Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-7l5rh Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-26T06:23:43.982Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Shifting trajectories of diamond processing: from India to Europe and back, from the fifteenth century to the twentieth*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 February 2013

Karin Hofmeester*
International Institute of Social History, PO Box 2196, 1000 CD Amsterdam, The Netherlands E-mail:


Diamonds have a long global history in which India plays a pivotal though little-known role. Indeed, it was in India that diamonds were first mined, finished, and worn. Diamonds and their finishing techniques reached Europe in the fifteenth century. Subsequently, part of the industry moved from India to Europe, where manufacturing shifted from one city to another, before returning to India in the twentieth century. These shifts, I argue, are determined by changes in one or more segments of the global commodity chain and they reveal the global interconnections between mining, trading, polishing, and consuming. Furthermore, these shifting centres are themselves a sign of the globalized character of diamond production, exchange, and consumption.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



This article is part of my research project ‘Luxury and labour: a global trajectory of diamond consumption and production’, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung. I am grateful to Prof. Dr Jürgen Osterhammel and Konstanz University for their generous support of this work and to the editors and referees of this journal for their comments and suggestions.


1 Lane, Kris, Colour of paradise: the emerald in the age of gunpowder empires, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 Pointon, Marcia, Brilliant effects: a cultural history of gem stones and jewellery, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009Google Scholar

3 Gereffi, Gary, Korzeniewicz, Miguel, and Korzeniewicz, Roberto P., ‘Introduction: global commodity chains’, in Gary Gereffi and Miguel Korzeniewicz, eds., Commodity chains and global capitalism, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994, p. 9Google Scholar

4 Wada, Ikuko, ‘Diamond trade by the Dutch East India Company in seventeenth-century India’, in Yoko Nagazumi, ed., Large and broad: the Dutch impact on early modern Asia, Tokyo: The Tokyo Bunko, 2010, pp. 169Google Scholar

5 Verberckmoes, Johan and Stols, Eddy, eds., Aziatische omzwervingen: het levensverhaal van Jaques de Coutre, een Brugs diamanthandelaar 1591–1627 (Asian travels: the personal chronicle of Jacques de Coutre, a diamond merchant from Bruges, 1591–1627), Berchem: EPO, 1988Google Scholar

Moreland, W. H., Schorer, Antonius, and Methwold, William, eds., Relations of Golconda in the early seventeenth century, London: Hakluyt Society, 1931Google Scholar

Tavernier, J.-B., Travels in India: translated from the original French edition of 1676 by V. Ball, reprint, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 1989Google Scholar

Pieter van Dam, Beschrijvinge van de Oostindische Compagnie (Description of the East India Company), book 2, vol. 1, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1932, pp. 176181Google Scholar

Temple, R. C., ed., The diaries of Streynsham Master 1675–1680 and other contemporary papers relating thereto, vol. 2: the first and second ‘Memorialls’ 1679–1680, London: J. Murray, 1911, pp. 113114Google Scholar

6 Howard, ‘Description’, pp. 907–909Google Scholar

7 Hofmeester, Karin, ‘Working for diamonds from the 16th to the 20th century’, in Marcel van der Linden and Leo Lucassen, eds., Working on labor: essays in honor of Jan Lucassen, Leiden: Brill 2012, pp. 19–46Google Scholar

8 Sen, Surendra Nath, ed., Indian travels of Thevenot and Careri: being the third part of the travels of M. de Thevenot into the Levant and the third part of a voyage round the world by Dr. John Francis Gemelli Careri, New Delhi: The National Archives, 1949, p. 138Google Scholar

9 Bayly, C. A., Rulers, townsmen and bazaars: north Indian society in the age of British expansion, 1770–1870, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 149Google Scholar

10 Verberckmoes and Stols, Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 119Google Scholar

11 R. J. Barendse, Arabian seas 1700–1763, vol. 2: kings, gangsters and companies, Leiden: Brill 2009, pp. 711Google Scholar

