry

Belgium and more precisely Antwerp, has long since been a global center of diamond trade. Diamond cutting in Antwerp began in the 16th century, when masses of Jewish people who were expelled from Spain and Portugal settled in Belgium, bringing with them the knowledge of diamond trading. Antwerp was growing as a city and soon became the commercial heart of Europe, with 40% of the world’s trade passing through its massive port.

By the end of the 17th century, internal conflicts between the guild of diamond cutters and rich merchants in Belgium led Antwerp to lose its status as a world diamond center, and the focus shifted to Amsterdam. In the 18th century, Amsterdam gained control over the world’s diamonds supply, and preferred to keep the best stones for its own diamond cutters, leaving Antwerp with low-quality diamonds. This, however, led Antwerp diamond cutters to develop new methods of turning low-quality rough diamonds into fine polished gemstones.

In 1871, a new source of diamonds was discovered at the Kimberley diamond fields in South Africa, which led to the resurrection of the diamond industry in Belgium. Mass quantities of rough diamonds were transported to Europe, and diamond cutters in Antwerp once again had their hands full. The discovery of the Kimberley diamond fields in South Africa also sparked the birth of De Beers, which would eventually become an international diamond giant.

The Antwerp Diamond Bourse was founded on June 7, 1904 by Antwerp diamond merchants who sought to move their dealings into a more structured, secure location. The Antwerp Diamond Bourse was the second such institution to be established in Belgium’s International port city, following the DiamantClub, which was founded in 1892.

Today, the Antwerp Diamond Bourse is a major global diamond trade hub. It is situated in a building spanning a block stretching from the Pelikaanstraat to the Hovenierstraat, and serves more than 2,000 international diamond traders and manufacturers.

The bourse is part of Antwerp’s diamond center, located near the Central railroad station. The bourse and the area surrounding it hosts diverse services for traders in rough and polished diamonds, from specialized banks to international dispatching firms and private courier services.

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