Each day, around 220 million dollars worth of diamonds pass through Antwerp’s Diamond Quarter. The district has a turnover of 54 billion dollars a year, making it one of the top-grossing areas in the world. For a city that prides itself on being the diamond capital of the world, it was rather curious Antwerp didn’t have a diamond museum for several years. This wrong has now been righted and tourists can learn all about the city’s rich diamond history at the newly opened DIVA Museum.
DIVA is not an abbreviation, but refers to the Italian word diva, which means goddess and is commonly used to describe successful female opera stars and women who are difficult to please. The stereotypical diva usually wears diamonds.
The DIVA Museum’s collection holds over 600 objects. Most objects on display were not simply chosen for their monetary value, DIVA spokeswoman Suzanne de Lange explains to Culture Trip. ‘Of course, most jewellery has high value, but we wanted to emphasise the cultural importance of these pieces over their price. Diamonds are a big part of Antwerp’s history and still play a very important role in today’s local economy and culture. The museum honours and explains that heritage’.
In size, DIVA certainly makes up for Antwerp not having had a diamond museum for so long. With 1,200 square metres of exhibition space and 5,617 square metres of total space – including a gift shop, administration and event halls – DIVA is the biggest diamond museum in the world.
Its tours revolve around six themed rooms. There is a life-size replica of a diamond vault, which explains the various certificates and checks involved in deciding the value of a diamond and making sure it isn’t fake. Visitors also learn about several types of diamond crimes and what is being done to prevent them.
In the Atelier, guests learn all there is to know about diamond processing and silversmithing and in the International Trading Room, the history of diamond trade in Antwerp is told. Several animated short films featuring important historical figures and their roles in the Antwerp diamond trade are shown.
More local history is on display in the Dining Room, where etiquette rules and luxury consumption among Antwerp’s noble families is explained. The Wunderkammer holds some of the more exotic pieces in the DIVA collection and details where they are from and how they made it to Antwerp. Finally, in the Boudoir Room, some of the most exquisite pieces of the collection are shown. Of course, the museum shop is run by a jeweller.
The new museum is a replacement for both the previous Diamond Museum in Antwerp and the Sterckshof Silver Museum in the Antwerp’s district of Deurne. The former Diamond Museum opened in 1972 and moved to a different location in 1988 and again, in 2002. In 2012, it was shut down to make space for the expansion of the Koningin Elisabethzaal, a concert hall that is home to the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra. The top pieces from the former Diamond Museum, therefore, found a temporary home in the Museum aan de Stroom.
The Silver Museum in Deurne opened in 1992 and was housed in a castle called Sterckshof. By 2014, it was in desperate need of renovations, but because the Sterckshof is classified as a protected monument, the necessary construction was not allowed and the museum was forced to close down.
During DIVA’s opening weekend, a new world record was set for diamond cutting. Over a period of 57 hours, five diamond cutters took turns in continuously cutting a stone. The number 57 wasn’t chosen randomly: a diamond has 57 facets.