Amidst the medieval streets and Renaissance monuments dominating the centuries-old city of Antwerp, Belgium, lies a single square mile of mostly nondescript-looking 20thcentury structures. Remarkably, the $54 billion annual business that lies within those few city blocks places Antwerp at the heart of the world’s trade for one specific product: diamonds.
Last October, Mount Pleasant jeweler Mitch Embler made his way along the main traffic artery of the city’s Diamond Quarter to the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, at the center of the district. Steel barricades and heavily armed guards are a constant reminder of the “heist of the century,” the largest diamond theft in history. Almost 13 years after a small band of criminals pulled off such an audacious caper, those involved with the trade have yet to forget the more than $100 billion worth of diamonds, gold and other jewelry that disappeared in the dead of night.
Embler was part of a trip organized by the Independent Jewelers Organization (IJO), an association that helps its members purchase diamonds in Antwerp for their stores and customers each year. Every IJO-planned trip includes an upclose look at how the industry operates, from rough to expertly cut and polished diamonds.
“Going to Belgium is a great opportunity for me to buy directly from the world’s best diamond cutters and dealers,” says Embler, the owner of Embler’s Jewelers, a full-service, family-owned jewelry store located near Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. “It’s an exciting experience for me, and my customers love the fact that I travel to the ‘Diamond Capital of the World’ to select diamonds especially for them. Because I become my clients’ personal broker, the diamonds I buy for them are personal. When a man gives a handpicked diamond to his wife, girlfriend or fiancée, there’s now a special story that goes along with it.”
According to Embler, about 70 percent of the world’s diamonds go to Antwerp’s bustling diamond district to be cut, polished and/or distributed. To accommodate this constant flow of precious gems, the district is home to 380 workshops that serve 1,500 companies. More than 3,500 brokers, merchants and diamond cutters work in the district.
“Because you can eliminate the middleman, it is one of the few places on earth to get the best prices on diamonds,” explains Embler, a GIA-certified diamond grader and appraiser. “And your selection is only limited by the amount of time you have to sort through various parcels. It’s just an amazing experience.”
Embler admits that he didn’t choose a lifelong career in jewelry; instead, it chose him. “When I was attending Charleston Southern University, a friend of the family offered me a parttime job working in a jewelry store here in the area,” he says. “A few years after I graduated from college, he called me again and offered me a full-time job. I’ve worked in the retail jewelry business ever since. Through the years, I’ve learned so much about the business that now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
In 2010, Embler opened his own store in the Shops of Mount Pleasant, located along the town’s Coleman Boulevard. Embler’s Jewelers offers a great selection of engagement, wedding and other jewelry and gifts.
The store also provides custom jewelry design, appraisals, engraving, and jewelry and watch repairs. “I’m not a behind- the-scenes kind of store owner,” notes Embler. “I love to help customers get exactly what they want, so it’s hard for me not to be out on the sales floor serving my customers one-on-one. I have a friendly, experienced staff, but I want to have personal relationships with my customers—to be the face they think of when they need a jeweler.”
Customers who get to know that face soon learn that Embler’s passion is diamonds. He is fascinated by their simple complexity: carat, color, clarity and cut. So it’s not just his expertise he takes along with him to Antwerp, it’s also his passion for diamonds and his strong desire to find the perfect stone for an individual customer.
“No one diamond is perfect for everybody,” he states. “But when I go on an international buying trip, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get the best deal possible on one that I think is right for a particular customer. When I have a customer standing right in front of me, I can ask which of several diamonds he likes the best, and he can choose. But when you’re almost 4,300 miles away, you have to know exactly what he is looking for. Rather than have three or four diamonds to look at, there are hundreds or even thousands of diamonds right in front of you that are close to the carat, color, clarity and cut the customer wants.
It’s my job to narrow those options down based on what I know about diamonds and what I know about my customer. Of course, I send my customer photos of the last three or four options I’ve selected, along with my recommendations, but in the end it usually comes down to one question, ‘Which one would you pick?’ I’m please to say that, so far, my customers have been extremely happy with the diamonds I’ve personally selected for them.”
Along with the diamonds he purchased specifically for customers during his recent trip to Antwerp, Embler also selected a number of gorgeous polished stones for his store that he’ll use to create unique diamond jewelry. He is already planning his next expedition to Belgium, a trip he hopes will include his wife and two children—and a few extra days of touring outside the city’s Diamond Quarter. “But it’s always business before pleasure,” he concludes. “Being a personal diamond broker for my valued customers is, to me, the ultimate in customer service.”
Patra Taylor is a full-time freelance
writer in Mount Pleasant. Find out more at patrataylor.com