An Indian Civilizational Perspective

India's Diamond Trade

I first got to know of the success of Indian Diamond merchants in Antwerp from a cover page story in WSJ. IN a few years these guys had taken over 50% of the diamond trade from the Jews. Jews had 100% of the trade. This was a big success! These folks spend only on a few things. Marriage being one of them!

This is Vijay Shah’s temporary abode for his stay in the capital. The Antwerp-based diamond giant, chairman of the $400 million Vijaydimon Group, is in town to launch Signet, his company’s first retail store. They’ve decided to set up shop in the bustling South Extension market, which also houses shops like Mango, Tommy Hilfiger and Lacoste — about the nearest thing to a branded high street that New Delhi has.

The suite is busy; it’s Friday afternoon and the official launch (complete with a fashion show by Tarun Tahiliani) is to take place on Saturday night. A friend of Shah’s, also a diamond merchant, is also present, and he’s worried about the final lists for the party.

When he is assured that almost everyone has confirmed, he starts to reel off names of A-list Bollywood celebrities who have promised to show up. This is the second such launch in two weeks in the capital.

Last Saturday, the launch of the Mumbai-based DiA boutique, owned by Devaunshi Mehta, whose family have been DTC sightholders (under the company Mohanlal Raichand & Sons) for over half a century, attracted such celebrities as Jaya Bachchan, Tina Ambani and steel magnate L N Mittal.

After all this talk of parties and celebrity lists, Vijay Shah, when you meet him, is a surprise. He seems to be a quiet man, dragged against his will into the media spotlight.

And usually, the diamond trade would be the perfect place for a recluse — historically, it has always been a place of shadowy exclusivity, dominated in production by the South African giant De Beers (although the power of De Beers is now on the decline) and manufacture by groups of Hasidic Jews and oddly enough, Palanpuri Jains.

It’s only when you start to get into retail, as Shah is discovering, that you need to step out of the shadows. (The other time, incidentally, that Vijay Shah was conspicuously in the news was in 2002, when he held the double wedding of his son and daughter in an $18 million flight of fancy in Antwerp).

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