Why is Belgium famous for diamonds?
Belgium, and more precisely, Antwerp, has been the global hub of the diamond trade for well over 500 years. Despite mounting competition from centres in the developing world, its commercial future seems solid.
Diamond cutting began in Antwerp in the 16th century, when Jewish people expelled from Spain and Portugal settled in Belgium, bringing with them the knowledge of diamond trading. Antwerp soon became the commercial heart of Europe, with 40% of the world’s diamond trade passing through its port.
However, by the end of the 17th century, Antwerp lost its status as the world’s diamond centre, and the focus shifted to Amsterdam. In the 18th century, Amsterdam took control of the world’s diamond supply and — understandably — kept the best stones for its diamond cutters, leaving Antwerp with low-quality uncut diamonds.
While this had the potential to be disastrous for Antwerp, instead it became a significant turning point as Antwerp cutters began to develop innovative methods to turn undesirable rough diamonds into fine polished gemstones.
When a new source of diamonds was discovered at the Kimberley diamond fields in South Africa in 1871, Belgium’s diamond industry gained a new lease of life. Huge quantities of rough diamonds made their way to Europe, and Antwerp’s diamond cutters were once again in business.
Skipping forward to 1904, diamond merchants founded the Antwerp Diamond Bourse, which is now a major global diamond trade hub that serves more than 2,000 international diamond traders and manufacturers.