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World Federation Of Diamond Bourses

Interview with Alan Cohen, President of London Diamond Bourse

Alan Cohen

Q. What are your current titles/functions in the diamond industry?

I am presently the President of the London Diamond Bourse. I sit on the Executive Committee of the WFDB and I represent the WFDB in the World Diamond Council.

Q. Tell us about your journey in the diamond industry.

My journey in the diamond business started in South Africa almost 50 years ago, where I learnt to sort both polished and rough diamonds. I worked as a Diamond Broker until I moved to the UK in 1974, where I set up my own trading company.

Over the years, I travelled and lived all over the world, seeking out new opportunities to buy and sell diamonds. In early 1990 I was offered an opportunity to work in Russia, which I eagerly took.

That led me on an amazing 16-year journey that took me from ‘working for someone’ to owning and running my own diamond polishing factories. This lasted till 2006 when I finally left Russia and returned to the UK.

I currently run a small diamond trading company specializing in re-cutting and private sales and, making the most of the connections I have made over the years, to supply those ‘difficult to find’ stones to other dealers.
Looking back, I am grateful for the opportunities that the diamond industry has given me. It has been a fascinating and rewarding journey.

Q. What is the history of the London Diamond Bourse?

For the last 150 years Hatton Garden was a centre for dealers and merchants trading in valuable items and in the 1930s Hatton Garden became the centre of the diamond and jewellery business in the UK and internationally. DeBeers, Van Cleef & Arpels and many other large diamond/jewellery companies set up in the area.

The London Diamond Bourse came out of the necessity to find a safe place to trade for those traders who fled Europe in the late 1930s – early 1940s.

At the time Antwerp was the main diamond trading hub of the world and had for most of its long history been the home of several active trade organisations. Amongst the refugees who managed to reach the UK were a number of diamond merchants. In some cases, they were able to bring their own stock with them. The traders tended to work on the street and sometimes came together in Mrs Cohen’s coffee shop. In 1940 a committee was formed, and the London Diamond Bourse opened in one of the small offices in Hatton Garden.

After the war, London became a centre both for rough and for polished diamonds. The DeBeers site was in London and this generated lots of trade as dealers from around the world would come to London 10 times a year to buy. During this period membership of the Bourse and the Diamond Club flourished.

But, like all Bourses, membership was in decline over the last 20 years. What we in London have done, to try and reverse this trend, is to open up the bourse to a wider audience, more than just diamond dealers. We have jewellers, setters, mounters, designers, coloured stone dealers, valuers, experts in antique and period jewellery etc. The community is large and knowledgeable; you can find experts in nearly all fields of the trade. This has helped to reverse the trend and our numbers are slowly growing.
All applicants still must undergo careful vetting and have to abide by all the trading rules of the Diamond Bourse (and WFDB rules) including personal guarantees on all their transactions.

Q. What do you think are the challenges and opportunities facing the diamond industry internationally?

No space in the chain for the small players!
As a small stockist and supplier, one of the major challenges facing the industry is that fewer and fewer traders (stockists) are in the market. The old-fashioned way of buying for stock is slowly being eroded. Now, when we can get whatever we want ‘over-night’ (this is not a complaint) from just about any point in the world, it becomes less and less attractive to hold stock. The world has changed, now the manufacturers are the holders of the biggest stocks.

Q. How do you think the diamond industry will look five years from now? Ten years from now?

I would love to have a crystal ball to answer that question.

Q. What changes are you seeing in the diamond industry?

Overall, there seems to be a growing demand for greater transparency and accountability in the diamond industry, with a focus on ethical sourcing and sustainability

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