Barendse, R. J., Arabian seas 1700–1763, vol. 3: men and merchandise, Leiden: Brill, 2009, pp. 919CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12 Howard, ‘Description’, p. 915Google Scholar

13 Mehta, Makrand, Indian merchants and entrepreneurs in historical perspective, New Delhi: Academic Foundation, 1991, p. 35Google Scholar

Pearson, M. N., ‘Banyas and Brahmins: their role in the Portuguese Indian economy’, in Coastal western India: studies from the Portuguese records, New Delhi: Concept, 1972, p. 104Google Scholar

Pearson, M. N., Merchants and rulers in Gujarat: the response to the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976, p. 26Google Scholar

Bayly, Rulers, p. 161Google Scholar

14 Mehta, Indian merchants, p. 95Google Scholar

Verberckmoes and Stols, eds., Aziatische omzwervingen, p. 194Google Scholar

15 Bayly, Rulers, p. 31Google Scholar

16 Chetti, Narahari Gopa Lakrishnama, A manual of the Kurnool district in the presidency of Madras, Madras: Government Press, 1886, pp. 9495Google Scholar

17 Tavernier, Travels, vol. 2, p. 276Google Scholar

18 Silva, Nuno Vassalo e, ‘Jewels for the great Mughal: Goa a centre of gem trade in the Orient’, Jewellery Studies, 10, 2004, p. 43Google Scholar

Everaert, John, ‘Soldaten, diamantairs en jezuïeten: Zuid- en Noord-Nederlanders in Portugees-Indië (Soldiers, diamonds and Jesuits: Flemings and Dutchmen in Portuguese India)’, in Roelof van Gelder, Jan Parmentier, and Vibeke Roeper, eds., Souffrir pour parvenir: de wereld van Jan Huygen van Linschoten (Souffrir pour parvenir: the world of Jan Huygen van Linschoten), Haarlem: Uitgeverij Arcadia 1998, pp. 89–91Google Scholar

19 Evans, Joan, A history of jewellery 1100–1870, New York: Dover Publications, 1989, pp. 5355Google Scholar

20 Haas, Alois M., Hödel, Ludwig, and Scheider, Horst Ernst, Diamant: Zauber und Geschichte eines Wunders der Natur, Berlin: Springer, 2004, pp. 238239Google Scholar

21 Evans, History, pp. 105–107Google Scholar

22 Ibid., p. 125.

23 Abu-Lughod, Janet L., Before European hegemony: the world system A.D. 1250–1350, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991Google Scholar

Frank, Andre Gunder, ReOrient: global economy in the Asian age, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998, pp. 8696Google Scholar

Chaudhuri, Kitri N., Trade and civilisation in the Indian Ocean: an economic history from the rise of Islam to 1750, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 20CrossRefGoogle Scholar

24 Furber, Holden, Rival empires of trade in the Orient, 1600–1800, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1976, p. 260Google Scholar

25 Boyajian, James C., Portuguese trade in Asia under the Habsburgs, 1580–1640, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 44Google Scholar

Francesca Trivellato, The familiarity of strangers: the Sephardic diaspora, Livorno, and cross-cultural trade in the early modern period, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press 2009, p. 237Google Scholar

26 Sirat, Colette, ‘Les pierres précieuses au XVe siècle’, Annales: Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations, 23, 5, 1968, p. 1078Google Scholar

27 Lenzen, Godehard, The history of diamond production and the diamond trade, London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1970, p. 72Google Scholar

Haas, Hödel, and Scheider, Diamant, p. 231Google Scholar

28 Samuel Chappuzeau, a French writer who edited Tavernier's notes, published a small booklet, which was translated into English: The history of jewels, and of the principal riches of the East and the West: taken from the relation of divers of the most famous travellers of our age, London: Hobart Kemp, 1671; for the number of polishers, see p. 15.

