© Louis Vuitton / Philippe Lacombe –
Louis Vuitton has the Sethunya, an exceptionally clear diamond of 549 carats from Botswana, cut by HB Antwerp. That business ensures that buyers of diamonds know from which mine the stone comes, how old it is and where the diamond has been.
The diamond sector has been under pressure for some time now. Due to the corona crisis, diamond dealers face a hard time selling their stocks. Moreover, even in normal times, their profit margins are quite minimal due to fierce competition.
The story of the diamond cutting company HB Antwerp is diametrically opposed to this evolution: since its foundation at the beginning of this year, HB Antwerp has grown into a company that employs 65 people in Antwerp. It made the news earlier this year because it was allowed to cut the Sewelô, a 1,758 carat black diamond from a mine in Botswana. The order came from jewelry retailer Louis Vuitton. Now Louis Vuitton also has the Sethunya, another diamond from the same mine, to be cut by HB Antwerp. The Sethunya is more than a billion years old. Louis Vuitton first looks for a buyer for this rough diamond. After that, the buyer may decide how the diamond will be cut in Antwerp.
When does the Sethunya diamond come to Antwerp, and can the general public see the diamond?
Oded Mansori (ceo of HB Antwerp): “That might happen next year. The diamond will be exhibited in Asia from the end of this year. Then he will start a worldwide roadshow, and of course it will also come to Antwerp. We want to show it to everyone, but the exact circumstances will depend on the development of the corona virus“.
Seeing a diamond is one thing, buying one another. The Sewelô or the Sethunya each cost millions of dollars. Don’t you cut diamonds especially for super rich people?
Shai de Toledo (co-founder of HB Antwerp): “No. We cut all diamonds of at least 10.8 carats from the Karowe mine in Botswana. So it is perfectly possible to cut a diamond that is sold for 100 dollars and ends up on a ring or other piece of jewelry owned by a regular consumer. If you want to buy a diamond cut in Antwerp, it is best to go to a jeweller. He knows how to get to HB Antwerp“.
Why does Louis Vuitton have diamonds cut in Antwerp? Because of the low labour costs, polishing is cheaper in India, isn’t it?
Oded Mansori: “Abroad, many people think that the best diamonds come from Antwerp, just like the best perfume comes from Grasse and the best shoes from Milan. Antwerp is a brand. In Asian shopping streets, jewelry with diamonds is often advertised with video footage of the cathedral in Antwerp and of the Scheldt. It’s true that in the past decades many polishing orders did not go to Antwerp, because the production costs here were too high. But we limit those costs because we use the Phoenix in the polishing process. This is the only automatic diamond polishing machine in the world, and it was designed in Antwerp“.
Shai de Toledo: “Because of that machine, we need fewer people to do the same work as in India. We now employ 65 people in Antwerp, 22 of whom are polishers. For the production we do today, a company in India would need 150 people. By mid-2021, we will employ around 80 people in Antwerp. We mainly recruit engineers, software specialists and connoisseurs of artificial intelligence“.
The wage cost gap with India is narrowing, but diamond cutting in Antwerp remains more expensive.
Oded Mansori: “Yes, but we are working on a different product. Anyone who buys a diamond cut by us knows from which mine it comes, how old it is and where it has been. Buyers get all that information when they buy the jewel. People buy a ring with a diamond at special moments in their life, for example for an engagement or a wedding. Then it is an added value to know what the story behind that diamond is“.
“With our approach we eliminate complex and flawed practices. Louis Vuitton has his diamonds from Botswana flown directly to Antwerp. We cut them, and then the diamonds fly to Paris, where Louis Vuitton has them made into jewelry. So the diamonds are no longer in the hands of twenty middlemen, as is the case today. And we save a lot of flights“.
Actually, you’re making diamond dealers superfluous. That doesn’t sound sympathetic in Antwerp.
Oded Mansori: “Diamond dealers have the knowledge to trade diamonds. But the way they trade diamonds today is outdated. We create a simplified and transparent way of working. Everyone who can see themselves working with our model can be part of it. We believe this is the future. Compare it to Tesla, the manufacturer of electric cars that has completely revamped the automotive industry“.