Why is Antwerp recognized as the diamond capital of the world?

Today the diamond industry is a very professional one, but many years ago that was anything but the case.

The very first diamonds were not unearthed by industrial-sized excavators, but were mostly found by chance. Between the 12th and 8th centuries BC diamonds were merely considered as curiosities that were picked up off the ground in India. The stones came from kimberlite sediment and were found in river beds.

Until late in the 19th century almost all diamonds came from the Indian subcontinent, a region that was also famed for what were by far the whitest (white blue) diamonds.

But towards the end of that century India’s predominance came to an end when South Africa became the new diamond Mecca. The Kimberley Mine is located in that country, from where the word kimberlite – which protects diamonds during volcanic eruptions – is derived, and which is best known for its Big Hole.

Early in the 20th century new discoveries were made in places such as Namibia, Angola, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Botswana and the DRC. In the 1950s Siberia and other Russian locations and more recently Australia, thanks in part to the Argyle Mine, became lucrative mining locations. The latest country to produce diamonds is Canada.

Yet no matter how exotic or remote the diamond deposits, 80 percent of all the rough diamonds still end up in Antwerp. And that is also why Antwerp is known, with good reason, as the global leader in the diamond trade and consequently also as the world diamond centre.

Antwerp had already carved itself a leading position in the diamond trade by the 16th century, but when the Low Countries declared their independence in 1581 the city found its status under threat. During the 17th and 18th centuries Amsterdam and London took over the mantle, and it was only in the 1920s that Antwerp once again reigned supreme as the world diamond centre.

It was shortly after World War II that the diamond trade really boomed once more in Antwerp, thanks to the fluid import and export of the gemstones.

The diamonds destined for Antwerp were transported by train and cleared customs at the Jezusstraat post office.

The first shipments were picked up from the post office by Diamond Office staff on foot, and later the diamonds were cleared at the Groenplaats post office in Antwerp, after which they were sent to the Diamond Office by taxi. Once at the Diamond Office on Pelikaanstraat the diamonds were checked and distributed.

In 1970 the Antwerpen X subsidiary office was opened near Diamond Office.

From that point onwards, documents and shipments were checked in the presence of the client, with shipments sealed using sealing wax bearing the Diamond Office and client/bank stamps.

Today almost all the diamonds that arrive in Antwerp go through Diamond Office. While transit documents for diamonds traded between EU member states are no longer required, many dealers still ensure that all their goods are checked.

The large majority of diamonds arrive at - and once again leave from - Antwerp Airport.

You can find out in detail about the path the diamonds take once they have arrived in Antwerp here.

The most recent developments in the global diamond trade is online sales of diamonds.

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