Surat, “The Diamond City”
“The more the diamond is cut the brighter it sparkles…” says Thomas Guthrie.
And so say the diamond merchants of Surat too. One of the largest hubs of diamond manufacturing, processing and exporting, Surat is a leading game player in the diamond industry. The quaint town situated at the banks of River Tapti, is surprisingly and sparklingly one of the best in this business. It is hard to imagine, that operating from a light security base in the popular Mini Bazar, diamonds worth crores exchange hands every single day. Crouched in a row on single benches on either side, skilled laborers pour over the rough diamonds and polish and process them, until they are sent to Mumbai for export. At the same time, on the lanes and somewhere in the corridors, the middle men, bargain and exchange the rough diamonds for varying rates. It is a common site to find men squatting on the side streets, with a rectangular cloth laid out neatly and weighing and analyzing the rough diamonds to be polished and made ready for market use. Nowhere in the world will you see the most exquisite and expensive stone being handled and refined in way that is both casual yet dignified. In hindsight, this is Indian in every way.
Trust and skill are the key notes in the harmonious rhythm of function of the diamond trade in Surat. Not to imply that state of art, modern equipment and methods are not in use. Big firms, use technology to manufacture and polish the diamond for what it’s worth. Once again, a very Indian phenomenon where large and small scale industry of the same product co habit and survive through all. There are of course problems that arise, where each blames the other in time of recession, for example the 2008 global recession, however, barring the normal hiccups that one can expect, the large and small firms have for years learnt to live with each other.
The informality of the sector makes it even more unique in its terms of operation. On the streets of Surat, especially Mini Bazar, there will be quite a few, who will have diamonds tucked inside their inner concealed pockets, yet you will find it hard to guess or believe the same. There are no siren motors or uniform clad personals manning the transfer of diamonds in the world’s leading diamond trade business. It is sometimes this seemingly haphazard approach on the exterior that allows for a smooth running of the business.
Do not misunderstand my thoughts as a means of saying that the diamond industry in Surat is unorganized or haphazard. The Surat Diamond Association and the Gems and Jewellery Special Economic Zones are in place to ensure systematic business atmosphere. What I merely am trying to point out, is that when we think of the most expensive stone in the world, we would associate it with very high security and over the top equipment. However, barring the big firms, none of this really plays a very important role in the thriving diamond markets of Surat.
How did it all begin?
It said that as early as 1906, a Surti trader brought him diamond cutters and polishers from East Africa. It started off as a small venture and it was only in 1960’s that the diamond business started flourishing. With the economic reforms in 1990’s the industry got a much needed boost and with increased imports, trade grew multi fold. Just to get a sense of the magnitude and impact of scale of the diamond industry you should examine some figures. Out of 10 polished diamonds that you would find in stores of the world, 9 were polished and manufactured in Surat. That is a whooping percentage of business that is solely carried out on the able shoulders of skilled labourers of Surat.