A BLUE diamond for sale at Sotheby’s in London, April 2018.
(photo credit: HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Throughout history, diamonds and Jewish people have had a rich history together, one of the first mentions in the bible being Exodus 28:18
: “and the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire and a diamond.” From this, to say the least the diamond industry has grown exponentially so. The relationship between diamonds and Jewish people is one that not only shows the extensive history behind the booming industry we know today, but also opens us up to the deep and fascinating history of the Jews and Jewish culture.
As mentioned previously, it is no secret that the Jewish people and the diamond industry have a long history together, dating back as far as the middle ages and onwards. During this time, Israelis were dotted all around Europe, with many of the countries they occupied imposing harsh limitations on the types of industries that Jewish people could work in. Jews were prohibited from buying land and furthermore from engaging in any agricultural practices, which drove them to professions that did not carry such strict limitations.
One main industry that remained untouched by such strict and prejudice limitations across Europe was finance and trade, including such specific professions as loans, banking, and the trading of gemstones and diamonds. This therefore led to a significant portion of Jewish people working within the finance and trade industry, which is where the relationship between diamonds and the Jewish people first started to grow.
Specifically, in the diamond trading industry, it was not only essential but also tricky to ensure the stones would safely arrive at their destination. This was mainly due to theft, concerned that those delivering the precious stones would simply run off with the package.
This is where Jewish people had a great advantage, with close Jewish communities and families well-established throughout main areas of Europe. This community of people scattered across various points of Europe helped to ensure any diamonds moved throughout it would both reach its destination safely and payment of the diamonds would be given.
Until the second world war, (WWII) the Netherlands and Belgium in particular were tolerant to this otherwise very harshly prosecuted minority, with the diamond industry flourishing amidst the multitude of diamond cutters and diamond polishers. These parts of Europe were popular trading ports and had good links to South Africa where Oppenheimer and De Beers diamonds were in abundance.
However, due to loss of communities in the Shoah, this severely impacted the diamond trade. Survivors and decedents of the Shoah ventured from mainland Europe and the Netherlands to a new home in Hatton Garden in London, UK, which explains the popularity of the Jewish community acting as Hatton Garden Jewellers
Throughout the 1930s, with the large number of European Jews going to Israel came the development of Israel’s diamond industry. The first diamond exchange was established, and within the 1960s the Israel Diamond Exchange (IDE) went global by moving to Ramat Gan.
Although the economy of Israel has still grown and expanded, the diamond trading industry still accounts for around 16% of the Israel GNP.
The relationship between Jewish people and the diamond industry is one that has a fascinating past, opening up to some of the major historical struggles Jewish people have faced throughout history. Diamonds continue to be traded across the world by the Jewish community, rarely accepting payment up front but rather a handshake and the exchanging of words ‘mazel and brocha.’
Diamonds are commonly used in engagement rings, anniversary gifts and other kinds of bespoke jewellery.
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