Sparkling new diamond rings will grace many fingers around the world on Valentine’s Day — and most of those gems will have passed through a drab district in the Belgian port city of Antwerp.
A diamond hub for nearly 600 years, Antwerp is holding its own as the global trade capital for the precious stones despite new rivals in the Middle East and Asia, traders there say.
Not that it looks anything special. This district near the main railway station is the dingy opposite of the ostentatious stones it produces for one good reason security.
“It’s a mini Fort Knox,” Indian-born trader Shashin Choksi says after sending off a shipment of $300,000 of polished diamonds to Hong Kong.
Huge riches lie in safes and vaults behind weather-worn facades on the three main streets that make up the Diamantkwartier, or Diamond Quarter, in the city in the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium.
Around 2,000 security cameras watch people, cars and armoured trucks pass through, while drivers wave passes at electronic gates to reach trading, grading and other offices.
Thieves stole an estimated $100 million in diamonds and other jewellery from the district’s safes in 2003. A poster plastered inside diamond district buildings says police “are watching over you”.