29 Tavernier, Travels, vol. 2, p. 44Google Scholar

30 Ibid., p. 44.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid., p. 45.

33 Fryer, J., A new account of East-India and Persia in eight letters being nine years travels, begun 1672 and finished 1681, London: printed by R. R. for R. Chiswell, 1698, p. 113Google Scholar

34 Gans, M. H., Juwelen en mensen: de geschiedenis van het bijou van 1400 tot 1900, voornamelijk naar Nederlandse bronnen (Jewellery and people: the history of the bijou from 1400 to 1900, primarily from Dutch sources), Schiedam: Interbook International, 1979, p. 173Google Scholar

35 Walgrave, Jan, ‘Diamond cuts in the 17th century’, in A sparkling age: 17th-century diamond jewellery (exhibition catalogue), Antwerp: Diamantmuseum, 1993, p. 47Google Scholar

Pointon, Brilliant effects, pp. 26–27Google Scholar

36 Journal of Indian Art, 1, 14, 1886, p. 106.

37 Scarce, Jennifer, ‘A splendid harmony: Mughal jewellery and dress’, Jewellery Studies, 10, 2004, p. 33Google Scholar

38 Untracht, Oppi, Traditional jewelry of India, London: Thames and Hudson, 2008, pp. 317318Google Scholar

39 Ibid., pp. 322–9.

40 Jeffries, David, A treatise on diamonds and pearls, London: for the author, 1751, pp. 116117Google Scholar

41 Ibid., p. 115.

42 Stronge, Susan, ‘The sublime thrones of the Mughal emperors of Hindustan’, Jewellery Studies, 10, 2004, p. 57Google Scholar

43 Stephen Markel, ‘Pictorial, literary, and technical evidence for Mughal lapidary arts’, paper presented at the 48th annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, Honolulu, 13 April 1996. I am grateful to Stephen Markel for sharing this discovery with me.

44 Qaisar, Ahsan Jan, The Indian response to European technology and culture AD 1498–1707, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 7981Google Scholar

45 Melkian-Chirvani, Assadullah Souren, ‘The jeweled objects of Hindustan’, Jewellery Studies, 10, 2004, p. 19Google Scholar

46 Stronge, Susan, Made for Mughal emperors: royal treasuries from Hindustan, London: I. B. Tauris, 2010, p. 168Google Scholar

Keene, Manuel, Treasury of the world: jewelled arts of India in the age of the Mughals, New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001, pp. 128129Google Scholar

47 Ovington, John, A voyage to Surat in the year 1689, London: Oxford University Press, 1929, pp. 121122Google Scholar

48 Lenzen, History, p. 61Google Scholar

49 Pazzi, Piero, I diamanti nel commercio nell'arte e nelle vicende storiche di Venezia, Venezia: Monasterio di San Lazzaro degli Armeni, 1986, pp. 1314Google Scholar

50 Ibid., pp. 50–2, 47, 17.

51 Kockelbergh, Iris, Vleeschdrager, Eddy, and Walgrave, Jan, The brilliant story of Antwerp diamonds, Antwerp: MIM NV, 1992, p. 57Google Scholar

52 Schlugleit, D., Geschiedenis van het Antwerpsche diamantslijpersambacht (1582–1797) (History of the Antwerp diamond-cutters’ guild (1582–1797)), Antwerp: Guillaume, 1935, pp. 910Google Scholar

53 Kockelbergh, Vleeschdrager, and Walgrave, Brilliant story, pp. 66–67Google Scholar

54 Schlugleit, Geschiedenis, p. 47Google Scholar

55 Boyajian, Portuguese trade, pp. 135–136Google Scholar

56 Trivellato, Familiarity, p. 219Google Scholar

Trivellato, Francesca, Atlantic, ‘Sephardic merchants in the early modern and cooperation’, beyond: toward a comparative historical approach to business, Kagan, in Richard L. and Morgan, Philip D., Atlantic diasporas: Jews, conversos, and crypto-Jews in the age of mercantilism, 1500–1800, Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2009, pp. 99122Google Scholar

