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NRI, 500 Gujaratis families dominate 60 percent diamond trade in Belgium


Belgium, March 18, 2006
Mahesh Malhotrs

NRI, 500 Gujaratis families dominate 60 percent of Antwerp's rough and polished diamond trade worth 29 billion euros and contributes to eight percent of Belgium's overall exports.

50% to 65% diamond business go through NRI hands,
Jewish share has fallen to about 25% from 70% &
90% of all world’s diamonds pass through ANTWERP city of Belgium


ANTWERP, Belgium, Aug 27, 2004
Mahesh Malhotrs

In Antwerp, Indians' share of the $26 billion-a-year (€22 billion) diamond revenues has grown to roughly 65% from about 25% in the past 20 years, while the Jewish share has fallen to about 25% from 70%, according to both Indian and Jewish consultants who study the global-diamond trade. Indians has spilled over to the U.S. diamond market. After gaining a foothold in Antwerp, many of the Indian traders have expanded their businesses globally, to include California and New York.

About 90% of the world's uncut diamonds, and half of its polished diamonds, are sold here each year. The city, which even has a trolley stop called Diamant, is home to 1,500 retail and wholesale diamond companies and four diamond exchanges. One of the oldest, the Beurs voor Diamanthandel, was founded by Jews in 1904.

The Indian success is mostly attributed to what the locals call ‘cheap goods and cheap labour.’ Indians produced diamonds out of roughage others discarded by taking it to Surat and Bombay where (initially) sweatshop workers coaxed out little sparklers. Now Indians have moved up the value chain and the locals are looking at other attributes – their industry and family values.

Diamond sellers line up in front of long rectangular tables to present their rough and polished gems. Sitting hunched over electronic scales, wholesale and retail buyers from Tel Aviv, New York and London peer through magnifying glasses at small piles of diamonds spread out over white sheets of paper. Many of the traders bargain in Yiddish. Among the Hasidim and Israelis are a number of non-Jewish traders -- but in a hall the size of a football field, there isn't a single Indian. The Indians don't come here -- they are in their offices where the really big deals take place.

The world’s diamond mining is dominated by De Beers. Rough trading, cutting and polishing is the Indian domain. The South African giant sells rough diamonds to an exclusive club of ‘sightholders.’ De Beers has only 85 sightholders today. Nearly 50 are Indian.

Many Jews who used to trade diamonds in the public hall of Antwerp's imposing Diamond Beurs are so worried about the new competitive pressure that they now prefer to meet clients in the privacy of their own offices for fear that Indians or other Jewish traders will poach their business. Many have changed their manufacturing practices, moving their cutting and polishing factories from Belgium to lower-cost centers such as Thailand and China. And in the retail-jewelry sector, some secular Jews are breaking ranks with the Hasidim and keeping their businesses open on the Sabbath.In Antwerp, Jews and Indians are so embedded in each other's lives that many of the Indian dealers speak Hebrew and Yiddish.

Jain and Jewish cultures share qualities that make them well-suited to the diamond business: Both value kinship, hard work and cross-border networking, useful qualities in a global industry that depends on wheeling and dealing. Most Jain businesses are operated by families spread across the world. Many of the families come from Palanpur, in north India, and share the surnames Mehta, Jhavari and Shah.

The diamond business works on trust so most firms are tightly family-owned and run (Rosy Blue is about the first to break the mould). In fact, the top half-dozen firms are all related by marriage. The Indian traders began arriving in the 1970s, drawn by the lucrative diamond business and Belgium's liberal immigration laws. Almost all top diamantaires trace their origin to the small town of Palanpur on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border. In Antwerp, they all work in the same block of less than 500 square meters and often in the same building on different floors.



500 NRI Gujaratis families dominate 60 percent of Antwerp's rough and polished diamond trade worth 29 billion euros and contributes to eight percent of Belgium's overall exports.