ANTWERP, Belgium, Aug 27, 2004
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
The worlds 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.