How Diamonds came to Hatton Garden

Posted August 20, 2012

Loose polished diamonds

In 1836, the number of business mention in the London Directory specialising in watches, gemstones, and fine jewellery or refining numbered at just 13.  Clerkenwell had traditionally been the centre for this trade but the overspill to Hatton Garden began as need for specialists increased to meet the demands for fine jewellery by the new middle classes.

Then diamonds were discovered in South Africa in 1865.  Mining and the distribution of diamonds was funded by a syndicate of bankers based in Hatton Garden and rough and polished stones had become the dominant trade by the end of the 19th century. More than 90 diamond polishers and dealers were registered in the area by the beginning of 20th century. In less than 40 years it had become a world centre for these precious gems.

However, World War I, followed by the depression of the 1920’s and ’30’s, put pressure on the industry worldwide.  Ernest Oppenhiemer, whose family owned the De Beers diamond mines, set up The Central Selling Organisation with a consortium of banks and mining operations, to purchase diamonds from other mines at guaranteed prices.   World War II and conflict all over Europe made London an attractive and safe place for the diamond polishers and dealers, so that by the end of the war, London was the obvious venue for the CSO to hold their monthly “sights” or buying meetings.

The diamond industry has been described as a global village.  The World Federation of Diamond Bourses operates 26 offices across the globe in which their 15,000 members can safely trade with their clients – and one of those is in Hatton Garden.

In an area that measures less than a square mile, over 400 specialists manufacture fine jewellery, creating over a quarter of all the product sold in the West End of London and supplying tools, metals, gemstones and services to designers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, retail jewellers and precious stone dealers across the world.


Polished diamonds:  photo by Paul Hartley, Hartley Studios, www.hartleystudios.com