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What’s the Connection Between Jews and Diamonds?

We all know that the Jewish people have taken an active and even dominant role in the diamond sector for hundreds of years. Many wonder how it’s possible that this very small group from a persecuted people successfully managed to dominate the profitable field of diamonds.

The answer to this question is not decisive and mostly taken from a range of answers that, only when combined, can explain the dominance of Jews in the diamond sector. These will be presented in this article.

The first explanation is the most obvious. Jews were simply in the right place at the right time, and managed to create significant power and standing in the diamond sector that lasted for hundreds of years, until today. In the past, diamonds were mined in India only and no diamond mines had yet been discovered anywhere else. Until the 15th century diamonds came into Europe by overland trade routes that passed through central Asia. In this period, Jews were a prominent force in these trade routes and basically controlled them through a complicated network of family ties.

Diamonds would make their way over the continental trade routes and arrive in Venice. In those days, Venice was a major point of entry to Europe and home to a strong, unified, long-standing and prosperous Jewish community that controlled diamond polishing and the diamond trade.
The 15th century also saw one revolutionary year that changed the diamond sector forever. Until that time the knowledge of diamond polishing was minimal, virtually nonexistent, but in that year diamond polishing techniques made enormous advancements. New and relatively advanced techniques were developed and allowed comparatively fine diamond cutting.

At the same time, the end of the 15th century saw the discovery of sea trade routes to India, which were controlled by Portugal. These new maritime routes significantly cut down the time it took for goods to reach Europe from India. The city that profited from this was, of course, Lisbon, Portugal’s largest port city. As a result of this change, diamonds and Jews arrived in Lisbon and Jews continued to develop diamond polishing techniques.

Life in Lisbon, however, didn’t last long. After expulsion from Portugal, Jews settled in Antwerp and once again developed a prosperous diamond polishing industry. In Antwerp, diamond polishing reached its highest level yet and became an art form.

As the art of diamond cutting advanced, so did the diamond trade. Diamonds’ true qualities of sparkle and fire and clarity were revealed and became particularly attractive and appropriate for setting in jewelry. In this period, diamonds were the purview of only the wealthiest people and the nobility, who set them not only in jewelry but also in their clothes, crowns, swords, and more.


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