The Pentagon in Virginia has been known as the world’s largest office building for almost 80 years. However, the new Surat Diamond Bourse in Gujarat, India has recently surpassed it as the largest office complex globally. This 70-lakh-square-foot office campus consists of 9 rectangular buildings connected by a central corridor. The massive facility was designed to serve as a hub for the diamond cutting, polishing and trading industry in India. The construction of such a sizable office complex highlights the prominence and continued growth of the diamond industry in the country.
If you own a diamond ring or jewelry, there’s a good chance the diamond was processed in India. In fact, 14 out of every 15 diamonds in jewelry worldwide are cut and polished in India.
The history of diamond mining in India dates back over 3000 years. The first diamonds are believed to have been discovered in India around 1000 BC. At that time, many mines were located in the valleys of the Panna and Krishna Rivers in what is now Andhra Pradesh. These mines produced legendary diamonds like the Kohinoor, Nizam, Hope, Regent and Great Mughal.
In addition to the Panna and Krishna River valley mines, the Golconda region was well-known for diamond trading and polishing. Located near present-day Hyderabad, Golconda was at the intersection of major south and east trade routes across the subcontinent. This strategic position allowed Golconda to become a thriving diamond trading hub. The diamonds processed there became known as Golconda diamonds.
The long history of diamond mining and processing in India highlights the country’s enduring importance and dominance in the global diamond industry.
Diamond cutting and polishing began in Antwerp, Belgium in the 14th century. As a result, most of the uncut diamonds from India’s Golconda mines were exported to Europe for processing. By the 18th century, India was the sole global source of diamonds. However, small-scale diamond cutting also emerged in India around this time.
After new diamond deposits were found in Brazil in the 17th century, India’s prominence in global diamond mining started to decline. Small-scale mining continued in the Panna region, but the center of diamond trading shifted to Jewish traders in Antwerp. For the next few centuries, Antwerp dominated diamond cutting until the 1960s.
In the 1960s, some Indian traders began importing low-quality rough diamonds from Antwerp to India. Due to cheaper labor costs, these diamonds could be cut, polished and sold at a good price after export. While initially done manually, Indian artisans honed their diamond cutting skills over time. As a result, rough diamonds from around the world came to India for processing at lower costs, and India emerged as the global hub of diamond cutting and polishing.
Today, around 90% of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished in India, mostly in Surat, Gujarat. The processed diamonds are then transported to Mumbai for export. In 2015, plans were made to establish a centralized diamond trading hub called the Diamond Research and Mercantile City (DREAM City) in Surat. This was to consolidate and organize the Indian diamond industry by bringing traders from across India under one roof. The Surat Diamond Bourse, sprawling over 36 acres in DREAM City, aims to serve as this trading hub. Its construction is now nearing completion.
The long journey of diamond processing in India from ancient times highlights the country’s importance and dominance in the global diamond pipeline.
Covering over 7 million square feet, the Surat Diamond Bourse cost around Rs 3,200 crore to construct. According to CNN, it has surpassed the Pentagon in Virginia as the world’s largest office building. The Pentagon had held that record for 80 years.
The Diamond Bourse consists of 9 separate multi-story buildings, none of which have a 13th floor due to superstitious beliefs among diamond traders. The buildings are connected by a 24-foot wide corridor spanning the complex. Office spaces range from 300 to 75,000 square feet, accommodating a total of 4,700 offices and institutions. Over 67,000 diamond professionals can work daily in the complex.
Additionally, the Bourse has nine 1.5-acre courtyards with seating and water facilities for client meetings. Other amenities include clubs, conference halls, gyms, banquet halls and restaurants. The recreational and parking facilities cover 20 lakh square feet.
The energy-efficient design enables the massive complex to consume 50% less energy than required. The scale and facilities of the Surat Diamond Bourse reflect India’s dominance as the world’s diamond processing hub.
The main goal behind constructing the Surat Diamond Bourse was to streamline and improve efficiency in India’s diamond trading industry. India’s dominance in diamond cutting and polishing largely stems from the significantly lower production costs compared to other countries. According to CNBC, diamond cutting in the US costs around $100 per carat, while in India it is only $10 per carat – just one-tenth of the US cost.
A major factor behind this cost difference is inexpensive labor. When advanced diamond cutting and polishing technologies were introduced to India after 2000, local artisans quickly adopted them. This led to a large pool of skilled and semi-skilled workers in the industry. The competitive job market keeps labor costs low. Also, as India is self-sufficient in producing most daily necessities, prices are relatively low. This allows people to live at a much lower cost than in Western nations, enabling diamond traders to easily find cheap labor.
India also utilizes advanced computer mapping programs and laser cutting machinery to cut diamonds efficiently and reduce waste, further lowering costs. Other infrastructure like electricity, water and transportation is also fairly inexpensive. Thanks to all these factors, India’s diamond industry has gradually risen to become the global leader since the 1980s.
Another major objective behind the Surat Diamond Bourse was to reduce the distance between Surat and Mumbai to improve efficiency in diamond trading. The 280 km distance takes 4-6 hours by train or 5.5 hours by road. This commute was inconvenient and risky for traders traveling between the cities. Incidents like accidents, theft and robbery have occurred during Surat-Mumbai diamond transportation.
With the Bourse, production and trading can now happen in one location, eliminating transportation risks. After the complex is operational, most operations will shift from Mumbai to Surat.
Additionally, India produces 15% of the world’s lab-grown diamonds while China holds a 50% market share. The Indian government aims to strengthen its position in this segment. It has announced R&D subsidies for the lab-grown diamond industry. The Surat Diamond Bourse can play a key role in growing India’s lab-grown diamond sector with this support.
Overall, the integrated complex in Surat improves efficiency, reduces risks and supports future growth of India’s diamond industry.