Thursday 19th July 2018

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Posts tagged ‘u.s.’

Commerce Resources president Chris Grove discusses his company’s Canadian rare earths and tantalum-niobium projects as the U.S. develops a strategy to secure supply

June 22nd, 2018

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Infographic: The history of North American co-operation on aluminum and steel

May 23rd, 2018

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist

As the global rhetoric around trade heats up, aluminum and steel are two metals that have been unexpectedly thrust into the international spotlight.

Both metals are getting considerable attention as journalists and pundits analyze how tariffs may impact international markets and trade relations. But in that coverage so far, one thing that may have been missed is the interesting history and context of these metals, especially within the framework of trade in North America.

Aluminum and steel in North America

This infographic tells the story of an ongoing North American partnership in these goods, and how this co-operation even helped U.S. and Canadian efforts in World War II, as well as addressing other issues of national security.

 

The history of North American co-operation on aluminum and steel

 

Aluminum and steel are metals that are not only essential for industry to thrive, but they are also needed to build infrastructure and ensure national security.

Because of the importance of these metals, countries in North America have been co-operating for many decades to guarantee the best possible supply chains for both aluminum and steel.

The history: Aluminum and steel

Here are some of the major events that involve the two metals, from the perspective of North American trade and co-operation.

1899
The Pittsburgh Reduction Company, later the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), begins construction of a power plant and aluminum smelter in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec.

1901
The company produces the first aluminum ever on Canadian soil.

1902
This Canadian division is renamed the Northern Aluminum Company

New uses and WWI

1903
The Wright brothers use aluminum in their first plane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

1908
The first Model T rolls off the assembly line, and steel is a primary component.

1910
The U.S. and Canadian steel industries surround the Great Lakes region. At this point the U.S. produces more steel than any other country in the world.

1913
The U.S. passes the Underwood Tariff, a general reduction in tariff rates that affected Canadian exporters. Zero or near-zero tariffs were introduced for steel. (The Canadian Encylopedia)

1914
At this point, 80% of American-made cars had aluminum crank and gear cases.

World War I
The Great War breaks out. It’s the first ever “modern war” and metals become strategically important in a way like never before. For the first three years, the U.S. helps the Allies—including Canada, which is already at war—by providing supplies.

Steel was crucial for ships, railways, shells, submarines and airplanes. Meanwhile, aluminum was used in explosives, ammunition and machine guns. The Liberty V12 engine, which powered Allied planes, was one-third aluminum.

During this stretch, America produced three times as much steel as Germany and Austria. By the end of the war, military usage of aluminum is sucking up 90% of all North American production.

Inter-war period

1919
After the war, the interruption of European aluminum shipments to North America drives up Northern Aluminum sales to the United States. In 1919, U.S. aluminum imports from Northern Aluminum total 5,643 tons, while all European producers add up to 2,360 tons.

1925
After aluminum gains post-war acceptance from consumers, Alcoa uses this new momentum to strike a deal to build one of the world’s greatest aluminum complexes in Quebec on the Saguenay River.

These facilities become the base for Northern Aluminum, which changes its name to the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan). By 1927, the area includes a new company town (Arvida), a 27,000-ton smelter and a hydro power plant. This complex would eventually become the world’s largest aluminum production site for WWII.

1929
The Roaring Twenties saw consumer culture take off, with auto and appliance sales escalating. Steel and aluminum demand continues to soar.

World War II

1940
Canada and the U.S. establish the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, still in operation today. Near the same time, the Canadian-American defence industrial alliance, known as the Defence Production Sharing Program, is also established.

1941
Canada and the U.S. agree to co-ordinate production of war materials to reduce duplication, and to allow each country to specialize, with The Hyde Park Declaration of 1941.

The record proves that in peaceful commerce the combined efforts of our countries can produce outstanding results. Our trade with each other is far greater than that of any other two nations on earth.—Harry Truman,
33rd U.S. president, 1947

The principles of this declaration recognize North America as a single, integrated defence industrial base.

1942
Canada builds the Bagotville airbase to protect the aluminum complex and hydro plants of the Saguenay region, which were crucial in supplying American and Canadian forces. A Hawker Hurricane squadron is permanently stationed to protect the area.

