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Friday, 15 July 2022

Surat: The heart of Diamond Cutting & Polishing industry

 Surat: The heart of Diamond Cutting & Polishing industry

A 17th-century account by French gem trader Jean-Baptise Tavernier paints a vivid picture of a vibrant Surat, a key entry point for European traders seeking India’s spices, cotton, silk, and natural diamonds. While the Mughal period, Surat earned the nickname of ‘Zari City’ affability a unique textile craft, a result of mixing gold, silver and copper threads with silk and cotton.

Surat, the enterprising city
By the early 18th century, the India was a global diamond trading hub, aided by the Portuguese; colonial masters of diamond mines in the Brazil and the Indian port-city of Goa.

The Surat chapter of the diamond story began in the year 1900 when two enterprising brothers from the Patidar community, Gandabhai Kuberdas Mavjivanwala and Shri Rangeeldas Kuberdas Mavjivanwala initiated diamond cutting and polishing in Vadi Faliya area of Surat upon their return from the South Africa. It took over 50 years for the small tribe to take steps towards becoming a large scale business .

The 2nd world war further aided in Surat’s development. Govind Dholakia, organizer & Chairman at SRK Exports, explains. “Before the year 1940, the business of diamond cutting and polishing was in Yangon, Myanmar (known as Rangoon, Burma). The Japanese attack of Myanmar caused diamond artisans to return to their hometown, Surat-Navsari, Gujarat, India.” As per to Dholakia, merchants sending rough diamonds to Rangoon shifted to the Surat. The Zari business was already flourishing under the leadership of the Patel community. Their enterprising instinct resulted in their involvement in diamond cutting and polishing

Decades of development
In the year 1956, Mr H.B. Shah, a diamond merchant in Mumbai, initiated a cutting and polishing unit for natural diamonds and welcomed workers from other communities. “Until the early sixties, the business used to obtain limited rough diamonds from Golconda and Panna mines, adequate for local market demands,” explains Sevantibhai Shah, Chairman at Venus Jewel. The Indo-China war of 1962 wet  domestic demand for natural diamonds, motivating players to seek international clients. In the mid-sixties, the Export Promotion Council (EPC) was founded and the Indian government introduced the replenishment license policy, which permitted the import of rough diamonds equivalent in value to 70 per cent  of processed diamond export earnings. The policy was a game-changer, magnifying the scale of diamond processing in the India. Few entrepreneurs played a main role in the industry’s development, namely Hemchand Mohanlal Jhaveri, Kirtilal Manilal Mehta, Chandulal Mohanlal Mehta, Mafatlal Mohanlal Mehta, Ratilal Becharlal Jasani, and Kirtilal Kalidas Doshi. 

Patronage and progress
A network of players originating from the India established trading offices in Antwerp, giving diamonds on credit to Indian manufacturers. By 1966-67, diamond exports from the India had reached 28 million USD, but this was only the beginning.

Well-trained and skilled employees are important to the progress and expansion of any industry. Till the mid-eighties, the India was a processing center for low to medium-value natural diamonds, with the higher quality goods cut in the Israel or Belgium. Venus Jewel’s founder, Sevantibhai Shah, determined to up-skill Indian diamond cutters and created a large-scale, world-class manufacturing environment for high-value natural diamonds in the Surat, rewriting the rules of the game.

From guiding his karigars (workers) in crafting high-value diamonds to strategic planning and managing risk during production, he changed the diamond cutting sector in the India, realizing greater efficiencies, precision and indisputable quality.

“It was not  just about polishing diamonds with fifty six facets, it was chance to prove to the world that diamonds cut in India could be at par with the best in the world,”

Moreover Sevantibhai before telling us a notable story from the 1970s: “The employees were used to sitting on the floor and working on the diamond polishing wheel. We felt this was not healthy for their posture. Despite their resistance, we introduced tables and chairs in the manufacturing environment, which later became the business standard.”

At Venus Jewel, continuous knowledge sharing along with on-the-job training supported upgrade the skills of the workers . In the year 1970s, Sevantibhai Shah introduced a breakthrough performance-based-pay-system which incentive the artisans to deliver superior quality in to their work.

The karigars (workers) of Surat even played a significant role in shaping the industry. From 1960 to 2000, the business had limited access to technological tools with a mere loupe used to observe diamonds with the naked eye. Daily meetings were conduct to discuss how to minimize the loss during diamond processing, and decisions were made with the support of the diamond cutters.” explained Sevantibhai.

Ashish Mehta, Partner, Kantilal Chhotalal shares his experiences , “In my view , while Surat’s development as a global diamond processing hub in the sixties and seventies may have been because of  lower costs, the graduation towards high-value goods happened in the late nineties when stakeholders embraced technology. It was no longer about lower costs but the flexibility towards state-of-the-art tech.”

Keeping the tradition alive
The karigars (workers) of Surat came from agricultural families. They worked hard to not only learn diamond cutting and polishing skills but embraced the utilize of technology  .

“Our company runs an in-house training institute named SRK Institute of Diamonds (SRKID) for Diamond Cutting, Polishing and Processes. Not only do we maintain day-to-day updates but we even recruit new people by the end of the training,” Govind Dholakia explained. “I trust  that at least three years or 1000 days of training is need if we want to learn anything new, and that is why we give training for a minimum of 3 years before fresh employments start taking responsibilities. This way, they can support develop the business with their theoretical and practical knowledge,” he added. 

Moreover skill development, Surat’s diamond industry has even instituted safety protocols and financial rewards. “We offer the  benefits such as medical insurance and a Super Annuation fund which permits our employees to be self-reliant upon retirement. Super Annuation is a company fund accruing 27 per cent  of the remuneration which obtains paid to employees upon retirement, resulting in one of the lowest attrition rates in the industry,” Sevantibhai added. 

Cumulative efforts of the Indian diamond industry have resulted in the country approaching export values of ~18,665 Million USD in the year 2019-20. There are ~a million personals who directly and indirectly benefit from natural diamonds in Surat. As per to industry sources, besides holding its position as the largest diamond manufacturing hub of the world, Surat will soon become the world’s biggest trading center with the launch of the upcoming the Surat Diamond Bourse.

With the unveiling of a 25,000 square feet customs home at the Surat Diamond Bourse, and India’s 1st diamond auction-cum-exhibition area at Vesu (2,500 sq. ft.), Surat continues to spark as bright as the natural diamonds  from its heart.

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