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

  • Karin Hofmeester (a1)


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.



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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.



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21 Evans, History, pp. 105–107

22 Ibid., p. 125.

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

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

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

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. 44

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. 113

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

Pointon, Brilliant effects, pp. 26–27

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. 33

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

39 Ibid., pp. 322–9.

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

41 Ibid., p. 115.

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

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. 7981

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

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

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

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

48 Lenzen, History, p. 61

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

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. 57

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

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

54 Schlugleit, Geschiedenis, p. 47

55 Boyajian, Portuguese trade, pp. 135–136

56 Trivellato, Familiarity, p. 219

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. 99122

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. 317–321

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

59 Everaert, ‘Shifting’, pp. 321–327

Everaert, ‘Soldaten’, pp. 89–90

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. 508

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

64 Israel, ‘Economic contribution’, p. 521

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, 1945

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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. 21

68 Wada, ‘Diamond trade’, p. 183

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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. 151

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

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

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. 100

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. 903

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. 203204

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

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

83 Yogev, Diamonds, p. 111

Lenzen, History, p. 116

84 Jeffries, Treatise, p. 66

85 Vanneste, Global trade, p. 51

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. 48

86 Vanneste, Global trade, p. 52

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

88 Vanneste, Global trade, pp. 55–57

Yogev, Diamonds, p. 122

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

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

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. 152

Heertje, Diamantbewerkers, p. 25

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

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. 19

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. 9

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. 25

Heertje, Diamantbewerkers, p. 178

97 Lenzen, History, pp. 121

98 Deconinck, ‘Diamantmigratie’.

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

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

101 Heertje, Diamantbewerkers, p. 212

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

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

103 Yogev, Diamonds, p. 112

Trivellato, Familiarity, p. 245

104 Trivellato, Familiarity, p. 245

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

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

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. 101102

107 Lenzen, History, p. 144

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

109 Yogev, Diamonds, p. 142

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

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. 133134

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

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. 118

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

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. 218

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

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

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

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

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. 136

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. 6

123 Shor, Connections, pp. 121–124

124 Henn, ‘Transnational communities’, pp. 136

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

* 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.

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