1945
The Saguenay facilities were so prolific that Canada supplied 40% of the Allies’ total aluminum production.

Cold War and North American integration

1952
The U.S. focuses on Canadian resources after the President’s Materials Policy Commission warns of future shortages of various metals, which could make the U.S. dependent on insecure foreign sources during times of conflict.

1956
Canada and the U.S. sign the Defence Production Sharing Agreement, which aims to maintain a balance in trade for defence products. At this point, Canada relies on the U.S. for military technology—and the U.S. relies on Canada for important military inputs.

1959
The St. Lawrence Seaway opens, providing ocean-going vessels access to Canadian and U.S. ports on the Great Lakes. This facilitates the shipping of iron ore, steel and aluminum.

1965
The Canada-U.S. Auto Pact allows for the integration of the Canadian and U.S. auto industries in a shared North American market. This paves the way for iron ore, steel and aluminum trade.

1989
The U.S. and Canada sign a free trade agreement, which eventually gets rolled into NAFTA in 1994.

Modern aluminum and steel trade

2007
U.S. Steel buys the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) for $1.9 billion.

Today
The U.S. and Canada are each other’s best international customer for a variety of goods—including steel and aluminum.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

Commerce Resources sees additional opportunity in U.S. critical minerals strategy

May 22nd, 2018

by Greg Klein | May 22, 2018

Taking another step to enhance national security, the U.S. Department of the Interior has formally accepted a draft list of 35 minerals deemed critical to the American economy and defence. Resulting from a presidential order to reduce reliance on essential raw materials from potentially unreliable or unfriendly sources, the list received 453 public comments after being compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey. The agenda now moves to the strategy stage, with a final report expected by August on approaches to cut dependence. Topics will include:

Commerce Resources sees additional opportunity in U.S. critical minerals strategy

  • the status of recycling technologies

  • alternatives to critical minerals

  • options for accessing critical minerals from allies and partners

  • a plan to improve geological mapping in the U.S.

  • recommendations to streamline lease permitting and review processes

  • ways to increase discovery, production and domestic refining of critical minerals

The Americans’ heightened interest in sourcing these necessities from allies and partners brings to mind companies like Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE, which has two advanced-stage Canadian properties hosting four critical minerals. At the company’s northern Quebec Eldor property, Commerce undertakes pre-feasibility studies on the Ashram deposit, hosting a rare earths resource with fluorspar byproduct potential. In central British Columbia, the company holds the Blue River tantalum-niobium deposit. Those two metals are also the subject of early-stage exploration on Eldor, a few kilometres from Ashram.

“Ultimately, what’s obvious from this critical minerals list is the U.S. government’s interest in cutting the Chinese umbilical cord,” points out company president Chris Grove. “A commonality that we at Commerce keep hearing is anxiety from companies in all of the major markets outside China—Japan, Korea, Germany, Austria, the U.S., France—companies in all these countries are concerned about future supplies of these commodities and they don’t want to have to depend on them from China. Essentially, the theme of this critical commodities list is getting it from somewhere besides China.”

And although China looms large, it’s not the only source of dubious reliability.

“There’s a huge increase in risk once you step outside North America. With our locations, we definitely benefit from that negation of jurisdictional risk.”

Mineralogy reduces another category of risk. “Looking at the specifics of our projects, both Ashram and Blue River are processed very positively with standard techniques,” Grove adds. “We’re not re-creating the wheel here, we’re not re-splitting the atom. Well-understood metallurgical processes work on both of our projects.

“Meanwhile we have ongoing optimization work on Ashram and also on the flowsheet for Blue River and there will be more data released in a timely manner on these potential successes.”

The company has early-stage prospects too, emphasized by especially high-grade niobium, along with tantalum, on the Miranna claims. Located on the same Eldor property hosting Ashram, the project has a 43-101 technical report now nearing completion. Subject to exchange approval, Miranna would then come under a 75% earn-in by Saville Resources TSXV:SRE.

USGS data accentuates American reliance on foreign sources for Commerce’s four minerals. Data from 2013 to 2016 shows the U.S. imported 78% of its rare earths from China, with much of the other 22% originating in Chinese-produced concentrates. China produced only 8% of American fluorspar imports, but Mexico supplied 71%. U.S. imports of tantalum minerals came 40% from Brazil and 26% from Rwanda, while America’s tantalum metal originated 23% in China and 12% in Kazakhstan. An overwhelming 72% of niobium, a crucial component to military, infrastructure and other uses, came from Brazil—most of it from a single company.

