There’s a certain romance about giving your Valentine or yourself a stone from Antwerp, the oldest diamond centre in Europe. Records of stone trading in Antwerp date back to around 1450. Many diamonds filtered from India into Antwerp where skilled Flemish cutters fashioned them into gems. The discovery of diamonds in South Africa in 1869 helped the city’s diamond trade flourish and led to the first diamond trading organisations. Today, Antwerp remains one of the world’s largest diamond trading centres.
The heart of Antwerp’s diamond industry lies adjacent to the city’s historic main train station – beautifully restored to its 1890s splendour. The city’s main diamond trading hall, or bourse, is located across the street at 62 Pelikaanstraat. The nearest tram station is conveniently called Diamant (diamond in Flemish). The winding streets behind Pelikaanstraat, Schupstraat and Hovenierstraat are where most of the city’s $15 billion diamond trade happens.
Not surprisingly, security is extremely tight and travellers cannot visit most of the diamond trading halls or offices. But the nearby Museum aan de Stroom has a diamond pavilion to acquaint visitors with the process of diamond cutting and Antwerp’s diamond history.
However, what interest most travellers to Antwerp are the diamonds that have been cut and mounted onto jewellery.
Here are some tips before you buy:
1. Know where the shops are
Boutiques selling diamond jewellery are around Vestingstraat, Appelmansstraat and Lange Herentalsestraat near Central Station. It’s easy to shop around: they are very competitive and in close proximity to each other. Ensure any diamond you consider buying has a grading report from a reputable lab, so you can make an accurate comparison.
2. Go for GIA-graded diamonds
Find retailers who sell diamonds graded by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) or have GIA-trained staff, at gia.edu/retailer-lookup. The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) has a listing of retailers in the area.
3. Consider diamond dealers
Diamond dealers are generally willing to do business only with private buyers looking for significant sized stones of at least two carats; the AWDC may be able to arrange such appointments with diamantaires. While there are potential savings in buying a loose diamond, dealers do not sell mountings.
4. Select a qualified jeweller
Pick a jeweller as carefully as you would a doctor, lawyer or any other trained professional; their reputations are one of their most valuable assets. Ask around or do research online. Look for credentials that indicate professional experience. For example, the initials GG (Graduate Gemologist) after a jeweller’s name indicate a high level of gemological training through the Gemological Institute of America (GIA).
5. Enquire in advance about services
Stores offer different levels of services: resizing, mounting/remounting, inscriptions, product range offered, and the store’s return policy and credit terms.
6. Take note of business hours
Business hours in the diamond district on weekdays are generally from 10am to 6pm. Many shops are closed on the weekends, so it is wise to check beforehand. Very few wholesale businesses in the diamond district are open weekends and some close early on Fridays, especially during the winter.
7. Claim your tax refund
Non-EU residents can get a VAT refund on purchases of €125.01 (US$136) or more. Check that your jeweller is able to issue a Tax Refund Form. Jewellery in Antwerp isn’t less expensive than in another country with a similar rate of taxation.
8. Take home a diamond-shaped confection
Buy diamond-shaped chocolates from several chocolate shops in Antwerp. Del Rey on Appelmanstraat is the largest chocolate boutique in the diamond district. There are also several on Keyserlei, the main street leading to the Central Station in the diamond district.
– TEXT BY GEMMA KOH
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.