ICA Ambassador to Belgium

ICA Ambassador Reports,

I am pleased to present this important information on the state of the Belgian colored gemstone industry. It is the first submission in my new role as ICA's Ambassador to Belgium.

By ICA Ambassador to Belgium, Maxim van Oppens

An FGG Gemologist and GIA AJP graduate, Maxim Van Oppens inherited his passion for the gemstone trade from his family, which has been in the diamond trade since 1953. In 1995, the family founded the colored gemstone cutting and wholesale company, Metro Stones bvba. While travelling the world to source the best deposits and supply a vast range of gemstones to an international public, Maxim is an advocate for natural gemstones and high trade standards. He is a partner at Metro Stones bvba and owner of VomDiam. He also works as a business consultant in the gemstone trade and financial sector.

When you think of Belgium most people think of fine chocolate, superb beer and, of course, diamonds. Antwerp, as the world’s diamond capital, takes center stage with all important diamond transactions.

But times are changing. For the past couple of years, despite the impact of the global financial crisis of 2008, colored gemstones are on the rise in Belgium. Although a small market by comparison, Belgium is trading more and more colored gems both domestically and internationally. This is due to a new generation of jewelers and goldsmiths, who are embracing color for their jewelry. This jewelry is either handmade by themselves or with state-of-the-art 3D printing.

The taste for colored gemstones is also getting more and more diverse. The demand for the Big Three—sapphire, ruby and emerald—is high, as always, but in this sector, the biggest change is the new and ever increasing demand for Padparadscha sapphire.
Tourmaline, morganite and aquamarine are sought after as well. Quartz (mainly amethyst, citrine and smoky quartz) and garnet remain popular. Interestingly, customers are starting to discover and order other less commercially established gemstones, such as Paraiba tourmaline, tanzanite and csarite.

This is mainly due to the efforts of local traders and jewelry companies that are willing to invest in stocks and tirelessly promote these stones. Jewelers and goldsmiths are excited about the opportunity to set themselves apart from their competitors with the help of these unique gemstones. Generally speaking, clients are looking for fine to high quality goods.

A challenge for Belgian gem traders is the banking sector. In Belgium, gemstone traders are placed in the same taxation and supervision category as diamond traders, who face very high governmental regulations. It is very difficult for small and medium-sized diamond and gemstone companies to open an account with a bank, let alone get credit.

As of today, the problem hasn’t been solved, although we have heard from sources close to the government that a solution may be on its way. The federal Minister of Economy, Kris Peeters, has launched a draft law that would obligate banks to provide minimal service to diamond traders (under which gemstone traders fall) with Euro and USD accounts. If the current evolution keeps up and the bank situation improves, the future for colored gemstones looks bright in Belgium, with a growing clientele from around the world.

In response to high visitor demand, organizers of the prestigious CARAT+ fair, the world’s premier diamond event, included a whole new sector for colored gemstones. The exhibitor numbers were tightly controlled to ensure the best quality, and the colored gemstones sector added a missing dimension to this prestigious fair.