57 Everaert, John, ‘Shifting the “diamond connection”: Antwerp and the gem trade with Portuguese India (1590–1636)’, in Fátima da Silva Gracias, Celsa Pinto, and Charles Borges, Indo-Portuguese history: global trends. Proceedings of XI international seminar on Indo-Portuguese history, Goa: Maureen & Camvet Publishers 2005, pp. 317–321Google Scholar

58 Kockelbergh, Vleeschdrager, and Walgrave, Brilliant story, p. 41Google Scholar

59 Everaert, ‘Shifting’, pp. 321–327Google Scholar

Everaert, ‘Soldaten’, pp. 89–90Google Scholar

60 FAA, NA, N 3608, fol. 117.

61 Israel, Jonathan, ‘The economic contribution of Dutch Sephardi Jewry to Holland's golden age, 1595–1713’, Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, 96, 1983, p. 508Google Scholar

62 Hart, S., ‘Geschrift en getal: onderzoek naar de samenstelling van de bevolking van Amsterdam in de 17e en 18e eeuw, op grond van gegevens over migratie, huwelijk, beroep en alfabetisme (Texts and figures: research on the composition of the population of Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries, on the basis of data on migration, marriage, occupation and literacy)’, in Geschrift en getal: een keur uit de demografisch-, economisch- en sociaalhistorische studiën op grond van Amsterdamse en Zaanse archivalia, 1600–1800 (Texts and figures: a selection of demographic, economic and socio-historical studies based on Amsterdam and Zaanze archival materials, 1600–1800), Dordrecht: Historische Vereniging Holland, 1976, pp. 115181Google Scholar

63 SA, ASH, Entries for notarial records, 30452/390.

64 Israel, ‘Economic contribution’, p. 521Google Scholar

65 Oldewelt, W. F. H., ed., Kohier van de personeele quotisatie te Amsterdam over het jaar 1742. Deel I: inleiding en registers (Register of personnel assessments in Amsterdam for the year 1742. Part I: introduction and registers), Amsterdam: Genootschap Amstelodamum, 1945Google Scholar

J. L. van Zanden, ‘De economie van Holland in de periode 1650–1805: groei of achteruitgang? Een overzicht van bronnen, problemen en resultaten (The economy of Holland in the period 1650–1805: growth or decline? An overview of sources, problems and results)’, Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschidenis der Nederlanden, 102, 4, 1987, p. 568Google Scholar

66 SA, 5061/694, request of a number of non-Jewish diamond cutters to establish a guild.

67 Heertje, Henri, De diamantbewerkers van Amsterdam (The diamond workers of Amsterdam), Amsterdam: D.B. Centen's Uitgeverij, 1936, p. 21Google Scholar

68 Wada, ‘Diamond trade’, p. 183Google Scholar

69 Luu, Lien Bich, Immigrants and the industries of London 1500–1700, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005, p. 316Google Scholar

Cooper, William Durrant, ed., Lists of foreign Protestants and aliens, resident in England 1618–1688: from returns in the State Paper Office, London: Camden Society, 1862Google Scholar

Evans, Joan, ‘Huguenot goldsmiths in England and Ireland’, Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of England, 14, 4, 1929–33, pp. 496554Google Scholar

70 Documents collected in the London Lives project, including wills and fire insurances: see (consulted 26 June 2012).

71 Occupation abstract, M.DCCC.XLI. Pt. I: England and Wales, and islands in the British seas, London: Clowes and Sons for HMSO, 1844, p. 112.

72 Jeffries, Treatise, p. 151Google Scholar

73 Yogev, Gedalia, Diamonds and coral: Anglo-Dutch Jews and eighteenth-century trade, Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1978, p. 142Google Scholar

74 Kockelbergh, Vleeschdrager, and Walgrave, Brilliant story, pp. 107Google Scholar

75 FAA, NA, N 3624, fol. 367; see also fol. 371 for a cut and polished ruby.

76 Ibid., fols. 367, 368, 371.

77 Coster, Erica, ‘De diamanthandel te Antwerpen in de XVIIe eeuw gezien vanuit de geschiedenis van de firma's Wallis-du-Jon, Boon and Forchoudt (The diamond trade in seventeenth-century Antwerp as seen from the history of the firms Wallis-du-Jon, Boon and Forchoudt)’, in Album aangeboden aan Charles Verlinden ter gelegenheid van zijn dertig jaar professoraat (Album presented to Charles Verlinden on the occasion of his thirty-year professorate), Gent: Universa 1975, p. 100Google Scholar