Read more about Commerce Resources here and here.

Appalachian coal country rejects Don Blankenship’s political ambitions

May 8th, 2018

by Greg Klein | May 8, 2018

Audacious as it was, a disgraced former mining boss’ campaign for a U.S. Senate nomination fell to defeat on May 8. West Virginia Republican voters rebuffed Don Blankenship’s candidacy in the primary election.

Blankenship headed Massey Energy for a deadly decade which killed 54 of the company’s workers, 29 of them at the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion in West Virginia. Six years later a court sentenced the former CEO to one year in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to evade safety regulations.

Appalachian coal country rejects Don Blankenship’s political ambitions

Having spent millions of his own money on the primary,
Blankenship might consider a third-party candidacy in the
November election. (Photo: Blankenship campaign)

Despite that, Blankenship entered the Republican primary in the same state, at times presenting himself as an advocate for mine safety. As the contest progressed, some observers gave him odds of winning.

But although considered a strong contender as E-day opened, he trailed his two opponents until 9:50 p.m. local time, when CNN projected his defeat. Less than half an hour later Blankenship conceded.

During the campaign he denied his criminal conviction was related to Upper Big Branch, or that he had even been convicted of a crime. Blankenship claimed he’d been convicted simply of not preventing others from committing crimes. He also alleged a cover-up of government regulations that endangered miners: “The truth is that [the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration] cut the mine’s airflow, the mine exploded and Obama’s friends, staff and appointed judges covered up the truth.”

In September Blankenship’s tactics provoked an angry response from Cecil Roberts of the United Mine Workers of America, who said: “The facts are clear: 54 people were killed on Massey Energy property while Don Blankenship ruled that company with an iron fist, 29 of them in the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010. Don Blankenship was convicted of establishing a scheme to circumvent federal mine safety and health law, thereby putting Massey workers at enhanced risk. The fact that he only served a year in prison remains one of the greatest travesties of justice that I have witnessed.”

Blankenship also charged that incumbent state Democratic Senator Joe Manchin “has blood on his hands,” having “failed to successfully advocate for effective mine safety regulations even as over 270 American miners have been fatally injured since the 2010 UBB tragedy.”

The fact that he only served a year in prison remains one of the greatest travesties of justice that I have witnessed.—Cecil Roberts,
United Mine Workers of America

Blankenship’s other controversial tactics included allegations that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, repeatedly used her position to promote her rich father’s shipping interests. He also hinted that McConnell’s family has drug trade connections and that primary contestant and West Virginia attorney general Patrick Morrisey contributed to the opioid crisis through his links to the pharmaceutical industry.

Two days before the vote, Blankenship told CBS he might run as a third-party candidate in the November election if Morrisey wins the primary. At press time Morrisey was projected to win.

Blankenship largely funded his own campaign with—so far—untold millions. Not even Blankenship knows how much, he told CNN. Morrisey said his staff would complain about Blankenship’s lack of spending disclosures to the convict’s probation officer.

Novelist John Grisham named Blankenship as the inspiration for The Appeal, a 2008 portrayal of a ruthless billionaire who finances and grooms the career of a friendly Supreme Court judge. Blankenship had reportedly donated millions to politicians and judges, including $3 million to a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals judge “who helped overturn a $50-million jury award against some of Massey’s units.” Grisham later wrote Gray Mountain, a damning account of the Appalachian coal industry.

A year following Blankenship’s 2010 retirement from Massey, Alpha Natural Resources bought the company for $7.1 billion, later paying another $209 million for fines, restitution and mine safety improvements, $265 million to settle a securities class action suit, and undisclosed amounts to families of the 29 Upper Big Branch victims.

Unapologetically unorthodox

April 30th, 2018

Jayant Bhandari rejects convention as he discusses economies, cultures and opportunities

by Greg Klein

There are contrarians and there are contrarians. But maybe Jayant Bhandari would be better called a controversian. As a prolific writer/commentator and an adviser to institutional investors, his comments reflect a mind unsatisfied with received wisdom. Now a resident of Singapore, his travels have taken him to 80 countries, seven of which he’s lived in. That background has influenced his perspective on a number of topics including the emerging markets—or emerging market singular. China’s the only one, he insists.

