WHEN ROUGH DEALERS WANTED THEIR OWN MEETING PLACE.
With Antwerp city records first recording diamond trading in 1447, through a proclamation or edict by then Mayor and City Council prohibiting trade in false diamonds and false jewellery, the City of Antwerp has long been a leading center for international diamond trading.
Before the establishment of specialized exchanges, Antwerp and international diamond buyers and sellers typically met in cafés near Antwerp central station, reflecting similar origins of commodity and financial trading in London and New York before traders established formal physical exchanges.
The current 4 Antwerp diamond exchanges were set up at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. The Diamantclub van Antwerpen was founded in 1893, and the Beurs voor Diamanthandel in 1904, both these Bourses meeting places for traders and brokers in polished diamonds.
As diamond polishing expanded towards the Kempen outside Antwerp the increased trade and the interests of a growing number of manufacturers saw the creation of a third bourse, the “Vrije Diamanthandel” that served as a market for the diamond manufacturers and polishers based in the Kempen.
Against a background of a growing need for rough diamonds by Antwerp manufacturers and of a rising local and international trade in rough diamonds centered in Antwerp, the Antwerpsche Diamantkring was founded on October 10, 1929.
FROM WALL STREET CRASH TO THE CATASTROPHE OF WORLD WAR II.
Soon after the founding of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring its members along with the rest of the Antwerp diamond market felt the effects of the Wall Street crash. For the diamond sector the thirties were a time of crisis with many diamantaires struggling to survive.
As the 1930’s came to an end and business slowly seemed to improve another crisis was to tragically impact the Antwerpsche Diamantkring.
In 1938, as the Belgian army mobilized, many members of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring joined their army units. A special Committee was formed by the Kring which with the help of members who were not serving in the army, collected money for food parcels for those who had been mobilized.
After the capitulation of the Belgian army the commander of the German occupying forces sent soldiers to force two Kring Administrators, Messrs. Claessens and Dehennin to open the doors of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring.
When the demands of the Nazi-occupants were not met in full, all the doors of the Kring were sealed and no-one was allowed to enter the building. The only access to the premises was via the Hoveniersstraat. On August 18, 1941, armed forces of the Wehrmacht raided the exchange hall. Everyone present was herded into the building and the entrances were guarded by soldiers with all those present submitting to a body search. Unbelievable scenes saw diamonds and other valuable possessions such as foreign currency removed and confiscated. Diamond merchants were brutally treated and the premises were closed by order of the German Currency Protection Office, all furniture was removed and all records confiscated.
Under the Nazi-occupation, the four exchanges joined forces to thwart the enemy and members continued their activities through the Beurs Voor Diamanthandel and the Diamantclub. The building housing the Vrije Diamanthandel was also commandeered by the German forces.
In the course of the German exodus in autumn 1944, part of the Kring’s trading floor in the Klein Building was destroyed by explosions in the neighboring Wolf Building. American troops entering Antwerp occupied the Kring and converted the exchange hall into allied headquarters.
After the forced closure for almost six years during World War II, the Antwerpsche Diamantkring was ceremoniously re-opened on April 4, 1946 in a fully restored exchange hall. Business activity resumed under the presidency of Gustaaf Garitte.
After the war, with the active support of the Antwerp Mayor’s office, many Antwerp diamantaires who had fled the city at the onset of the War to escape the Nazis, started returning and re-establishing their businesses.
De Beers in conjunction with leading Antwerp diamantaires like Romy Goldmuntz stimulated the start of diamond polishing after the War by supplying rough diamonds on flexible terms.
On December 9, 1947, two marble tablets were unveiled in the exchange hall in commemoration of the 164 members of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring who were brutally murdered as a consequence of the Nazi terror. Along with the rest of the Antwerp diamond trade the Diamantkring had to re-start its activities.
ROUGH AND INDUSTRIAL DIAMONDS.
Under the leadership of Gustaaf Garitte and then Frans Beukelaer (1957-1961) and Israel Beck ( 1961-1972) the Kring’s rough trade continued to expand and with it the trading of industrial diamonds.
The rising trade in industrial diamonds followed the exploitation of diamond mines in the former Belgian Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of Congo) which had started before the Second World War. The mines in the Congo yielded industrial diamonds, demand for which rose strongly during World War II due to their strategic value. After World War II the Kring saw trading in industrial diamonds rise steadily.
Israel Beck passed away in 1972 and was succeeded as President by Michel Fraenkel (1972)1978) who further enhanced the reputation of the Kring.
In the autumn of 1978, the tenants of the Wolf Klein Building in the Pelikaanstraat in which the Kring was located, were given notice that they would have to vacate their offices as the owner planned to demolish the building to build an office complex.
Led by the next President Sammy Hutterer ( 1978-1987), and with the full support of the Board of directors and shareholders, the Kring took the first steps to securing its own building.
Confronted with the dilemma of having to find new premises or risk finding themselves in the street the diamantaires put their case to the Antwerp City Council. Antwerp Mayor Mathilde Schroyens, Alderman Bob Cools, Mia Van Cauwelaert and other officials gave the diamantaires a sympathetic hearing. The Kring tenants organized themselves into the “Huurdersvereniging Antwerp’s Diamant Centrum” (“Tenant Association of the Antwerp Diamond Centre”). Together with the Antwerpsche Diamantkring this Association was offered an option to purchase old city warehouses on the Hovernierstraat. The site was purchased with a view to building a new diamond center in which offices and workshops would be sold at cost to eligible buyers.
The building permit was granted and the first stone was laid on June 8th 1983 by Town Planning Minister for the Flemish Region P. Akkermans, Governor of the Province A. Kinsbergen, Chairman of the Antwerp Diamond Centre David Susskind and President of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring S. Hutterer. Two and a half years later in December 1985 the building including the impressive exchange hall was completed and ready for use for the more than 1200 members.
Whilst proud of its rich history, the Antwerpsche Diamantkring is today focused on the future and on addressing the range of challenges with which it is confronted.