Antwerp and diamonds have been inextricably linked for centuries. 60% of the total world output of diamonds goes to the jewellery trade, with the remaining diamonds being used in industry. At present, 80% of the world’s production of rough diamonds is traded in Antwerp. Although most diamonds are cut in India, Thailand, China and South-East Asia, diamonds are also cut in Antwerp. The stones cut in Antwerp are generally the largest, most unique and most valuable gems. 50% of the global trade in cut diamonds is once again distributed through Antwerp to all corners of the globe.
In social and ethnic terms, the diamond industry in Antwerp is a melting pot of nationalities: Flemings, Jews, Armenians, Indians, Russians and many others. Antwerp has been the global centre for diamond trade for over 500 years, and for centuries the market leaders were mainly Jews, but in the last 25 years, it has been primarily Indians taking on the mantle. The diamond trade in Antwerp is based on trust, and sometimes a dealer will give a potential buyer a sachet of diamonds without the transaction being laid down in a contract. The trust demonstrated in such a situation is based on interpersonal relationships. Because of these strong family ties and other personal relationships, it is extremely difficult to become a part of the diamond world.
In economic terms, the combination of Antwerp and diamonds is a flourishing business. The city is home to 1,850 companies, with 4,500 diamond dealers directly employing some 10,000 people. Then there are the staff of the transport and security companies, the specialist accountants, certifiers and many others. All together, it means that around 30,000 people are actively engaged in the Antwerp diamond industry. In addition, approximately a thousand specialist diamond workers in Antwerp cleave, saw, cut and polish the diamonds into brilliantly finished gems.
In terms of tourism, there are many fascinating places to visit in the diamond district. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC – previously known as the Diamond High Council or HRD) is the umbrella body and represents all the professions and actors in the industry, including the Diamond Office, the diamond bourses of Antwerp (the Antwerp Diamantkring, Beurs voor Diamanthandel, Diamantclub of Antwerp, Vrije Diamanthandel and the Federation of Belgian Diamond Bourses), as well as laboratories for grading diamonds like IGI and HRD Antwerp (GIA is an American laboratory). The synagogue of the Sephardic Jewish community, where a car bomb exploded on 20 October 1981 during the Sukkot festival, injuring a hundred people and killing three, is also a place for quiet reflection. Ever since the attack on the synagogue, security has been a key priority in the district. Traffic is banned, there is a strong police presence, the buildings have security staff, there is a double row of traffic barriers at each end of the district and visible and hidden cameras.