Jayant Bhandari rejects convention to discuss emerging markets, the West and China

Jayant Bhandari goes beyond the
mainstream to examine the West,
China, emerging markets and gold.

Speaking on the phone to ResourceClips.com while visiting central India, he used that country to illustrate what he considers to be the emerging market fallacy. With a per-capita GDP of about $1,800, the country enjoys 7.5% growth. Multiplying those numbers shows India’s economy increasing by $135 per capita.

“Now 7.5% looks very good, but look at America,” Bhandari points out. Although it’s growing at “only” 2.3%, its per-capita GDP reaches nearly $50,000. “That translates into $1,150 growth per capita, which means that America’s GDP, on a per-capita basis, is growing nine times faster than India’s.”

He argues that people and organizations—like the World Bank and IMF—are dead wrong in claiming the two countries shouldn’t be compared.

Taking a pessimistic view towards much of the globe, he emphasizes that “something like 75% of the world’s consumption of commodities happens in China. So it is China which is in the driver’s seat and in my view it will continue to do very well going forward.”

While Chile, Argentina and Peru hold out hope, the rest of South America shows little prospect, he believes. Central America faces serious crime and social unrest. “Just about everything in Africa is imploding. The international media are almost completely ignoring the problems of South Africa which is, in my view, rapidly moving in the direction of a civil war. And if South Africa implodes, it won’t take much for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa to implode.”

Bhandari adds that “Chinese money and Chinese businesses enforce some kind of stability in many of these countries.” Yet lingering problems bode poorly for the future “and it is a reason why Trump is asking for a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The Third World is not in good shape at all.”

Consequently many of its people appreciate gold’s safe haven status. “They don’t trust their institutions and they don’t trust their social structures,” Bhandari maintains.

Jayant Bhandari disregards convention to discuss emerging markets, the West and China

“The biggest buyers of gold are in the Middle East and south Asia because institutions in these countries simply don’t work and people do not trust them. They do not even trust their families and friends, basically. Pakistan is imploding right now, India is rapidly moving in that direction and wealthy people of these countries will rapidly move their investment wealth into gold once they realize that economic growth isn’t happening anymore.”

Although he regards himself “ambivalent about buying gold in Western countries,” he says: “If enough gold-buying happens in these poor countries, the gold price will do quite well and that will benefit buyers of gold in Western countries.

“Of course you have to protect yourself from government interference and it’s wise to keep some of your wealth in a form that you can keep in your own pocket.”

Still, Bhandari sees too much emphasis on gold’s price in U.S. dollars. Non-American buyers “look at gold in the currencies that they use at home. When people focus too much on U.S. dollar pricing of gold they might not understand the technical future of gold.”

What could trigger a significant and sustained price increase? One possibility could be turmoil in South Africa “because those problems would very rapidly spread across sub-Saharan Africa. But I also see problems continuing to increase in India and if this country increases its consumption very slightly on a per-capita basis, it will start consuming a lot more gold. And social instability is increasing in this country.”

People should pay attention to what Western civilization stands for in hopes that they can preserve it.

Among Bhandari’s more optimistic endeavours is Capitalism and Morality, a philosophy seminar that he hosts in Vancouver each year. “My purpose is to bring people together to discuss Western civilization, what I consider to be the only civilization that has ever existed.”

Considering the West unique for its respect towards reason and individuality, Bhandari says, “People should pay attention to what Western civilization stands for in hopes that they can preserve it.”

What does Bhandari’s perspective mean to investors? He examines the mistakes people make in junior resource stocks at the International Mining Investment Conference, held in Vancouver on May 15 and 16. For a 25% admission discount click here and enter the code RESOURCECLIPS.

Read about conference speakers Simon Moores and Ed Steer.

Critical Materials Institute director Alex King discusses rare earths expertise in the U.S.

April 18th, 2018

…Read more

Silver supply deficit fails to boost price, Silver Institute study finds

April 16th, 2018

by Greg Klein | April 16, 2018

Notwithstanding a decline in production, silver fell slightly in price and lost further ground to gold last year, according to the World Silver Survey 2018. Prepared by Thomson Reuters for the Silver Institute, the 28th annual study reported total supply of 991.6 million ounces in 2017, compared with physical demand of 1,017.6 million ounces. The 26-million-ounce deficit grew to 35.2 million ounces when ETP and exchange inventory increases were factored in.