78 British Library (hereafter BL), India Office Records (hereafter IOR), General Correspondence (hereafter GC), E/3/109, fols., 312, 313, 341; BL, IOR, E/3/110, fols., 73, 262; BL, IOR, E/3/111, fol. 94.

79 Barendse, Arabian seas vol. 3, p. 903Google Scholar

80 Denucé, Jan, Koopmansleerboeken van de XVIe en XVIIe eeuwen in handschrift (Merchant textbooks from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in manuscript), Antwerp: Standaard, 1941, pp. 203204Google Scholar

81 Vanneste, Tijl, Global trade and commercial networks: eighteenth-century diamond merchants, London: Pickering & Chatto, 2011, p. 65Google Scholar

82 Tillander, Herbert, Diamond cuts in historic jewellery, 1381–1910, London: Art Books International, 1995, pp. 136Google Scholar

83 Yogev, Diamonds, p. 111Google Scholar

Lenzen, History, p. 116Google Scholar

84 Jeffries, Treatise, p. 66Google Scholar

85 Vanneste, Global trade, p. 51Google Scholar

Ramos, D., ‘Slavery in Brazil: a case study of Diamantina, Minas Gerais’, America: A Quarterly Review of Inter-American Cultural History, 45, 1, 1988, p. 48CrossRefGoogle Scholar

86 Vanneste, Global trade, p. 52Google Scholar

87 Bernstein, Harry, The Brazilian diamond in contracts, contraband, and capital, Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986, p. 62Google Scholar

88 Vanneste, Global trade, pp. 55–57Google Scholar

Yogev, Diamonds, p. 122Google Scholar

89 Buist, M. G., At Spes non fracta: Hope & Co, 1770–1815, The Hague: Nijhoff, 1974, pp. 383CrossRefGoogle Scholar

90 Bergad, Laird W., Slavery and the demographic and economic history of Minas Gerais, Brazil, 1720–1888, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 5CrossRefGoogle Scholar

91 Diederiks, Herman, Een stad in verval: Amsterdam omstreeks 1800, demografisch, economisch, ruimtelijk (A city in decline: Amsterdam around 1800, demographic, economic, spatial), Meppel: Krips Repro, 1982, p. 152Google Scholar

Heertje, Diamantbewerkers, p. 25Google Scholar

92 Bauer, Max, Precious stones, vol. 1, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1968 (reprint of 1904 edn), p. 179Google Scholar

93 T. van Tijn, ‘Geschiedenis van de Amsterdamse diamanthandel en nijverheid, 1845–1897 (History of the Amsterdam diamond trade and industry, 1845–1987)’, Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis, 87, 1974, p. 19Google Scholar

94 Vermandere, Martine, Adamastos: 100 jaar Algemene Diamantbewerkersbond van België (Adamastos: 100 years of the General Diamond Workers Union of Belgium), Antwerp: AMSAB, 1995, p. 9Google Scholar

95 FAA, Dossiers Vreemdelingenpolitie (Dossiers of the Foreigners’ Police) 2576–3511.

96 Deconinck, Youssef, ‘Diamantmigratie naar Antwerpen voor, tijdens en na de Kaapse Tijd: de Antwerpse diamantsector en zijn Amsterdamse migranten (1865–1880) (Diamond migration to Antwerp before, during and after the Cape period: the Antwerp diamond sector and its Amsterdam migrants (1865–1880))’, MA thesis, Antwerp University, 2012, p. 25Google Scholar

