Anoop Mehta, President of the Bharat Diamond Bourse and Group MD of Mohit Diamonds, talks to Vatsala de Sousa about the growing professionalism that is shaping the future of India’s diamond industry
It is early evening in the winter of 1991. A young man, together with his cohort of fellow dreamers, stands looking out at the seemingly unending acres of marshland. To the north is the Mahim Creek, to the east the burgeoning town of Kurla, to the west the teeming city of Bandra. But here all is quiet, barren, derelict, the silence broken only by the sound of a group of herons who look startled at the temerity of the group who have ventured onto their terrain. The group of men, all diamantaires, sees not the desolate wetlands or the erring grasses, rushes and reeds but a gleaming city that will provide employment to thousands and bring in a much needed professionalism to the Indian diamond industry.
It is late evening in the winter of 2016. From eight gleaming towers, each scaling nine storeys high, spread luxuriously over 20 acres, 20,000 to 25,000 men and women stream out, their day’s work done. They are workers at the Bharat Diamond Bourse, the world’s largest diamond exchange that handles 60% of the diamond exports from India. It hosts 2500 small and large diamond traders who occupy office space of over 150,000 sq. ft.
“The bourse was not the creation of just one person. Though a few of us were at the vanguard of the development once the first top 100 exporters got on board we knew our dream would become a reality”
So who was that young man and how was he able to literally and metaphorically unearth the potential of the wetlands that today is the planned commercial complex that Mumbai is so proud of—the Bandra Kurla Complex? Meet Anoop Mehta, President of the Bharat Diamond Bourse, Group Managing Director of Mohit Diamonds, a leading manufacturer and distributor of rough and polished diamonds, and a partner of Mohanlal Raichand & Sons. “The bourse was not the creation of just one person,” he says in his characteristic self-effacing manner. “Though a few of us were at the vanguard of the development once the first top 100 exporters got on board we knew our dream would become a reality.”
Diamonds are a part of Anoop’s DNA. His family has been in the business for over a century with his great-grandfather starting out in 1916. The family’s reputation was cemented in 1949 when Mohanlal Raichand & Sons became the first Indian diamond company to be recognised by the Diamond Trading Company.
“After-school and college hours were always spent at my father’s office. Even then I was endlessly fascinated by the tools of the trade—the lamp, eye glass, blue velvet tray and calculator—and, of course, the trade itself. I joined the business in 1975.”
“In the ’80s I became obsessed with the idea of ushering in greater professionalism in the industry. Trust is a vital component of our business but to compete in the international arena we needed to present a more professional face to the world. At that time it was rare to have international visitors to our industry because we just did not have the infrastructure, compared to destinations like Antwerp.”
In the collective imagination of Europe, diamonds and the Hasidic Jewish community have always been synonymous. No longer.
The Epsteins and Finkelsteins have grudgingly given way to the Mehtas and Shahs. It is estimated that over 75% of Antwerp’s diamond industry is controlled today by the Indian community.
It all began in the early 1960s when they first arrived in Antwerp. No job was too small for them. The low quality roughs that the Jewish houses looked down on were handled by the new immigrants despite the small margins of profit they offered. These stones were sent to family members in India for cutting and polishing. Today, companies that had begun as one-man operations dealing with a handful of diamonds at a time, have been transformed into billion dollar global enterprises.
There are three main ingredients to their success story: cheap labour, large families and a willingness to work harder. The cost of polishing and cutting diamonds in factories in Surat is estimated to be as little as a tenth of the equivalent price in Europe.
While the skilled diamond processing labour force in Antwerp has dropped dramatically to less than 1,000, Surat employs some 450,000 people in the business. As a result over 80 percent of the world’s rough diamonds are now processed in India.
“Fortunately I had the support of several like-minded individuals. Though construction started in 1993 the bourse was only completed in 2011. We were constantly asked to give up on our dream. But we were tenacious, resilient. We never stopped believing.” Others did too and the construction cost of an estimated `11 billion was collected from potential members.
