The Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) has decided to discontinue its unrestricted funding of the independent Belgian research center WTOCD (Scientific and Technical Research Center for Diamond), citing the downturn in the diamond market and the sharp decline of diamond manufacturing in the city. “The current market situation has led us to take this decision,” says Margaux Donckier, AWDC spokeswoman.
The AWDC, the umbrella organization for the Antwerp diamond industry, released a statement acknowledging the predicament of the WTOCD, which produces high-tech equipment for a dwindling diamond-polishing sector. “As a result of the high cost of labor in our country, almost the entirety of our diamond manufacturing has relocated abroad. This has put the WTOCD in a difficult situation,” says Donckier. “The market for these high-quality machines in Antwerp continues to shrink. They are also too high-tech, and too expensive, for the majority of polishing units in low-wage countries,” she adds.
In an attempt to bring the polishing industry back to Antwerp, the AWDC and the WTOCD for the last ten years have tried to improve its competitiveness and remedy the difficult situation by developing the FENIX, a revolutionary technology that fully automates the diamond-polishing process and is able to polish a diamond 10 to 20 times faster than by hand. “The technology has the potential to spark a revolution in diamond polishing, but at this point we recognize that additional investments are needed to ready the product for the market.” The FENIX has been in a trial phase for the past year, but has yet to find the recipe for commercial success.
The WTOCD has historically conducted no commercial activities, though the AWDC says the research center has always had the opportunity to diversify its financing. The AWDC now hopes it will do so quickly, as the market situation has made it no longer feasible for the AWDC to continue its financial support now or in the future. However, the AWDC says, it is currently considering the options for making a fresh start. The AWDC says it will continue in the future to facilitate scientific and technological research. The WTOCD was established in 1977 as an independent research center in support of the Belgian diamond manufacturing sector. Over the years, it has developed a range of devices used in the polishing, screening and grading of diamonds.