Image: Ellen Joncheere, CEO of HRD Antwerp

A judicial investigation is underway into HRD Antwerp, a company that issues certificates for diamonds. So writes the business newspaper De Tijd.

HRD Antwerp is a company in the Antwerp diamond district that rates diamonds on four characteristics: weight (the number of carats), clarity, color and the way a stone is cut. HRD Antwerp’s assessment of diamonds thus has a major impact on the price a company can ask for its diamonds. The grading is done in laboratories in Antwerp, Dubai as well as Mumbai in India.

Together with the American GIA and IGI, HRD Antwerp ranks among the world’s largest ‘graders’: specialized companies that traders and jewelers call upon to ensure that the diamonds for which they have paid big money have the right quality label.

A court investigation into the company is now underway, with the central question being: does HRD Antwerp intentionally give overly favorable ratings to please clients, and does it commit fraud in doing so? The court complaint was filed by HRD Istanbul, a former partner of HRD Antwerp. In 2019, HRD Istanbul allegedly learned that several thousand stones had been overvalued by HRD’s Mumbai branch. An internal audit report, written in September 2019, allegedly stated that there was a “significant difference” in valuation results between Mumbai on the one hand and in Antwerp and Istanbul on the other. In 2021, HRD Antwerp and the Turkish partner parted ways after many discussions.

According to De Tijd, leaked documents reveal, among other things, that HRD Antwerp was already excluded from the International Diamond Council (IDC) in July 2017, the body that sets internationally recognized standards for determining the value of diamonds as uniformly as possible around the world. The IDC could no longer accept the more lenient procedures HRD Antwerp allegedly used. Yet HRD Antwerp continued to state in its external communications until 2021 that it analyzed stones according to the IDC’s international rules.

The leaked documents also provide insight into the internal procedures HRD Antwerp uses to certify diamonds.

Ellen Joncheere, the CEO of HRD Antwerp, tells De Tijd that there is no uniform, internationally recognized assessment standard for diamonds, and that HRD Antwerp strives for maximum objectivity in its assessment. She also says that no other client has ever filed a complaint against the company.

More about Ellen JoncheereĀ 

To the general public, Joncheere is best known as the woman who missed out on a top job at the NMBS (the Belgian National Train Company) due to ambiguity about her resume. This would have mentioned that she had a university degree while she did not. According to Joncheere, the fault lay with the headhunter Egon Zehnder, who had sent an incorrect version of her resume to the then Di Rupo government.

I’m a child of disruptions,’ Joncheere summed up her career just a few months ago in an interview on the YouTube channel of Arab retailer Damas. ‘Every time I started at a company somewhere, it was in a market environment that was completely changing.’ But at HRD Antwerp, according to some observers, Joncheere has just entered a world where many want to block change as much as possible.

Traders, jewelers, … basically everyone in the industry benefits from keeping the grading business organized the way it is,‘ says an observer who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘Possibly Joncheere has allowed herself to be fooled as an outsider: because everyone in the industry told her that this is how the grading business works, she may have started to play the game. While you might wonder if what happens among those certifiers is normal.