Diamonds are for later: Belgian gem gala shelved by crisis

BRUSSELS, Oct 21, 2008 (AFP) -The main players in the diamond industry have postponed a gala conference in Antwerp, Belgium, deeming it inappropriate to be flaunting their rocks while the world economy is on the rocks.



"With the turmoil now taking place in the financial markets, we felt that it is essential that we allow the dust to settle first," said Antwerp World Diamond Centre CEO, Freddy J. Hanard.

"We therefore thought it prudent to postpone the conference," originally scheduled for November 17-18 in the northern Belgian city which is the leading trading centre for rough, uncut diamonds.

The fifth edition of the international diamond conference was to include a spectacular dinner attended by the likes of British entrepreneur Richard Branson and the King of Lesotho, Letsie III.

"The sector has other preoccupations at the moment, another official for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre organisers said.

"A show of luxury would be a bad signal to send out while the economic situation is not good, it would be bad for the image," he added.

In recent weeks Fortis and Dexia banks have caused scandals by inviting board members and others to dinner in plush Monaco hotels while their banks are bailed out by the Belgian, Dutch, French and Luxembourg governments.

The consequences of the financial firestorm for the diamond sector remain uncertain.

"On the one hand, if there is a marked fall in global consumer demand, all luxury products are going to experience a slowdown," said Hanard.

"But on the other hand, with the lack of confidence that the public is currently displaying for stocks, bonds and other financial instruments, diamonds and diamond jewellery may be considered a safe haven.

"This is on top of the emotional focus on personal relationships that diamonds have come to symbolise, which become front-of-mind in times of crises," he added.

The Antwerp Diamond Centre, which had invited the bosses of sector giants such as Cartier, Rio Tinto and De Beers, expects to reschedule the gala conference for some time next year.

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