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The Antwerp diamond exchange is a terrible place to buy diamonds. You would need to navigate a minefield of disreputable and unethical business practices to avoid getting scammed.
Even if you manage to avoid all the scams, they aren’t offering good service or good value. Its sad to see a whole industry die out in a city, but it’s sadder still to see those people take it out on consumers.
The Antwerp Diamond Quarter (Diamantkwartier) is perhaps the oldest, most storied, diamond district in the world. Long before New York, Hong Kong and Hatton Gardens came on the scenes, Antwerp was cutting and trading diamonds for export and local trade. Antwerp took over as the main European diamond center from Bruges in the 16th century (along with many other import trades).
During the 17th century, Amsterdam took over as the leader for a while, but retook the mantel during the 19th century developing relationships with the miners in the newfound diamond trade of South Africa.
In the second half of the 20th century, Antwerp’s dominance of the diamond trade started to fall along the rise of Tel Aviv’s position. Now, as Mumbai has surged into control, Antwerp’s wholesale trade has become a shell of its former self. Other than rare, unique diamonds (high value fancy colors etc), stones don’t even pass through Antwerp due to the very high costs in relation to other markets.
Precision cutting, Antwerp’s trademark, doesn’t really come into play anymore with advances in technology (automated laser cutting). As 99% of the diamonds out there are cut in large factories overseas, Antwerp’s expertise is a bygone skill.
The Retail Trade:
The fall of the wholesale trade coincides with the fall of value in the retail market in Antwerp. The reality is that the diamonds offered on Hoveniersstraat and Pelikaanstraat come from the exact same place as the diamonds offered online, or in any other retail location in the world: India. That globalization and the ability to purchase from online retailers has thoroughly crushed the retail market in Antwerp.
The retailers on those streets are selling diamonds from the same sources (read: same costs) as everywhere else in the world, yet Antwerp is one of the most expensive cities in the world. That translates into higher costs on the retail end (people there need to make more money, overhead is more expensive etc..). This means that Antwerp’s famed diamond district can’t possibly compete with other diamond markets and certainly not with online retailers that can offer diamonds at much lower prices due to their ability to operate on razor thin margins (as we explain in this article).
The jewelers in the diamond quarter had two choices; offer an experience (Antwerp is a beautiful city and a nice tourist destination) and superb service. The other option is to use every shady trick in the book to deceive consumers and maintain their margins. Unfortunately, it seems like the jewelers there (at least the 15-20 that I went to) chose the less moral, second option.
The Sleight of Hand:
There were several tricks that the jewelers used, virtually all of which prey on the fact that consumers aren’t educated and they can pull the wool over their eyes.
We didn’t catch the names of the mother and daughter in law, but the worst was when the husband walked in (according to the card I got, his name is Tomer). The mother kept telling me that I should only buy a GIA diamond with a laser inscription because everyone else scams people by selling diamonds that don’t match the certificate (this is not even remotely true, but this was her selling point).
Hilarity ensued when she started to show us diamonds. As we are looking at diamonds, I noticed the diamond was horrifically cut. I asked to see the certificate. The daughter in law said, in Hebrew, that the diamonds we are looking at don’t have inscriptions. The mother in law, then awkwardly kicked the plug out of the microscope where she was going to show the inscription to me and said “oh no, the microscope is broken.” Even if I didn’t understand exactly what the two said in Hebrew, it looked like a bad sitcom.
Then the husband walked in and they started talking about what diamonds to show. She said to him “just find any terrible cut diamonds. They don’t know anything about cut, so they’ll think it will seem like a good deal.”
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