Rare antique diamonds, from the iconic Antwerp Bourse, find a home at one of Melbourne’s finest contemporary jewelers

Antwerp’s famous diamond district is often referred to as the Square Mile – several city blocks packed with 380 workshops serving around 1,500 diamond businesses. More than 80% of the world’s rough diamonds and 50% of cut diamonds pass through Belgium Diamantkwartier, making it the largest diamond center – or exchange – in the world. And it is not so easy to access his inner sanctum.

“You have to be in the jewelry business and know how to buy diamonds,” says gemologist Hamish Whiting. While the general public can walk around the exchange, meetings at so-called trading desks are by appointment only and you must be invited first. “Not just anyone on the street can enter.”

Hamish is from New Zealand but lives in Antwerp, so he is ideally placed to select beautiful stones for the Melbourne-based jeweler, Cushla Whiting, which Hamish founded with his sisters, Anna and Cushla. And the brand, which has won admirers for its design and gemological expertise, recently began sourcing rare antique diamonds for creative director Cushla to use in her designs.

While most diamonds in Australia are bought by wholesalers at trading centers like the Antwerp Stock Exchange and then resold here, Hamish buys all Cushla Whiting diamonds directly. And it is on the Antwerp Stock Exchange that many families sell their old family jewels to diamond brokers.

“Most antique diamonds aren’t certified, so you have to grade the diamond yourself and appraise it, then negotiate the price with the dealer,” he explains. “It’s essential to see the stones in person…Genuine antique diamonds have been cut by a cutter, by eye – not by computer-aided design.

“Each antique diamond has its own… uniqueness – the mark of the artist who cut it. However, just as there are huge differences in the quality of artistry, so too do antique diamonds There is a huge variation in skill and artistry between different antique diamonds because there were very average cutters and the “Picasso’s” of the time.

These diamonds were also cut “when the lighting was lower – mainly candlelight – and before [the official evaluations of the] Gemological Institute of America.

The antique diamonds Hamish acquired for Cushla Whiting were hand cut in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a skill that has all but disappeared. These antique diamonds are extremely rare, especially since many of the oldest stones were recut in modern styles in the 1960s through the 1990s.

While the exclusivity of these diamonds is fundamental to their luxury, they are also a more environmentally friendly choice over newly mined or lab-grown diamonds, both of which come with their own ethics and ecological gapshigh energy consumption and carbon emissions in the case of lab-grown diamondsenvironmental degradation – deforestation, habitat destruction, pollution – and, in small-scale operations, labor issues in the case of mined diamonds, although safety and environmental practices industry now heavily regulated large-scale miners have improved dramatically in recent years. (Hamish points out that all diamonds entering Australia must be Kimberley Process Certifiedwhich means conflict-free, and the lion’s share of new diamonds mined are sourced responsibly from major mining operations.)

Repurposed antique diamonds are a more sustainable option for those conscious of their carbon footprint. Durability and style have intersected with the rise of circular fashion, where vintage pieces are coveted for their uniqueness and reduced environmental impact (compared to new clothes). Jewelry is experiencing the same trend.

Modern cut diamonds make up approximately 99.9% of the world’s diamonds. They are cut in assembly lines using computers and scanners, rather than the artistic eye or skill of a single cutter.

There are also many companies around the world that cut modern diamonds into antique styles and then market them as antique diamonds.

“Unfortunately there is currently no certification for genuine antiques to differentiate them from replica antiques, which is why you really need to know what you are doing and have experience looking at hundreds of genuine antiques to knowing the difference is like telling a real work of art or piece of furniture from an impostor,” says Hamish.

Cushla Whiting primarily sells Old Mine and Old European Cut styles of antique diamonds, which vary in size from small side stones to center stones that weigh between one and three carats. Old diamonds are mostly a warmer hue than modern cut diamonds, including some in a beautiful golden champagne.

“The main difference for us…is having our gemologist on the ground at the Antwerp Stock Exchange,” Cushla explains. “Obviously not all old diamonds are beautiful, in fact most are not, so having Hamish on the exchange to select the brightest and most beautiful diamonds is an invaluable offer. Buying from a distance, and seeing the diamond in person is essential with antiques.


Sarah C. Figueiredo