Belgian Diamond Research Center WTOCD’s Future in Doubt

Belgian industry group Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) will no longer provide “unrestricted” financial support for the Scientific and Technical Research Center for Diamond (WTOCD), leaving the local research center to face an uncertain future after 42 years.

A letter published in IDEX Online from law firm Van Houcke Advocaten, which is representing the organization’s board, warned that if AWDC’s decision to pull funding stands, WTOCD could face “bankruptcy or liquidation proceedings.”

The WTOCD is primarily funded by the AWDC, its website says.

Established in 1977 to support the Belgian diamond manufacturing sector, the WTOCD has developed a range of devices used in the polishing, screening, and grading of diamonds, including the D-Screen detection device sold by HRD Antwerp. But, given the decline of the Antwerp industry, the AWDC now argues it needs to diversify its funding.

“As a result of the high cost of labor in our country, almost the entirety of our diamond manufacturing has relocated abroad,” said AWDC spokesperson Margaux Donckier in a statement. “This has put the WTOCD in a difficult situation. The market for these high-quality machines in Antwerp continues to shrink. They are also too high-tech, and too expensive, for the majority of polishing units in low-wage countries.”

Last year, the WTOCD introduced Fenix, which it hailed as a “game changer” that would fully automate the cutting process and eliminate other centers’ low-labor-cost advantage. But the device has yet to live up to its expectations, it said.

“The technology has the potential to spark a revolution in diamond polishing, but at this point we recognize that additional investments are needed to ready the product for the market,” said Donckier.

It’s not clear what will happen to the device and technology now that AWDC is no longer funding its development.

Whatever happens with the WTOCD, AWDC plans to continue to support scientific and technical research, it said, though it will likely make a “fresh start.”

The AWDC and WTOCD director Yves Kerremans declined further comment. Van Houcke Advocaten did not return a request for comment.

(Image from the WTOCD annual report)

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JCK News Director