Silver supply deficit fails to boost price, Silver Institute study finds

But at $17.05, the average price represented a 0.5% year-on-year drop. The metal ended the year at $16.87, having traded between $15.22 and $18.56 during 2017.

While recycling provided most of the remaining supply, the year’s global mine production came to 852.1 million ounces. That represented a 4.1% decline attributed largely to “supply disruptions in the Americas,” most notably Guatemala, where Tahoe Resources TSX:THO had its Escobal mining licence suspended, and the U.S., where a strike beginning in March 2017 forced Hecla Mining NYSE:HL to slash production at its Lucky Friday mine. Australia and Argentina also showed considerable declines.

Canada, ranking 14th for silver production, extracted 12.7 million ounces last year, compared with 13 million in 2016.

Meanwhile, gold has been leaving silver behind. Year-end prices for 2016 showed the yellow stuff selling for 71.4 times the price of its poorer cousin. The 2017 gold:silver ratio averaged 73.9:1, hitting 77:1 by year-end, “a high level that perhaps suggests that the market is trying to tell us something,” Thomson Reuters stated. “We suspect the high gold:silver ratio indicated that the market had been expecting another major crisis could be looming, or at the least that it was about time for equities correction, and therefore investors had been accumulating physical gold in the market.”

Another precious metal also paled in comparison with gold, which ended 2017 at an historical high of 1.4 times the price of platinum.

But investors looking at silver and platinum’s catch-up potential should consider “gold’s role as a safe haven and that some smart money has been hedging against geopolitical risks and potential correction in equities,” the study added.

Can’t live without them

March 23rd, 2018

The U.S. Critical Materials Institute develops new technologies for crucial commodities

by Greg Klein

A rare earths supply chain outside China? It exists in the United States and Alex King has proof on his desk in the form of neodymium-iron-boron magnets, an all-American achievement from mine to finished product. But the Critical Materials Institute director says it’s up to manufacturers to take this pilot project to an industry-wide scale. Meanwhile the CMI looks back on its first five years of successful research while preparing future projects to help supply the stuff of modern life.

The U.S. Critical Materials Institute develops new technologies and strategies for crucial commodities

Alex King: “There’s a lot of steps in rebuilding that supply chain.
Our role as researchers is to demonstrate it can be done.
We’ve done that.” (Photo: Colorado School of Mines)

The CMI’s genesis came in the wake of crisis. China’s 2010 ban on rare earths exports to Japan abruptly destroyed non-Chinese supply chains. As other countries began developing their own deposits, China changed tactics to flood the market with relatively cheap output.

Since then the country has held the rest of the world dependent, producing upwards of 90% of global production for these metals considered essential to energy, defence and the overall economy.

That scenario prompted U.S. Congress to create the CMI in 2013, as one of four Department of Energy innovation hubs. Involving four national laboratories, seven universities, about a dozen corporations and roughly 350 researchers, the interdisciplinary group gets US$25 million a year and “a considerable amount of freedom” to pursue its mandate, King says.

The CMI channels all that into four areas. One is to develop technologies that help make new mines viable. The second, “in direct conflict with the first,” is to find alternative materials. Efficient use of commodities comprises the third focus, through improvements in manufacturing, recycling and re-use.

“Those three areas are supported by a fourth, which is a kind of cross-cutting research focus extending across a wide range of areas including quantum physics, chemistry, environmental impact studies and, last but certainly not least, economics—what’s the economic impact of the work we do, what’s its potential, where are the economically most impactful areas for our researchers to address,” King relates.

With 30 to 35 individual projects underway at any time, CMI successes include the Nd-Fe-B batteries. They began with ore from Mountain Pass, the California mine whose 2015 shutdown set back Western rare earths aspirations.

The U.S. Critical Materials Institute develops new technologies and strategies for crucial commodities

Nevertheless “that ore was separated into individual rare earth oxides in a pilot scale facility in Idaho National Lab,” explains King. “The separated rare earth oxides were reduced to master alloys at a company called Infinium in the Boston area. The master alloys were brought to the Ames Lab here at Iowa State University and fabricated into magnets. So all the skills are here in the U.S. We know how to do it. I have the magnets on my desk as proof.”

But, he asks, “can we do that on an industrial scale? That depends on companies picking up and taking ownership of some of these processes.”

