We all know that diamonds are forever and that girls consider them best friends, but what you may not know is that recent estimates show that 80% of rough diamonds and 60% of the polished specimens pass through the Belgian town of Antwerp.
An ancient city and the third largest port in the world, Antwerp has been a diamond capital since the 16th century when Jewish diamond traders found refuge in its religiously tolerant streets. Today, more than 30,000 people are employed in the diamond industry, working to turn uncut stones, mainly from Africa, into glittering 57-facet beauties.
Looking for something sparkly? Head for Antwerp and make your first stop in Diamondland. Despite its hokey name, this factory store is a treasure-trove not only of spectacular jewels and jewelry, but perhaps more importantly, information for the uneducated diamond consumer.
All diamonds, you'll be told, begin as uncut stones - hence the term 'diamond in the rough.' The first step is to estimate the value of the piece and to determine the number of individual stones it will produce. The next step is for master craftsmen using the hardest of all cutting edges - other diamonds, of industrial quality - to cleave the rough diamonds into pieces, which are then sawed into their initial form. Most of the stones at Diamondland receive the 'Antwerp cut,' a round shape, perfected in the city to maximize the brilliance of the stones.
Because even the dust created by the cutting process is valuable, every speck is collected and recycled - usually into some form of polishing material.
The newly cut - or 'bruted' diamond is next polished by artisans who apprentice for two to three years before achieving professional status. The process is a precise one that involves special polishing discs and can take as long as two to three days to complete. The trick is to polish the precious stone enough to maximize the beauty without rubbing away too much of the precious stone itself.
Four factors determine the quality of the finished stone: carat or weight, cut, clarity (the absence of specks that obstruct the transparence of the stone) and colour. Diamonds can range from entirely white to yellow and even dark brown, with red, blue and green being the most prized and expensive.
And what might you expect to pay for an Antwerp diamond?
It all depends on those four important factors and on the setting in which your stone is mounted. At Diamondland, for example, the least expensive trinket on display in the shop was a tiny pendant, without a chain, that twinkled with one tiny diamond and sold for 135 Euros. The most expensive bauble, by comparison, was a spectacular brooch studded with a galaxy of glittery diamonds for 21,000 Euros - not exactly a spur of the moment purchase!
And what if your budget doesn't extend quite so far? Skip the diamonds and indulge in Antwerp's other famous product - French fries. Invented by a Belgian baker named Franz who cleverly decided to drop some thinly sliced potatoes into a vat of hot oil, these Antwerpian delicacies were made famous by American servicemen during the Second World War. When they asked for 'Franz's fries', their accents created what we now know as 'French fries.'
Liz Fleming is an award-winning Canadian travel journalist who specializes in adventure, health and wellness and learning travel. For more from Liz, go to: Liz Fleming's Travel Tales
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Liz Fleming's Travel TalesLiz Fleming writes a weekly travel column for www.tripatlas.com so be sure to check in for articles on everything from soft adventure to learning travel!
Located: St. Catharines Canada
Likes: soft adventure, health and wellness, learning