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Antwerp Seen Boosted as Firestone Eyes Diamond Sales in City

Firestone Diamonds Ltd. plans to sell gems from its Lesotho mine in Antwerp, giving a boost to the Belgian port city as it battles rivals in the Middle East and Asia.

“Antwerp is probably where we go first,” Chief Executive Officer Stuart Brown said in an interview in London yesterday. “We can see the most people in the shortest period of time there.”

The commitment to Antwerp will be a fillip for the city that handles about four-fifths of the world’s rough diamonds. Antwerp is battling to retain its primacy as the world’s biggest trading hub for the stones in the face of rising competition from Dubai and Mumbai.

Firestone, which will sell its diamonds in an electronic tender system, follows OAO Lukoil in choosing Antwerp. Russia’s largest non-state oil producer is set to start selling stones from its Grib mine in Russia’s far north, where it will produce more than 4 million carats annually from 2016.

Firestone is planning to start production in 2016 at the Liqhobong mine in Lesotho producing about 1 million carats a year. The company, which raised $222 million earlier this year to fund the project, is turning around its fortunes after its previous management team struggled to develop the mine.

Brown, a former chief financial officer at De Beers, the world’s biggest diamond producer, joined the company in August last year. He resigned as De Beers CFO in 2011, a month after it broke with tradition by hiring outsider Philippe Mellier as CEO.

“There’s an abundance of trade in Antwerp, which increases the chances of miners achieving higher sell through prices,” Anish Aggarwal, an Antwerp-based partner at industry consulting firm Gemdax, said by e-mail today. “Although the Antwerp diamond center faces threats, no substitute center has definitively emerged as yet.”

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