There were, expectedly, numerous hurdles to be scaled along the way.Though the plot was finalised and allotted in 1991, construction began only in 1993. Diamond manufacturers were offered a variety of space options from a mere 300 sq. ft. to a lavish 20,000 sq. ft. depending on the percentage of exports handled. For many the move from the traditional Opera House and Lamington Road areas was anathema but eventually sense and practicality prevailed.
Architecturally the bourse is resplendent, befitting of its place in the world. Designed by architect Balakrishna Doshi, inspiration was taken from exchanges in Israel, Antwerp and Belgium. Architect Reza Kabul who took over the project in the early 2000s says, “There were many limitations and parameters amidst a brief that was not always final, but I think we did a great job.” Great job indeed! Besides the total constructed area of 2,000,000 sq. ft. the bourse has two basements with an additional 1,000,000 sq. ft. The facilities comprise offices of diamond traders, four walk-in vaults, 24,500 safe deposit boxes, a 6,200 sq. ft. trading floor, strong rooms, a plethora of lockers and over 2,000 security cameras. It has an impressive list of service providers—from customs and banks, secure shipping and boiling services, restaurants and tool suppliers. Put succinctly, it concentrated Mumbai’s entire diamond industry into a single state-of-the-art facility.
The Bharat Diamond Bourse was inaugurated by then Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma who said, “As on today, in 2009-2010, the export of diamonds in this industry from Mumbai is `61,000 crore and I am hopeful that within a year, this bourse will achieve a turnover of over `1,00,000 crore.”Anoop, his vision realised, said, “This Bourse will be a one-stop point for diamond buyers and traders. The shift will help us achieve 10-15 per cent average growth annually in the next five years.”
Besides the total constructed area of 2,000,000 sq. ft. the Bharat Diamond Bourse has two basements with an additional 1,000,000 sq. ft.
Anoop is also associated with the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) and is on the committee of the Diamond Exporters Association Ltd. (DEAL). He has, over the years, done an immeasurable service to India’s diamond industry. After all, 12 out of 13 diamonds in the world are said to be cut in India. An estimated 600,000 people work in the industry today.
Some of the world’s largest diamond companies are Indian including 33 De Beers sightholders and accredited buyers. Indian diamond companies own and operate diamond-polishing facilities in Botswana, Namibia, China, Vietnam and many other countries across the globe.
Whatever the vagaries of global economics, the diamond industry has held resolute. In the last fiscal year all the top five retail diamond markets—the US, China, India, the Gulf countries and Japan—have grown exponentially. The biggest, the US market with a share of 42 per cent, grew seven per cent; China, with 16 per cent market share rose six per cent (in local currency); India, with eight per cent share, increased three per cent (in local currency); while the Gulf states and Japan, with eight per cent and five per cent share, respectively, rose two per cent each.
Anoop is expectedly very optimistic about the future of the Indian diamond industry. His Mohit Group consists of four innovative and interconnected businesses. Mohit Diamonds prides itself on its role as a Diamond Trading Company Sightholder and delivers an extremely efficient supply of smaller goods—Mohit Stars. After manufacturing the polished diamonds are distributed across the globe through marketing offices in Dubai, Antwerp and New York.
Mohit’s jewellery division is at the vanguard of creativity with a sophisticated manufacturing facility that specialises in designing and morphing Mohit Stars into stunning creations. Every year it develops over 8,400 designs to meet the diverse styles and requirements of its clients in different markets around the world, including North America.
Mohanlal Raichand has acquired an outstanding reputation over the last eight decades, and is the brand development arm. Currently working to introduce striking new diamond jewellery brands to the Indian market.
DiA, a world-class luxury brand, designing and retailing exquisite diamond jewellery, is run by Anoop’s wife Devaunshi.