Heertje, Diamantbewerkers, p. 178Google Scholar

97 Lenzen, History, pp. 121Google Scholar

98 Deconinck, ‘Diamantmigratie’.

99 Kockelbergh, Vleeschdrager, and Walgrave, Brilliant story, p. 147Google Scholar

100 Kockelbergh, Vleeschdrager, and Walgrave, Brilliant story, p. 177Google Scholar

101 Heertje, Diamantbewerkers, p. 212Google Scholar

102 Bloemgarten, Salvador, Henri Polak, social democraat 1868–1943 (Henri Polak, social democrat 1868–1943), The Hague: SDU, 1993, pp. 422423Google Scholar

Kockelbergh, Vleeschdrager, and Walgrave, Brilliant story, p. 171Google Scholar

103 Yogev, Diamonds, p. 112Google Scholar

Trivellato, Familiarity, p. 245Google Scholar

104 Trivellato, Familiarity, p. 245Google Scholar

105 Krishnan, Usha R. Bala, Jewels of the Nizams, New Delhi: Department of Culture, 2001, pp. 4243Google Scholar

Prior, Katherine and Adamson, John, Maharajas’ jewels, New York: Vendome Press, 2000, p. 62Google Scholar

106 Heyne, Benjamin, Tracts, historical and statistical on India, with several tours through various parts of the peninsula: also an account of Sumatra, in a series of letters, London: Baldwin, 1814, pp. 101102Google Scholar

107 Lenzen, History, p. 144Google Scholar

108 NAI, Bundelkhand Agency, English Files, Proceedings no. 5 of 1881.

109 Yogev, Diamonds, p. 142Google Scholar

110 Ball, V., A manual of the geology of India, part III: economic geology, London: Trübner, 1881Google Scholar

111 For a list of foreign diamond agents in India, see NAI, Department of Commerce and Industry, Customs (War), August 1916, pp. 88–119.

112 Henn, Sebastian, ‘Transnational communities and regional cluster dynamics: the case of the Palanpuris in the Antwerp diamond district’, Die Erde, 141, 2010, pp. 133134Google Scholar

113 Prior and Adamson, Maharaja's jewels, p. 123Google Scholar

114 For this measure and its consequences, see BL, IOR, L/E/8/5718.

115 David de Vries, Diamonds and war: state, capital, and labor in British-ruled Palestine, New York: Berghahn Books, 2010, pp. 118Google Scholar

116 Shor, Ralph, Connections: a profile of diamond people and their history, Ramat Gan: International Diamond Publications Ltd, 1993, p. 116Google Scholar

117 C. S. Gupta, Census of India – 1961, volume XIV, Rajasthan, part VII – A(I), survey of selected crafts, New Delhi: Manager of Publications 1964, p. 218Google Scholar

Sinor, K. P., The diamond mines of Panna state in central India, Bombay: The Times of India Press, 1930, pp. 7982Google Scholar

118 Foshag, W. F. and Switzer, G., 27th annual report on the diamond industry, 1951, New York: The Jeweler's Circular–Keystone, 1951, p. 5Google Scholar

Switzer, G., 31st annual report on the diamond industry, 1955, New York: The Jeweler's Circular–Keystone, 1955, p. 6Google Scholar

119 Chhotalal, Kantilal, Diamonds: from mines to markets, Bombay: The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council, 1990, p. 7Google Scholar

120 Bernard Imhasly, ‘Schleifen am Familientisch: über Indiens wichtigste internationale Industrie’, NZZ Folio 12/93, Die Zeitschrift der Neuen Zürcher Zeitung, (consulted 26 June 2012).

121 Shor, p. 117.

122 Henn, ‘Transnational communities’, p. 136Google Scholar

Sevdermish, Menahem, Miciak, Alan R., and Levinson, Alfred A., ‘The rise to prominence of the modern diamond cutting industry in India’, Gems & Gemology, 34, 1, 1998, p. 6CrossRefGoogle Scholar

123 Shor, Connections, pp. 121–124Google Scholar

124 Henn, ‘Transnational communities’, pp. 136Google Scholar

125 Gereffi, Korzeniewicz, and Korzeniewicz, ‘Introduction’, p. 7Google Scholar