The Great Brussels Diamond Heist

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

$50 Million in Diamonds Stolen From Brussels Airport

159031611
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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

A Simple Way to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.