More than 84% of the world’s rough diamonds and 50% of polished diamonds pass through a certain Belgian city. Impressive, right, my dear Magpie? The exceptional bond of Antwerp with the diamond industry counts at least 570 years – the oldest known document confirming the presence of the diamond trade in this city is dated from 1447.
Currently Antwerp is still one of the most important locations in the world when it comes to processing and trading diamonds. Despite a growing competition, for example from India with its affordable workforce, Antwerp remains a significant spot on the diamond map and there are several reasons for that. What you need to know is that the diamond industry is based on trust and connections maintained through generations. In case of gemstones worth often tens of thousands of Euros, there is no possibility for them to go through unknown hands. Moreover, cutting and polishing diamonds require years of experience and tons of knowledge, and Antwerp is full of experts backed by hundreds of years of know-how. Another asset of this city is, as property agents like to state, “location, location, location”. Antwerp is based within a convenient perimeter from several important European locations, like Amsterdam, Paris or London. We have the second biggest European port (in terms of cargo quantities), which is connected with the rest of the continent via railway, roads, rivers and canals. The most important locations for the diamond trade are placed within the “diamond mile” in the city center, right at the train station. Let’s not forget about the city officials’ support and services that have been provided for years now, from hotels, to industry certification centers, to the diamond police ensuring security of the diamond trade. If I managed to spark your interest, dear Magpie, here is the promo video from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre.
Jewelry in Antwerp
I guess you have been wondering, my dear Magpie, if Antwerp is worth paying a visit for a jewelry-oriented tourist? The answer is: definitely YES! The city’s officials luckily are aware how important the diamond story is for the tourism. Making the public more familiar with these stones has been quite challenging – they used to be promoted, for years, mainly to the business audience.The newest spot on the diamond map of Antwerp is up for the challenge with the ambition to spread the word about these gorgeous gems. Meet DIVA: DIVA Antwerp Home of Diamonds.
DIVA is a museum of diamonds and silverware. It gathers in one place, among others, collections from the former Diamond Museum (closed in 2012) and Silver Museum (closed in 2014). It has a very enviable location, right in the historical centre of Antwerp, only a stone’s throw away from other major tourist attractions. DIVA is a must in the itinerary of everyone who appreciates beautiful things and inspiring interiors. Come and visit it with me, dear Magpie, and if my story sparks your interest, you will find some tips on how to easily get to Antwerp, at the end of this article.
DIVA. Six rooms, six different stories
The DIVA’s collection has been gathered in six spaces, each telling a different story. My guide through the museum is Jérôme – a virtual butler.
The first and – in my opinion – the most beautiful room is the Wonder Room. Back in the old times, Wonder Rooms (Cabinets of curiosities) would be created in the upper class homes and they were the precursors of the modern notion of a museum. They were repositories of all sorts of exotic and luxury objects, like jewelry, shells or travel souvenirs. Such a Wonder Room was always the pride of its owner, who would show her/his guests around, presenting the collection.
This is where our DIVA’s inspiration for the Wonder Room comes from. The space, designed by the famous interior architect, Gert Voorjans, contains a rather eclectic, yet fascinating collection of silverware and jewelry, exposed in a beautiful setting. In the sixteenth century Antwerp was a leader in the production of luxurious objects and you get the sense of it in this room.
Atelier is the next fascinating space in DIVA. Here, in an interactive manner, you can get familiar with the techniques of silversmithing, among others casting, engraving or polishing. In other words, with everything it takes to give, or bring back, the shine and glamour to silver. Atelier also introduces visitors to the difficult job of a diamond cutter – you will find out which tools are used and what actually processing of diamonds is all about.
DIVA’s third chamber is called the International Trading Room. Storytelling around diamonds is not complete without mentioning the role Antwerp has played for centuries in the development of the international trade. In the centre of this room you will immediately spot a big globe, showing the trade routes that these gems travel on their way to Antwerp. You can also watch short videos presenting the key personnages in the diamond trade. They provide an interesting insight to the multidimensional relation of Antwerp with diamonds.
