Cover Story: Diamonds

Merchants of Antwerp

For centuries diamonds have been the focus of royalty, fortune-diggers, millions of brides, story tellers, even movie-makers. Who can forget the words Diamonds Are Forever immortalized in a popular James Bond movie by that name? It was over 50 years ago that an N W Ayer copywriter came up with those dream-studded words, “A Diamond Is Forever”. King of the diamond business, De Beers of South Africa, immediately adopted the line as its official motto, N W Ayer was, after all, its official advertisement agency.

From diamonds flow ideas—like falling in love, like winning a boardroom battle, like owning an aircraft, like raising a palace. World over, the word diamond evokes the same feelings—that of luxury, style, beauty. Legends have been spun around the diamond rock. The beauty of millions of necklines has been breathtakingly accentuated by their presence. They have coruscated in crown jewels, been encrusted on rare books, and statues. 

That is why it makes the success of the Indian diamond merchants of Antwerp so very fascinating. Literally, all that glitters in their offices and showrooms worldwide is diamond. They have made fortunes out of rocks and carbon, they have cut and polished them for the most fashionable stores around the earth, and for the most celebrated and beautiful people of the world. They have undoubtedly worked hard to be where they are positioned today, twinkling like stars at the highest echelons of the world diamond community.

A note provided to INDIA EMPIRE by the brass of Indian High Commission in Brussels says that Antwerp’s diamond industry contributes up to 8 per cent of Belgium’s exports and has generated about 30,000 jobs. Significantly, Indians control 60 per cent of Antwerp’s rough and polished diamonds, worth an estimated Euro 36 billion. Very importantly, this has meant a decided shift in the control of the world diamond business from other ethnic groups. Curiously, the Indian community in Antwerp, numbering about 450 families, is, mostly from the Palanpur region of Gujarat.

In 2006, the Indian diamond merchants of Antwerp received their highest recognition. Following elections in May, five out the 12 seats at the Diamond High Council went to Indians. Kaushik Mehta, chairman of the Indo-Belge Diamantaires Association (IBDA) shares the vice-presidency of the HRD Board with Stefan Fischler. In July 2006, Dilip Mehta, CEO of Rosy Blue was bestowed the prestigious title of Baron during Belgium’s annual honours list prepared jointly by the Belgian Royal Palace and the Belgian Foreign Ministry.

We look at some of these diamond giants, straight out of Hovernierstraat, perhaps the most famous diamond destination in the world outside De Beers’ Kimberley.

—Sayantan Chakravarty in Antwerp and Brussels

January 2007

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