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Diamonds in Amsterdam

The Historic Diamond Trade that Stretches from the 16th Century to Today

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One of Amsterdam's many facets is its history as diamond center. The diamond trade was introduced to the city in the 16th century by the Sephardic Jews who left the Iberian peninsula and resettled in Amsterdam. Guilds of the period didn't admit Jewish members, so the Jewish population looked to non-traditional trades for their livelihoods; many thus became diamond traders and cutters, and the Jewish-dominated diamond industry thrived in Amsterdam until World War II. While the industry never recovered after the war, the imprint of the pre-war diamond industry still lasts in the form of the several major diamond factories and trade associations that still exist in the city, to the record of the city's achievements in the industry; both the Koh-i-Noor and the Cullinan diamonds were cut there. The historic diamond trade of Amsterdam is commemorated in the name of a popular diamond cut developed there, the "Amsterdam cut", now known worldwide. Both Coster Diamonds and Gassan Diamonds, below, offer free factory tours to the public, while the Diamant Museum furnishes a more in-depth look at the manufacture, history and culture of diamonds and the diamond industry. While some visitors are reportedly put off by the sales pitch inherent in the free factory tours, most find them an instructive experience, and certainly a recommended one for anyone with a passion for jewels.

In the market for a diamond while in Amsterdam? Be sure to find out how to avoid conflict diamonds at About.com's Guide to Jewelry.

Coster Diamonds

Paulus Potterstraat 2-48
1071 CZ Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 305 5555
Open daily, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

The diamond factory that re-cut the Koh-i-Noor at the request of Queen Victoria, Coster Diamonds was one of the most eminent diamond factories in the city and still operates to this day. Moses Coster founded the business in 1840 in a factory on the Waterlooplein, where the Stopera - the portmanteau name for the edifice that contains both the stadshuis (city hall) and opera house of the Dutch National Opera - is now situated. Until World War II, the business remained in the hands of the Coster family, who helped revolutionize the diamond trade with their innovations and expertise; in addition to the world-class diamonds the factory cut, it was also the first to adopt steam-powered machinery in place of the traditional horse power. The business came under new ownership after World War II and, in 1970, moved to its new premises in the Oud Zuid (Old South), but continued to make waves in the diamond world. Guided tours of Coster Diamonds demonstrate how the diamonds are cut and polished, after which visitors can browse the diamond showrooms to see the results of these processes. The free tours last about 45 minutes; there is both a cafe and souvenir shop on the premises.

Gassan Diamonds

Nieuwe Uilenburgerstraat 173-175
1011 LN Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 622 5333
Open daily, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

A relative newcomer compared to the 75-year-older Coster, Gassan Diamonds opened shop just after World War II, in October 1945. Samuel Gassan started off as a small-scale importer and exporter of raw and cut diamonds based in the monumental Diamantbeurs (Diamond Market) on the Weesperplein, a square in Amsterdam Center. Ten years later, when Gassan noticed how much a short introduction to diamond craftmanship spurred sales, tours of the factory became par for the course. Gassan Diamonds now offers tours to 350,000 people each year at its historic, canal-side premises, a restored steam-driven diamond factory built for. The half-hour tours cover the basics of the famous "4 C's" - carat, color, clarity and cut. The last "C" helps visitor appreciate one of Gassan's most notable achievements: the Gassan 121, a proprietary diamond cut with 121 facets. After the tour, visitors can sit down for a drink in the cafe or browse Gassan's jewelry and watch boutique.

Diamant Museum

Paulus Potterstraat 8
1071 CZ Amsterdam
Tel.: +31 (0)20 305 5300
Open daily, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.

The Diamant Museum is a venture of Coster Diamonds which, in addition to its free factory tours, operates this small but attractive museum. The museum follow the story of the diamond, from carbon crystals that rise upward to the earth's surface, to the cut and polished jewels that are prized the world over. The permanent exhibit touches on each phase in a diamond's formation: how the raw minerals are processed into diamonds, then optionally set into jewelry, and how some of the final products - both set and loose stones - have become world-renowned for their exquisite beauty; replicas of 22 such pieces are on view at the museum. Other sections of the exhibit look at the history of the diamond trade in Amsterdam, a story that stretches back more than 400 years; the diamond and jewels of the Dutch royal family; an audiovisual exhibit on famous jewel thefts; how to spot a fake; and more. For diamond lovers, the compact but fact-filled museum is worth the short visit it entails.

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