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WORLD FOCUS: Diamonds are forever

August 13, 2015
By FRANK SHATZ - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

It was decades ago that as a young, roving reporter in Europe, I managed to gain admittance to the trading floor of the Diamond Club of Antwerp, one of the four trading exchanges within Antwerp World Diamond Centre.

It wasn't an easy task considering that more than $16 billion worth in polished diamonds pass through the district's exchanges each year. Although security was very tight, to my utter surprise, most of the millions worth of business transactions were conducted on a handshake.

The exchanges were dominated by Jewish dealers, known as diamantaires. Yiddish was, historically, the main language of the diamond exchange, and personal relationships served as the bond for trustworthiness and honesty.

Article Photos

Michael Beglin of Lake Placid, right, smiles at the Antwerpen Burse diamond cutting floor.
Photo provided

This apparently still holds true. Michael Beglin of Lake Placid, a master jeweler, makes an annual pilgrimage to Antwerp. He is an independent, direct importer of diamonds from Antwerp.

"In order to buy directly from the bourse (diamond house), you must be introduced first by a reputable organization or person," Beglin said in a recent interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette. "I belong to the Independent Jewelers Organization, which has a sterling reputation. Thus, you are able to deal directly with a company that has been owned by many generations of the same family."

Describing the security procedures, he noted that after entering the lobby of the exchange building, you hand over your passport to the officer sitting behind a security window. He takes a photo of you and from information stored in the computer, he verifies your credentials. You are then given an electronic key pass. It enables you to enter the outer office of the diamond house you are dealing with. You are buzzed through the first door; then it is locked. You are verified again, than buzzed through a second door and greeted by staff who escort you to the "buying" room.

"Once in the buying room, it becomes almost surreal because it is so casual," Beglin said. "You will sit at a table with four to six other diamond buyers, with millions of dollars worth of diamonds in front of you. You will share information and opinions on different diamonds. The host will offer you food and drink. It is a social event and hard work."

Indeed, to take advantage of seeing the newest diamonds coming directly from the cutting and polishing tables, Beglin is able to cherry-pick the diamonds he wants.

"I am able to see hundreds of diamonds that have the same price per carat. The benefit of this is, I can see all the characteristics of the diamonds, known as the four Cs: carat weight, color, clarity and cut. I can also see the sparkle or scintillation, which I refer to as the 'intrinsic personality' of the diamond. I want it to 'pop,' a stone, where the sum becomes greater than its parts."

Beglin explained that after the buyer has decided which diamonds he is interested in, he can have them held for 24 hours. This allows him to continue shopping and looking at other bourses for the best diamonds for a customer's special order.

"There is no limit on what can be held," he said. "This industry truly is based on your word, reputation and a handshake."

Recalling his first trip to Antwerp, Beglin noted that he was eager to show his customers in America life in the diamond district.

"I took a lot of photos, and suddenly an armored vehicle pulled up, and while security guards with semi-automatic weapons surrounded it, a shipment of diamonds was unloaded. When a security guard noticed me, he approached with his weapon pointed at me. I was told in no uncertain terms that photographs were not permitted. The photos I had taken were deleted. I was lucky; usually the camera is confiscated."


Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.



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