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Catherine II steals show at Israeli diamond fair
Diamond buyers take a picture of a replica of Russian Queen Catherine the Great's imperial crown, which was used in the coronations of all Russian monarchs since Catherine the Great, set with 11,352 polished diamonds, with a total weight of 1,180 carats, and on sale for $20 million during the International Diamond Week (IDW) in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv on February 14, 2017. Some 400 buyers from 30 countries and over 200 diamond companies are exhibiting from Israel and abroad at the sixth International Diamond Week in Israel (IDWI) at the Israel Diamond Exchange (IDE). JACK GUEZ / AFP.

by Jean-Luc Renaudie

RAMAT GAN.- A replica of Russian Queen Catherine the Great's imperial crown stole the show at this week's Israeli diamond market in Ramat Gan, as the industry eyes a recovery.

Set with 11,352 diamonds, Catherine II's crown took pride of place at the entrance to an enormous hall on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, as hundreds of dealers from 30 countries struck deals at Israel's sixth International Diamond Week.

Israel is one of the world's largest trading centres for rough and cut diamonds, rivalling Antwerp in Belgium and Mumbai in India.

The sparkling crown made of pearls and diamonds of more than 1,900 carats was on sale for the "modest sum" of $20 million, said Dmitry Moiseev of the Russian diamond group Kristall Smolensk which owns it.

"Contacts with buyers have been established and we are hopeful," he said.

Hundreds of traders discussed deals and examined stones in the large hall, with diamonds on show that had been cut by jewellers into bracelets, rings, earrings or decorations for luxury watches.

Despite the event overlapping with Valentine’s Day, the atmosphere remained serious.

"Millions are at stake," said Tomer Cohen-Tzion, a professional who cautiously removed a 36-carat stone out from a small black box. It was on sale for $1.5 million.

To protect the riches, the four buildings of the diamond exchange are monitored by sophisticated security technology and a squad of guards.

Visitors had their fingerprints registered on entry to the venue, which was equipped with shops, hairdressing salons, synagogues, air-raid shelters, banks and clinics.

Eli Avidar, managing director of the diamond exchange, said the market was showing a recovery.

"The world has been in a coma for some years," since the 2008 financial crash, he said.

"But the US is on the rise now, and China, which worried us a lot since it was frozen, this year is beginning to rise again. India is also rising."

Last year, Israel's exports of polished diamonds fell by 6.4 percent to $4.68 billion, but Avidar predicted a rebound -- with up to 20 percent growth.

Major customers include the United States, Belgium as a link to Europe and Hong Kong as a hub for the Chinese market.

Laser cutting
For Avidar, the secret of Israel's success is that it specialises in "large stones, or special colours", allowing businesses to absorb the higher labour costs.

"On a stone of $500,000 to a million dollars, (wages) don't matter," he said.

The country relies on new technology, as exemplified by a newly established company specialising in laser stone cutting in the basement of the building.

The market has also opened a new auction centre.

"Israeli diamond dealers will no longer have to travel around the world to buy rough diamonds and they will be able to get supplies on the spot," Avidar said.

© Agence France-Presse

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