In part, that would require the manufacturers who use the magnets to leave Asia. “Whether it’s an electric motor, a hard disk drive, the speakers in your phone or whatever, all that’s done in Asia,” King points out. “And that means it is most advantageous to make the magnets in Asia.”

America does have existing potential domestic demand, however. The U.S. remains a world leader in manufacturing loudspeakers and is a significant builder of industrial motors. Those two sectors might welcome a reliable rare earths supply chain.

“There’s a lot of steps in rebuilding that supply chain. Our role as researchers is to demonstrate it can be done. We’ve done that.”

Among other accomplishments over its first five years, the CMI found alternatives to both europium and terbium in efficient lighting, developed a number of improvements in the viability of rare earths mining and created much more efficient RE separation.

“We also developed a new use for cerium, which is an over-produced rare earth that is a burden on mining,” King says. “We have an aluminum-cerium alloy that is now in production and has actually entered the commercial marketplace and is being sold. Generating use for cerium should generate additional cash flow for some of the traditional forms of rare earths mining.”

Getting back to magnets, “we also invented a way of making them that is much more efficient, greatly reduces sensitive materials like neodymium and dysprosium, and makes electric devices like motors and generators much more efficient.”

All these materials have multiple uses. It’s not like they don’t have interest in the Pentagon and other places.—Alex King

Future projects will focus less on rare earths but more on lithium. The CMI will also tackle several others from the draft list of 35 critical minerals the U.S. released in February: cobalt, manganese, gallium, indium, tellurium, platinum group metals, vanadium and graphite. “These are the ones where we feel we can make the most impact.”

While the emphasis remains on energy minerals, “all these materials have multiple uses. It’s not like they don’t have interest in the Pentagon and other places.”

But the list is hardly permanent, while the challenges will continue. “We’ve learned a huge amount over the last five years about how the market responds when a material becomes critical,” he recalls. “And that knowledge is incredibly valuable because we anticipate there will be increasing incidences of materials going critical. Technology’s moving so fast and demand is shifting so fast that supply will have a hard time keeping up. That will cause short-term supply shortfalls or even excesses. What we need to do is capture the wisdom that has been won in the rare earths crisis and recovery, and be ready to apply that as other materials go critical in the future.”

Alex King speaks at Argus Specialty Metals Week, held in Henderson, Nevada, from April 16 to 18. For a 15% discount on registration, enter code RARE2018.

Tim Petty of the U.S. Department of the Interior comments on a draft list of 35 critical minerals

March 20th, 2018

…Read more

Flanders to Holland and back

March 13th, 2018

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

by Greg Klein

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

A stately building belies elaborate security guarding this Antwerp diamond bourse.

 

As if providing an outer defence, a solid line of retail jewellers blocks two broad avenues from Antwerp’s famed diamond district. Access comes mainly through a side street with a police-controlled traffic barrier. More cops and soldiers (the latter attesting to Belgium’s ongoing terror alert) patrol the narrow streets inside. The only vehicles seem to be armoured vans customized for the diamond trade or the occasional bicycle carrying an Orthodox Jew with long coat and side curls flowing in the wind but magnificent hat solidly perched.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Practitioners in Belgium and the Netherlands
perfected the art of transforming rough stones into jewelry.

Except for the Portuguese synagogue, the buildings look un-Antwerpishly drab, catering to four bourses, several major companies and many more smaller operations that buy and sell stones and/or cut and polish them, as well as businesses selling tools of the trade or offering services like laser inscription removal.

Travel agents advertise flights to Mumbai and the Emirates, the Union Bank of India maintains a local branch and the neighbourhood postal outlet flogs a “one-of-a-kind diamond postage stamp.”

And there are no photos allowed, a courteous but firm police officer insists.

“But I’m a journalist from Canada.”

“I realize that, but it’s not allowed.”

“Being a journalist from Canada?”

“They don’t like it.”

“They” apparently represent the world’s diamond capital, a status Antwerp still holds for grading rough, although no longer for the art of transforming those stones into jewelry. One polishing factory, however, is DiamondLand, which welcomes visitors to its workshop before ushering them into the sales department. A guide explains that Antwerp’s seemingly ubiquitous diamond retailers cater to an international clientele attracted by prices that justify travel expenses.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Traders in 15th-century Bruges met outside
the home of Jacob van der Beurze, from
whom the word “bourse” was derived.

