As if providing an outer defence, a solid line of retail jewellers blocks two broad avenues from Antwerp’s famed diamond district. Access comes mainly through a side street with a police-controlled traffic barrier. More cops and soldiers (the latter attesting to Belgium’s ongoing terror alert) patrol the narrow streets inside.
The only vehicles seem to be armoured vans customized for the diamond trade or the occasional bicycle carrying an Orthodox Jew with long coat and side curls flowing in the wind but magnificent hat solidly perched.
Except for the Portuguese synagogue, the buildings look un-Antwerpishly drab, catering to four bourses, several major companies and many more smaller operations that buy and sell stones and/or cut and polish them, as well as businesses selling tools of the trade or offering services like laser inscription removal.
Travel agents advertise flights to Mumbai and the Emirates, the Union Bank of India maintains a local branch and the neighbourhood postal outlet flogs a “one-of-a-kind diamond postage stamp.”
And there are no photos allowed, a courteous but firm police officer insists. “But I’m a journalist from Canada.” “I realize that, but it’s not allowed.” “Being a journalist from Canada?” “They don’t like it.”
“They” apparently represent the world’s diamond capital, a status Antwerp still holds for grading rough, although no longer for the art of transforming those stones into jewelry. One polishing factory, however, is DiamondLand, which welcomes visitors to its workshop before ushering them into the sales department.
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