Ramat Gan – Israel’s diamond hub
Ramat Gan is a city located in the Tel Aviv District of Israel, to the east of Tel Aviv city, and it is home to one of the world’s largest diamond exchanges. It is also where you can find the Moshe Aviv Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Israel and this thriving metropolis is a technology hub. Ramat Gan was originally constructed as a satellite spill over town from Tel Aviv, under the British administration of the Protectorate of Palestine in 1921 and it achieved city status under the nascent Israeli state in 1950, the first town to achieve this post independence. The first plots of land were purchased during the First World War and the settlement was initially a moshava, a Zionist agricultural colony, that farmed wheat, barley and watermelons, before reverting to the name Ramat Gan (literally ‘Garden Height’) in 1923. Over the decades that followed there were significant upheavals, including disputes between the proponents of the Yiddish and the Hebrew languages and the shift from an agrarian economy to one of commerce and industry. It wasn’t until 1968, half a century on from the first settlement, that the diamond exchange formally opened. By this time the population of the city had grown to over 60,000 and its commercial importance had been cemented. Ramat Gan is by far the ‘greenest’ city in the Middle East, as it adheres to the self-imposed rule that at least 25% of the city must remain as green open space.
(Ramat Gan today is a thriving metropolis with more than 15,000 inhabitants)
The first diamond cutting facility was opened in Ramat Gan in 1937 and it grew steadily over the three decades that followed before the formal establishment of the Israel Diamond Exchange (IDE). Moshe Shnitzer was the first President of the IDE and he remained in office until 1993, over which time the industry grew exponentially. Under his stewardship total exports of polished diamonds rose from $200 million to $3.4 billion per year. The first office to open in the district was the 22 floor Shimshon Tower in 1968, then the tallest building in the country. In the 1980s, with the rapid expansion of trade in the IDE, the Maccabi and Noam Towers were constructed and eventually the tallest building in the complex, the 32 floor Diamond Tower, was opened in 1992. As with many other aspects of the diamond industry, De Beers had a stranglehold on the supply of diamonds to and from the IDE for many years via the Diamond Trading Company Sightholders. These consisted of an elite group of authorised bulk buyers of rough diamonds, including around 10 Israeli diamantaires (gem-quality diamond manufacturers). However in the 1990s the IDE pioneered direct relationships with diamond producers in Russia and Africa, slowly breaking the crushing De Beers monopoly.
The IDE is now the largest Diamond Exchange in the world, covering more than 80,000 square metres, it operates from a complex of four buildings (known as the “Shimshon, Maccabi, Noam & Diamond Tower”) which are connected by bridges and contain over 3,100 members involved in the diamond industry, as well as associated laboratory, certification, shipping and insurance companies. The site is also well served by restaurants, bars, shops, medical and dental surgeries, a post office and a fully equipped gymnasium. The IDE is a private company that is a member of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses (WFDB), the World Diamond Council (WDC) and the World Jewellery Confederation (CIBJO). In short the IDE is to the diamond business what Lloyds of London is to insurance and it provides a ‘one-stop-shop’ for those working in the industry under one roof. The IDE contains a dedicated tech section, facilitating the digital marketing of diamonds and their accurate grading and recording. One of the main responsibilities of the IDE is to establish policy and best practice within the industry by way of setting the regulations and guidelines its members must adhere to in order to remain part of its approved network of participants.
The IDE also has a pivotal role as both a champion of diamond industry and one of the key lobbying groups committed to its promotion and prosperity among the highest circles of Israeli and international politics and business. They have also forged key working relationships with the central bank (Bank of Israel) and principle commercial banks, the chambers of commerce, tax authorities and local government. The hierarchy of the IDE cascades down from the President via the Directorate & Control Committee, to a Managing Director and downwards to the directorate committees, a panel of arbitrators and a disciplinary committee. The IDE also has at its heart a dedicated manufacturing centre, developed as the fruit of an industry-wide initiative to promote Israeli diamond production from end to end. This also includes a number of educational facilities to develop the skills required of future generations of gemmologists, polishers, craftsmen and traders alike, with a focus on the state of the art technologies that are driving the industry forward in the twenty-first century.
As well as the forward looking aspects of IDE, there are of course always valuable lessons that can be learned from the experiences of the past. Consequently the Harry Oppenheimer Diamond Museum (pictured above) was opened in the heart of the diamond complex as a showcase for the industry’s achievements. One of the key features of this museum are its interactive exhibits and life like models of some of the world’s most famous gemstones, including the Koh-I-Noor diamond. The museum follows a virtual journey through the history of diamond discovery and production and is a useful tool to engaging with and inspiring children and young people, the future of the industry. The achievements of a place that just a century ago was mere desert speak for themselves. Ramat Gan and the IDE are now one of the foremost centres of trade and excellence in the diamond industry. With the education and training facilities at the site, the involvement of future generations seems assured.