In 2014 the Jewellery News Asia presented Anoop with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Hong Kong. The awards are led by Rio Tinto Diamonds and Chow Tai Fook as headline partners, with Diarough Group, Gubelin Group, the Israel Diamond Institute, KARP Group, Paspaley Pearling Company, Shanghai Diamond Exchange and Guangdong Land Holdings Ltd. as partners. The award recognises visionary leaders who have made significant contributions to the jewellery industry. Past recipients include Nicky Oppenheimer, former chairman of De Beers Group, and Leung Sik Wah, honorary life president of the Diamond Federation of Hong Kong.
At the function Letitia Chow, chair of the JNA awards judging panel, recognising Anoop’s vision and commitment to the growth of the diamond industry said, “Anoop Mehta has stepped up to lead and steer the Bharat Diamond Bourse to a successful launch. The diamond exchange has since been branded as the world’s largest. This is an endeavour that requires exceptional leadership and great courage, and takes a pioneer to accomplish. Today, India plays a key role in the international diamond trade and Anoop Mehta’s significant contributions have ensured that the diamond trade between India and the rest of the world is fair, efficient and robust.”
As is his understated style Anoop accepted the accolade on behalf of the bourse saying, “It is a great honour to be the recipient of the JNA lifetime achievement award. This award is testament to the remarkable teams of people that I have had the privilege to work with in order to bring the Bharat Diamond Bourse to full operation. I thank my colleagues and partners and current and former members of the Bharat Diamond Bourse committee for their continuous support and dedication to operating the bourse to the highest standards.”
Gareth Penny, former De Beers chief executive officer (CEO), shared a futuristic view when he said, “In 2009, India and China held 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of the global diamond market and by 2016, the numbers are expected to rise to 10 percent and 11 percent, which would be considered a neck-and-neck situation.” Her words were prophetic!
India is proud of what Anoop Mehta has done for its diamond industry. We salute him!
A diamond is forever
There has never been a stone better named than the diamond. Derived from the Greek word adamas, which translates as unconquerable, it has come to symbolise love. Hopefully, eternal love.
The earliest diamonds were found in India in the 4th century BC. A majority of these stones were transported to the world via the legendary Silk Route. Diamonds were worn as adornments, used as cutting tools, to cure illnesses and heal wounds, they served as talismans to ward off evil and were believed to provide protection on the battlefield.
Until the 18th century, India proudly held the position as the only source of diamonds worldwide. But as its mines were depleted, the world began a frenetic quest for alternate sources. Serendipity, as always, played a role. In 1866, 15-year-old Erasmus Jacobs found a 21.25 carat diamond on the banks of the Orange River in South Africa. In 1871, a mammoth 83.50 carat deposit was unearthed on a hill called Colesberg Kopje. Diamond prospectors now became ubiquitous in the area and the promise of diamond deposits led to the opening of the Kimberly Mines. Nine years later, Cecil John Rhodes formed De Beers Consolidated Mines. His aim was to control the world’s diamond supply and although the Machiavellian manipulations De Beers employed for years were successful, by 1919 diamonds were devalued by nearly 50 percent.
A new marketing strategy was needed. In 1947, De Beers commissioned the services of leading advertising agency N.W. Ayer. The unforgettable slogan ‘A diamond is forever’ was coined. It is said that the campaign was a major factor in today’s widespread embrace of diamond engagement rings. In fact, more than 78 percent of engagement rings sold worldwide contain diamonds.
Over the years, new cutting techniques were adopted to help increase the stone’s brilliance and several prominent shapes emerged. The most popular are the round, oval, marquise, square (princess) and rectangular (emerald) cuts.
In India, diamonds have captured the imagination of the country’s glitterati. India’s diamond industry is estimated to grow by an average 10 to 15 percent annually. The country accounts for 70-75 percent of total diamond exports in the world and employs 850,000 people, making it the largest cutting hub by value and number of employees. Last year, the country’s import of rough diamonds is estimated to have risen by 24.5 percent to 149.8 million carats, and export of cut and polished diamonds witnessed a surge of 28.3 percent to 59.9 million carats..