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India the Global King of Diamonds
No Other Country in a Position to Challenge Indian Superiority
By: Administrator
Jun 13 2005 12:00AM
Reference: 2304  

Though fears are occasionally being expressed in some quarters that China may soon be in a position to beat Indian diamond cutting industry, such apprehensions seem to be unfounded for several reasons. First, if China has to produce more polished diamonds than India, it will require more roughs than what India procures at present. It cannot hope to get so much supplies from the market where the rough is already very costly and scarce. Secondly, Nicholas Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers, has recently discounted such a possibility by asserting that wages in China are twice as high compared to India. Thirdly, though a couple of diamond factories have come up in China, their overall strength is nowhere nearer India's. A question is also being asked in this context by some, whether any other diamond cutting centre is in a position to challenge Indian superiority? This also seems unlikely, if one goes by the following findings of a survey of various diamond cutting centers in the world which was undertaken by the Government of Northwest Territories, Canada. No other diamond cutting centre is seen even on the distant horizon which can beat the Indian industry, though some domestic circles continue to express such fears probably for ulterior motives.

India: Great Leap Ahead Over the last five decades India, according to this survey, has increased the volume and value of its diamond business five times, making it the dominant polishing centre in the world. Starting with the cutting and polishing of lower quality stones, India with a workforce of over 7,00,000 persons, is now in a position to process the full range of sizes and qualities of gemstones, utilizing not only a cheap and abundant workforce, but also the latest technology and qualified technicians. They cut stones upto 10 carats in size, previously processed in traditional cutting centers, though the bulk of India's production is still in small gems. Israel Cools Down:

At one stage Israel aspired to beat India's diamond industry. It has however, given up such ambition which, it now thinks, cannot be realized. Among high labour cost manufacturing centers, Israel has the highest level of polished output. It currently employs 2,000 workers in the diamond cutting and polishing industry. In 2003 its nett exports of locally polished diamonds totaled 7,70,000 carats, for US$2.1 bn.

China: Runner Up

China is now considered the second largest diamond manufacturing centre in the world in terms of employment. Over the last five years its workforce has grown from 11,000 to about 22,000. Many of them are employed in large units employing several hundred persons. They work mostly small, gem quality stones of less than half a carat to generally higher standard of cut than Indian production. Its annual polished production in 2002 was estimated at 2.4 million carats valued at US$ 800 million.

Russia: Steady Progress

Russia is having a policy dating back to the Soviet era, of encouraging domestic cutting and polishing. It has a sizeable manufacturing industry with a workforce recently estimated at 5,000. Most factories are in Moscow and Smolensk where 80 per cent of the polished diamond output estimated at US$ 800 million is produced. Some smaller units are located in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) near the mines. Sizes produced range from 0.01 carats to large stones of over 5 carats.

Armenia & Rumania:

Since the break-up of the old Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia has developed small but significant polishing industry, currently employing about 3,500 persons. Labour costs are comparatively low.

There are about 40 diamond polishing factories in Armenia, including seven large plants employing more than 100 cutters each. Also there are large jewellery making enterprises.

Rumania processes about 70,000 - 80,000 carats of gem-quality rough diamonds per month. In 2002 a deal was signed with the Russian Government giving Armenia the right to buy 4,00,000 carats of rough annually from Russia.

Thailand Joins The Race:

Like China, Thailand started cutting and polishing diamonds on a large scale only in 1980s. Its diamond industry is estimated to be employing 9,000 persons, producing polished stones worth about US$ 500 million annually.

Sri Lanka's Debut:

Sri Lanka has also taken up diamond processing. It has about 20 factories employing nearly 5,000 persons, working a range of qualities similar to Thailand, producing a high standard of cut.

Belgium: More Trade than Processing

Antwerp is a center of diamond cutting enterprise and remains the largest trading centre in the world. It is however no longer a major cutting centre. However, many of the factories in Russia, China and the Far-East are owned by Antwerp firms and managed by Belgian technicians. Antwerp has about 2,000 polishers. They are engaged in cutting valuable rough stones of 1.0 carat and larger. Annual local production is estimated at US$ 500 million. Nevertheless, nearly 30,000 people depend for their livelihood on the diamond sector.

Elite New York:

New York owns a modest diamond manufacturing industry. Its polishers are highly skilled. They generally work on largest, most valuable stones of two carat and larger. There are about 100 manufacturing units, employing about 20 polishers each. It is estimated that their annual aggregate production of polished might be about US$ 400 million.

Far-Eastern Contractors:

Some diamond cutting units have been set up in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia etc. Most of them work on contract for Belgian, Israeli and Indian companies. Some of these countries have become significant manufacturing centers.

South Africa, Canada etc:

There are a few diamond cutting units in South Africa, Canada and some other countries as well, but their share in global production is negligible so far.

- M. D. Dewani

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