The Dining Room is the next exciting room for all Magpies hungry for knowledge. It’s a breathtaking chamber decorated like a real dining room from the old times, with silverware presented on lavish tables. In the nineteenth century, dining rooms were promoted to be the centers of social life and luxurious consumption. Standing at table at DIVA with an audio guide, we can listen to fragments of conversations that will transport us back in these old times. On top of that the walls of the Dining Room are a backdrop to gorgeous pieces of jewelry with presentations of their owners’ profiles.
As a Magpie desiring to get rich, or rather to broaden my knowledge about diamonds, I could not miss the Vault. This room has been designed like a real bank vault and provides plenty of useful information around diamond crime, security and fair trade. Looking into the deposit boxes, I found out about different cases of crime. In the nineteenth century the numbers of people desiring to own luxurious objects rose significantly, but the knowledge on how to avoid counterfeits was rather poor. As you can imagine, my dear Magpie, it created a lot of crime opportunities. For example, crooks would cut out the trade brand from an old spoon and solder it into a new one, made of a cheaper kind of metal. The Vault is a fascinating compendium on the techniques of detecting counterfeits, but also on the illegal diamond mining and trade. Everything, again, in a very approachable and interactive form.
The last room is the Boudoir. It feels cosy and intimate in here: an ideal atmosphere to admire DIVA’s most beautiful treasures. I delve into the world of princesses, movie stars and opera divas, without whom the world of jewelry would be definitely less glamour. One of the treasures is a real showpiece: an incredible gold snake, covered with green enamel, rubies and diamonds. Thanks to its construction of flexible linked components, the snake can be worn as a bracelet or a necklace. Dear Magpie, are you also imagining a beautiful socialite with this snake wrapped around her wrist?
My visit at the DIVA ends in the museum shop. It offers merchandise with the DIVA logo, books on jewelry and of course Belgian chocolates, but also designer objects, like KOMONO sunglasses or a gorgeous diamond collection Silvius Druon. Here you can also purchase one of Reena’s diamond paintings
DIVA is not only a museum with a collection of beautiful objects. In the back area of the museum complex there is an atelier – a big workshop for those silversmiths among us. As a hint for next summer I can tell you, dear Magpie, that each year the atelier hosts summer classes with Anja Baelus, a wonderful professor of the famous Royal Academy of Fine Arts. In these classes students can learn the silversmithing techniques and create their own cup or, as in my case, unique earrings.
What else is there?
DIVA is not Antwerp’s only attraction for jewelry maniacs. Another item in your itinerary can be a walk along the “diamond mile” – the streets nearby the Central Station that are home to the most important services and meeting points for the diamond business. You can see the traders in their natural environment or check out one of many shops with diamond jewelry.
As I mentioned, DIVA itself is located right in the historical centre of Antwerp, only a stone’s throw away from other major tourist attractions. Nearby you will also find several designer shops with clothes and jewelry, plenty of bars and restaurants. Unique atmosphere of this place can make you stay in this area a bit longer than originally planned 🙂
If you are already shaking your wings in anticipation of meeting the DIVA personally, here are some useful tips.
Belgium has a good flight connection with Poland, with airlines like Ryanair or Brussels Airlines covering the route. There are also interesting flights from Berlin straight to the Brussels airport, from where a comfortable train will take you to Antwerp in just one hour.
For those travelling by car, it will take around 10 hours (from Poznan). You can also opt for a whole night’s journey in a coach, but personally I do not recommend it, unless you have plenty of time the day after to rest.
Antwerp is a place full of tourists with a broad range of accommodations, from standard hotels, to hostels, to a great selection on AirBnb. Belgium itself is a rather small country with short distances between cities. This will allow you, my dear Magpie, to visit for example the medieval Bruges (with a separate diamond museum!), Brussels or pretty seaside resorts.