Ask anyone to think of a town or city associated with diamonds and they will probably say “Antwerp” and there are many reasons why this should be so. Ever since diamonds were first dug out of the ground in India and Alexander the Great brought them to Europe, the stones have fascinated and delighted the wealthy and aspirational. A must-have for any serious engagement proposal, the diamond you choose for your loved one will almost certainly have had a connection with Antwerp in one way or another.
Antwerp has been the hub of diamond distribution and sales for well over 500 years. After Bruges decided against diamonds and decided to concentrate on the port as its revenue earner, Antwerp became the main hub, with some 40% of all world trade passing through in some way. By the end of the 17th century, Amsterdam had all but cornered the market, due to the trade links forged by The Netherlands. The Dutch capital kept the good stones for itself and only traded the smaller, less desirable ones to Antwerp. This, however, proved to be an advantage, not a disaster. Such was the skill of the diamond cutters in Belgium’s second city, they could take apparently worthless rough diamonds and turn them into something both beautiful and sought after. The skill to do this was obviously in high demand too, bringing a lot of business back to Antwerp as its reputation grew.
Many businesses in the city span many generations, having carved out a reputation for quality, passion and creativity. One such company is Geretti, founded in 1929. Now a fourth-generation family jeweller, Geretti is one of the most reputable diamond traders in Antwerp. I asked the owner, Marc Geretti, what made his business different from the dozens of others you could walk into stepping off the train in Antwerp Central. He said: “The client can choose their own diamond and mounting and we can finish it for them on the same day. This way, they can take home a truly original and personalized piece of jewellery at a great price.”
So why should people go to Geretti when there are many other merchants available? “As a family business” he said, “we try to get to know the client on first-name terms and treat them in the best possible manner irrespective of their budget.”
Geretti has a very high score on TripAdvisor. “We follow up on the client’s satisfaction,” he explained. “This is evidently what people appreciate and why they are willing to share their positive experiences on the internet. Sites such as TripAdvisor are handy for the international traveller to ensure they visit the right places and to avoid any unpleasant experiences.”
Geretti, as other producers in Antwerp do, adheres to the principle of the four Cs. These stand for;
– Cut. Not what you might expect. Cut in this case refers not to the shape of the diamond itself but the quality of the way in which the diamond has been crafted, also known in the trade as the ‘make’. The cut lies entirely in the hands of the artisan cutting the diamond and can dramatically increase or decrease the value of the finished product, depending on the skill used.
– Carat. Known as ‘karat’ in the US, to differentiate between gold and diamonds, this is the weight of the finished diamond. One diamond carat is equal to 1/5 of a gram. A carat may also be sub-divided into 100 points, so if you are looking at a 0.25 point diamond, it will be quarter of a carat. Price per carat is no measure of quality, however. That depends on the cut, among other factors.
– Clarity. How clear a diamond is and how many of the natural imperfections have been removed during cutting.
– Colour. Colours will range from colourless (transparent) to a straw yellow. The less colour, the more valuable the diamond.
There is an equally important fifth C that you will find with all reputable dealers – certification. Several independent bodies exist to grade the diamonds and issue certificates to ensure none of the important four Cs has been overstated and that all are accurate. Geretti and many other Antwerp dealers use the Diamond High Council (HRD) agency.
What next for the city’s industry? Far from resting on their laurels, the tradesmen of today have put training programmes and workshops in place to ensure the skills are once again passed down to the next generation. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) has an Antwerp Diamond Masterplan, with project highlights reaching into 2020, in order to remain competitive and to open the industry’s contacts to other Belgian business, with a view to expanding on the already impressive 5% the diamond trade contributes to gross exports from Belgium, at a yearly turnover of over €42 billion.
With other aspects of the plan including job creation, innovation, education and a more transparent and open method of trading, it would appear that one of Belgium’s most distinguished and profitable sectors is in safe hands for perhaps another half century.