With development in the Capital hoisting up rent and rate prices, it looks like the golden era of London’s world-renowned diamond district, Hatton Garden, could be coming to an end.
Since the 1870s, Hatton Garden has been known as London’s jewellery quarter and the centre of the UK diamond trade. It takes its name from Christopher Hatton, a handsome courtier of Elizabeth I. The Queen, impressed by Hatton’s dancing, gave him a house and grounds in Ely Palace in 1576. The once famous garden was converted into the streets and houses of today’s Hatton Garden in the mid-seventeenth century.
Two hundred years later, in 1866, a farmer’s son found a brilliant pebble on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown, South Africa. The pebble turned out to be the 84.5-carat (4.5g) diamond that marked the spot for the world-famous Kimberley diamond mine.
Prospectors rushed to the mine, but by 1888, following a series of mergers with smaller companies, British diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes had seen off the competition, winning a 95% monopoly over the World’s diamond market as De Beers Consolidated Mines. The Kimberly mine yielded three tons of diamonds before its closure in 1914.
In 1890, Rhodes invited a group of ten Jewish firms based in Hatton Garden to form a purchasing syndicate. This meant that all the De Beers diamonds were to be sold only in London’s Hatton Garden through their wholesalers, who became the biggest diamond distributers in the world.
By 1895 there were over 100 diamond merchants and brokers operating from Hatton Garden with many other trades such as cutters, polishers, goldbeaters, silversmiths and pearl merchants rapidly moving in as the industry boomed. By 1910 Hatton Garden was firmly established as London’s diamond and jewellery quarter with over 200 businesses and workshops related to the trade established there.
In the 1930s, under their new chairman Ernest Oppenheimer, De Beers set up their own headquarters on Charter House Street on the corner of today’s Hatton Garden district. It was this historical building that two of the most successful advertising campaigns of all times were born: “Diamonds are forever” and “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”.
More recently the reputation of the global diamond trade has suffered from stories of ‘blood diamonds’; those coming from war-torn nations that are sold to finance conflict. The international diamond community, however, has a zero-tolerance policy with a strict set of safeguards in place to stop these illegal diamonds from entering the supply chain. All the diamonds from Hatton Garden wholesalers and jewellery retailers must be purchased from legal companies with certification for the diamonds leaving a paper trail all the way back to the source.
While Hatton Garden still hosts workshops and brokers, the area is becoming increasingly developed in favour of residential properties. This year De Beers even saw its legendary headquarters shut its doors as it moved its sorting and auction process to Botswana, where 70% of their diamonds are sourced.
Lisa Levinson, Country Manager of the De Beers Group’s newest jewellery brand, Forevermark, laments the dissolution of the historic area, “Hatton Garden is a neighbourhood of great historical importance to the diamond industry in the UK and worldwide. There are great benefits to having gemmology laboratories, mining companies, traders, wholesalers, designers and manufacturers in the same area; there is a natural dissemination of knowledge and expertise that is useful for the industry as a whole. It’s important to protect the structures that further research and development in the industry. It’s also important to encourage continued artistic expression and development of craftsmanship.”
In spite of rocketing rent prices pushing the behind-the-scenes jewellery businesses out of the area, Hatton Garden will always hold a glittering place in London’s history books, but its days as the diamond capital of the world are over.