When rough dealers wanted their own meeting place
Although proudly looking back at a rich history, the Antwerpsche Diamantkring is at the same time constantly looking forward, taking up all new challenges with which is daily confronted.
As far as the developments that have lead to its foundation are concerned it should be remebered here that the first diamond bourse, called the “Diamantclub van Antwerpen”, was founded in Antwerp in 1893. A second bourse, the “Beurs voor Diamanthandel” was established in 1904. The “Beurs” and the “Diamantclub” were both meeting places for traders and brokers in polished diamonds.
When the diamond manufacturing expanded towards the Kempen. This new development resulted into the foundation of a third bourse, called “Vrije Diamanthandel”, that served in particular as a meeting ground for diamond merchants from the province.
Against this background, the importance of Antwerp as a trade centre for rough diamonds continued to grow and this resulted into the foundation of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring as a cooperative society. This fourth Antwerp bourse was established on October 10, 1929. Its founding father and first president was Gustaaf Garitte, the then mayor of Berchem. joining him were Messrs. M. Polak, P. Deutsch, J. Claessens, F. Beukelaer, B. Ehrenfeld, J. Plas, J. Grunblatt, P. Verstraeten, I. Beck, C. Rakower, A. Deutscher, E. Stieglitz, F. Ullman and G. Janssens, constituting the Board of Directors. The members of the Supervisory Committee, later called Arbiters, were Messrs. G. Maringer, J. Lerner and A. Schmidt, while Mr. H. Dehennin was the secretary. The foundation of this association was a daring step since the new exchange had no premises where the members could meet. To start with, the members of the Kring traded their goods in rented rooms in the Fortunia Building in the Vestingstraat. Being to small and devoid of comfort, these premises were however not a suitable place to carry on the hectic diamond trade of the time being.
But already in 1930, the 1,300 members of this bourse moved to brand new premises in the Klein Building, Pelikaanstraat 86.
Gustaaf Garitte presided over the Kring from its foundation until his death in 1957.
From the Wall Street crash to the World War II catastrophe
Fate was however not very kind to the newborn. In the wake of the “Wall Street Crash”, the diamond sector went in the thirties through a crisis. As a result, a number of members of this recently created diamond exchange was affected and many had a hard struggle to survive.
When at the end things were slowly but surely going for the better, the first signs of a new world catastrophe, of which nobody could yet predict the magnitude, were presenting themselves.
The saddest page in the history of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring was going to be written soon.
In 1938, at the time of the mobilization of the Belgian army, many members had to join their army units. A committee was formed from among the members of the Council which, with the help of some of those members who remained, collected money for parcels for the members who had been mobilized. After the capitulation of the Belgian army, the commander of the German occupation forces sent out soldiers in an attempt to force two administrators, Messrs. Claessens and Dehennin, to open the doors of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring. Since the demands of the Nazi-occupants were not met in full, all the doors were sealed and no one was allowed to enter the building. The only access to the premises was via the Hoveniersstraat. On August 18, 1941, armed forces of the Wehrmacht raided the exchange hall. Everybody was herded into the building and the entrances were guarded by soldiers and all those present had to submit to a body search. Unbelievable scenes took place that day, diamonds an other valuable possessions such as foreign currency were removed and confiscated. Many diamond merchants suffered severely from the brutal behaviour of the occupying forces. The premises were closed by order of the German Currency Protection Office; all the furniture was removed and all the records were confiscated.
The four exchanges however, joined forces to thwart the enemy and the members continued their activities in the Beurs voor Diamanthandel and the Diamantclub. The building housing the Vrije Diamanthandel was also taken over by the Nazi-occupier.
Taking advantage of the industrial use of diamonds
In the course of the German exodus in the autumn of 1944, part of the Kring’s trading floor in the Klein Building was destroyed by explosions in the neighbouring Wolf Building. When the American troups entered Antwerp they occupied the Kring and converted the exchange hall into allied headquarters.
The forced closure for almost six years, the Antwerpsche Diamantkring was ceremonially reopened on April 4, 1947 in a fully restored exchange hall. This resumption of business activities was to resume under the presidency of Gustaaf Garitte.
On December 9, 1947, two marble tablets were unveiled in the exchange hall, in commemoration of the 164 members who were brutally murdered as a consequence of the Nazi terror. The exchange had to start again nearly from the beginning.
Under the leadership of Gustaaf Garitte and subsequently under that of Frans Beukelaer (1957-1961) and Israel Beck (1961-1972), the rough trade further expanded, and the trading of diamond for industrial applications was developed.
It should be remembered that development was closely connected with the fact that in the former Belgian Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of Congo), the exploitation of diamond mines had started several years before the war. These mines mainly yielded industrial diamonds for which there was originally no market. During World War II, demand for this commodity continuously rose because of its great strategic value. After the Second World War the Antwerpsche Diamantkring was going to take great advantage of the sustained use of diamonds for industrial purposes.
When Israel Beck passed away in 1972, he was succeeded by Michel Fraenkel (1972-1978), who further enhanced the reputation of the Kring.
Under the next president, Sammy Hutterer (1978-1987) and with the full support of the board of directors and the shareholders, the Kring contributed in bringing a prestigious building project to a successful conclusion, this project having a history of its own.
In the autumn of 1978, the tenants of the Wolf-Klein Building in the Pelikaanstraat were given notice that they would very shortly have to vacate their offices because the owner planned to demolish the building and replace it by an office complex. The diamond traders would be allowed to set up new premises, but such a move would have been prohibitively expensive and ultimately the diamond industry would have had to foot the bill.
The diamond traders, who risked ending up on the street, put their case before the Antwerp Town Council, in which Mayor Mathilde Schroyens, Aldermen Bob Cools and Mia Van Cauwelaert and others gave them a sympathetic hearing. In the meantime, the tenants had organized the “Huurdersvereniging Antwerps Diamant Centrum”. This body, together with the Antwerpsche Diamantkring, was offered an option to purchase old city warehouses on the Hoveniersstraat. The diamond traders and manufacturers promptly decided to take the matter in hand and build a new centre for their own use, in which offices and workshops would be sold at cost.
After the building permit was granted, the first stone was laid on June 87, 1983 by Town Planning Minister for the Flemish Region P. Akkermans, Governor of the Province of Antwerp A. Kinsbergen, Chairman of the Antwerps Diamant Centrum D. Süsskind and president of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring S. Hutterer. Two and a half years later, the building was completed and ready for use.
Since December 1985, the more than 1,900 members of the Antwerpsche Diamantkring are housed in ultramodern offices, having at the same time an impressive exchange hall at their disposition.