[FOUNTAIN]Change on the diamond trailSince ancient times, diamonds have been a symbol of wealth and high standing. Today, diamonds are so popular that anyone with money can buy one, but during the Roman era, only the nobility owned the gem. There is no accurate record on when humans first used diamonds. But historians report that India’s Dravidian tribe began using them around the seventh or eighth century B.C.
Before the 18th century, India exercised enormous power as the world’s only diamond supplier. European jewel importers tried their best to please Indian suppliers and invested in diamond mines. Whereas diamonds were one of the most precious gems, colorful rubies and emeralds were the most valuable jewels until medieval times.
An Italian then contributed decisively to giving diamonds the reputation as “the best of all gems.” In the late 17th century, Vincenzo Peruzzi, a diamond cutter from Venice, invented the classic brilliant cut.
Cutting techniques developed further and large diamond mines were discovered in Brazil and South Africa in the 18th century, slowly weakening India’s influence in the industry. In 1866, South Africa adopted a new mining method, producing diamonds en masse.
Since then, the power of the diamond has moved from suppliers to countries with the best cutting techniques.
In the history of diamonds, the 15th century is also an important period. As Spain and Portugal deported Jews en masse, many moved to other parts of Europe, including Antwerp, Belgium. There, the Jews formed the largest and most active diamond market. Jews came to firmly dominate the world’s diamond market. Until the 1980s, 90 percent of the world’s rough diamonds and 50 percent of the crafted diamonds were traded through Antwerp, and Jews controlled 70 percent of that market.
Lately, change has hit the Antwerp market. With more developed cutting methods and irradiation to craft diamonds, the unrivaled status of the Jewish merchants has been challenged.
These days, Indians have made a significant leap. They have attacked the Antwerp market, in particular, pulling down the Jewish market share there to under 25 percent. Two Indians were elected to the market’s highest decision-making body in February. A simple logic proved true again: Without change, there is no winner.
by Kim Seok-hwan
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.