While we cannot know exactly when the first diamond was discovered, we do know one of the world's most precious gems was a traded commodity in India in the 4th century B.C. In fact, India, was the only producer of diamonds, setting up trade routes between Indian and major European ports until the 18th century. Venice served as one of the major markets for diamond trade in the West, creating a monopoly for gem trade in the 13th century.
Trade Routes Lead to Burges and Antwerp
As a result of its dealings with India, the Italian port city also garnered market control in Indian products, extending trade routes into the capital cities of Northern Europe, including the city of Bruges, Belgium. Silk and diamond traders made their way to Bruges, which was connected by a canal to the North Sea. Soon, the city developed a booming diamond industry, gaining recognition for its diamond trade and processing. Lodewijck van Bercken, a Bruges citizen, is credited with having invented the process of polishing diamond with diamond.
Over time, a series of political and economic factors led to the gradual demise of Bruges in the 14th century. However, during this time, new opportunities led the diamond industry to gradually begin relocating to Antwerp. One of the most important developments was the discovery of a direct sea route from India to Lisbon, which created a shift in trade from Venice to Lisbon. In turn, the Lisbon-Antwerp route grew in importance, firmly establishing the Belgium city as a diamond capital. As the commercial heart of Europe in the 16th century, 40 percent of world trade passed through Antwerp's ports.
Political struggles with Amsterdam however weakened Antwerp's strong position. Eventually, the city was forced to cede its dominant role to Amsterdam, following Antwerp's capture by the governor of the Northern Netherlands. This placed the Dutch city in a position of strength during the 17th century. The exhausted Indian mines further compromised Antwerp's fortunes.
With the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, Antwerp began to regain its status as the diamond capital after a 300-year hiatus. The 19th century brought about the development of a diamond district. Prominent architects were commissioned to transform the city into a postmodernist metropolis. The city's future gleamed brightly as host of the 1920 Summer Olympics and at the 1930 World Expo.
A huge shake-up of the diamond capital was coming with the spreading occupation of Nazi Germany. Nearly 80 percent of Antwerp's Jewish population was involved in the diamond trade. Sensing the oncoming tensions, Antwerp's diamantaires flee to Palestine, England, Portugal, and the U.S., taking with them most of Antwerp's diamonds.
To ensure the safety of the diamonds, two bold diamantaires established the Correspondence Office for Diamond Industry (COFDI), which registered and stored the transferred diamonds until the war ended. Meanwhile, expatriate Jewish diamantaires created Bourses, or trading exchanges for loose, cut and uncut diamonds in places such as Tel Aviv, Palestine, and New York City.
Following Antwerp's liberation, the COFDI began returning the hidden gems to their owners. Once again, Antwerp began rebuilding its position as a diamond capital. At one time reserved for royalty, the rise of modern capitalism in the 20th century made diamonds more accessible to the middle class, allowing Antwerp and the diamond industry to flourish.
Today, 85 percent of the world's rough diamonds and half of the polished diamonds annually pass through Antwerp. The city's thriving Bourses represent the largest diamond trading center in the world. Based on a system of mutual trust, most transactions conducted by members of the Bourses are conducted with cash and a handshake. Other Bourses exist in Israel, Hong Kong, London, Moscow, and Shanghai. Antwerp employs approximately 4,000 people in its diamond-cutting industry, a small and heavily guarded area surrounded by three main streets, Hoveniersstraat, Schupstraat and Rijfstraat.
Lewis Jewelers is proud to carry the full line of Pandora Jewelry. Pandora charms, Pandora bracelets and Pandora beads are only a part of the collection. For more information, Lewis Jewelers, 2000 West Stadium Blvd., Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48103, 877-88-LEWIS or visit the website.