Antwerp's Palanpuri Jains make diamond trade glitter

Monday, 24 March 2003, 08:00 Hrs   |    1 Comments
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AHMEDABAD: Twenty years ago when small time diamond merchant Manoj Mehta left Indian shores for Antwerp in Belgium, little did he know that his Gujarati community would come to dominate the trade.

Today people from Mehta's native Palanpur town control 60 percent of the world's diamond trade.

Gone are the days when people would cry with delight at the sight of a Belgian diamond or go crazy for diamonds cut and polished in Tel Aviv, Israel. Now India is in league with them.

Antwerp, considered the world's gem city where raw diamonds are traded, has 60 percent Indians in the cut and polished diamond trade, that too Palanpuri Jains.

Palanpur, a town about 200 km from here in Banaskantha district of north Gujarat, determines new trends in the global diamond trade.

"This happened because of new technique of cutting and polishing diamonds introduced by us Palanpuri Jains in Antwerp," Mehta, who was in Ahmedabad on a visit said.

According to him, Palanpuri Jains introduced the art of polishing the dust, or small diamonds -- 100 pieces in one carat, in the Antwerp gem market.

Raw diamonds mined from Johannesburg in South Africa, Siberia in Russia, Australia and other parts of the world are brought to Antwerp for trading.

"Europeans had no value for dust diamonds for there was no way they could be cut or polished. A group of Palanpuri Jain diamond merchants went on a tour to Antwerp to explore the possibility of trade when the Indian diamond trade sector suffered a slump after the India-China war in 1962.

"Palanpuri Jains realised the need for cutting and polishing dust diamonds which could be fulfilled by diamond cutters in Surat."

Merchants from the community began purchasing dust diamonds in bulk and had them polished in India. Soon they established their monopoly in cutting and polishing dust diamonds in the world.

Earlier, diamond cutters in Europe and Israel had ensured a position for Antwerp, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam in the map of diamond trading. But nowadays diamonds cut and polished in India are the most sought-after products in Antwerp.

Nency Rossignol, the consul general of Belgium in Mumbai, who was on a visit to Gujarat last week, too was all praise for the performance of Indian diamond merchants in Belgium.

"It is no secret that India has reshaped the diamond trade in the world. It is now at the number one position in diamond trade after Antwerp, Tel Aviv and Amsterdam. Today, of 100 diamonds available for trade in Antwerp, 93 are cut and polished in India."

Leading diamond merchant Vijay Mehta, a Palanpuri Jain whose family has been settled in Antwerp for two generations and who was on a visit to Gujarat, said: "After the monopoly in dust diamonds, the demand for Indian diamond cutters has increased in other shapes and forms of diamond cutting as well."

"In the world's diamond trade, Indian diamonds are judged 60 percent by value, 85 percent by volume and 93 percent by the number of pieces," said Vijay Mehta.

The family of popular Bollywood film financier and diamond merchant Bharat Shah, who is currently in jail for his alleged links with the Mumbai underworld, too lives in Antwerp.

A 'derasar', or a Jain temple, is being built in Antwerp. It is slated to be the biggest and costliest temple of the world that will have gems studded in its walls.
Source: IANS
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