Yet this global diamond centre’s far from any mine. Antwerp and other cities of the Low Countries gained that peculiar stature pretty much by inventing the modern diamond industry. Just how they did that can be explained by a visit to Bruges, aka Brugge.

Those able to tear themselves away from the insufferably pretty canal-side buildings of possibly Europe’s most beautiful fairy tale surroundings could spend a few interesting hours in the city’s Diamond Museum. There, visitors learn of Venetian traders who brought diamonds to Europe from India, once the world’s only known source, eventually establishing a permanent presence in this once-important trade centre by the 15th century. That was before 16th century Portuguese and 17th century Dutch took over the Asian trade routes.

Other European cities had diamond cutters too, but it was in Bruges in 1476 that Lodewijk van Bercken is said to have invented the technique of polishing stones using a wheel, diamond dust and olive oil. His existence might owe more to legend than fact, but the technique continued, enhanced by later refinements and more recent technology.

As local waterways silted up, Bruges lost its overseas trade and the diamond industry shifted to Antwerp, which in the late 15th century became the world’s greatest trade centre overall. The industry gained new blood with migrations of Jews fleeing the Spanish in Spain, the Spanish in Portugal and, later, the Spanish in Flanders as the industry moved once again, this time to Amsterdam. Diamonds played a part in the city’s Golden Age, which flourished especially well after Amsterdammers forced the closure of Antwerp’s port. Protestants from France and Flanders joined the religious diasporas that bolstered Europe’s diamond industry.

During all that time new diamond sources were found in Borneo, Brazil, Russia and Australia, with the greatest discoveries of all in late 19th-century South Africa. That country’s first consignment of stones sparked a boom in Amsterdam, bringing unprecedented demand for cutters and polishers.

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

This exacting profession continues
to draw new adherents.

Amsterdam’s decline began in the 1920s, to the advantage of Antwerp. Bruges also regained some stature as early 20th-century strikes encouraged some Antwerp companies to move their operations to job-starved West Flanders. Bruges’ on-and-off revival lasted about 61 years, Amsterdam held out with a few prominent companies but Antwerp prevailed. More recently, however, polishing has been moving to places like Tel Aviv, New York, Moscow and especially Surat, where the sector could be joined by the world’s largest diamond bourse, reportedly now under construction.

But Amsterdam, second only to Bruges for canal-side prettiness, to Vancouver for drugs and hookers, and to nowhere for massive mobs of selfie-snapping sightseers, still hosts companies offering workshop tours. Among them is Gassan Diamonds, now ensconced in a building that originally housed Boas Bros, once Europe’s largest company. Among the newer company’s achievements is the patented Gassan Cut with 121 facets.

Further factory visits make facet envy evident. One such operation is Coster Diamonds, founded in 1840 and the world’s oldest remaining diamond company. It was Coster that cut history’s most fabled stone, the Koh-i-Noor, now part of Britain’s Crown Jewels.

Crediting lengthy experience and new technology, Coster created the Royal 201 eight years ago by adding 144 facets to the more traditional brilliant cut, aka the Amsterdam cut. Coster also claims a Guinness record for the smallest polished stone ever—a tiny, tiny brilliant cut of 0.0000743 carats.

But with its 257-facet Star of Amsterdam created two years ago, Amsterdam’s Zazare Diamonds surpasses Gassan and Coster in the many-sided contest. This isn’t just a numbers game, a Zazare rep insists. “More facets mean more sparkle, more life,” she says.

But much of the industry’s sparkle and life have moved elsewhere, especially India. Numbers provided by Rapaport News show the country’s net polished exports, representing exports minus imports, climbed 3.8% to $20.71 billion last year. Belgium’s share fell 34% to $269.2 million.

Although India already hosts the world’s largest gem exchange in Mumbai’s Bharat Diamond Bourse, the Surat Diamond Bourse would far overshadow its neighbour. Construction has begun on a nine-tower complex that could accommodate more than 4,400 merchants, sources told Rapaport. Expected to be fully operational by 2021, the long-delayed proposal would be located within the government-planned Diamond Research and Mercantile (DREAM) City, confirming much of the world’s trade in the country that first found and coveted the gems.

 

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

Dozens of diamond shops form a solid wall curving
along two streets outside Antwerp’s diamond district.

 

Resource Clips visits the diamond industry in Belgium and the Netherlands

But not all of them thrive.