The Great Brussels Diamond Heist

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 19 2013 1:02 PM

$50 Million in Diamonds Stolen From Brussels Airport

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The Grote Markt square in Antwerp, Belgium.

Photo by JONAS ROOSENS/AFP/Getty Images

Any time armed men steal $50 million worth of diamonds in a daring airport heist it's going to be big news. But the fact that it happened in Belgium, where Antwerp is the traditional center of the diamond-cutting industry, gives it some extra importance. 

Antwerp is a great example of the industry cluster phenomenon. There's no particular reason that Antwerp is a good place for diamond cutting. Certainly it's not near important diamond mines. But if you have diamonds, you want to take them to where the cutters are. And if you want to cut diamonds, you want to go to where the diamonds are. And if you want to learn the trade, you want to go to where the skilled craftsmen are. So once Antwerp becomes the center of the diamond industry, it builds on its own momentum. Globalization's been cutting into that lately, however, as the relevant skills and cheaper labor turn out to be available in India. Faced with that competition, you want to be able to say that Antwerp can compete on quality and service. In the diamond industry, security is a really important element of service. "We've been doing this forever, who knows what kind of thieves are going to steal your diamonds in India" seems like a reasonable argument. Until thieves steal $50 million worth of diamonds.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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