DOWN IN MUMBAI, the stones hit the catwalk. At the India International Jewellery Show (IIJS), which bills itself as the world's premier diamond expo, some 25,000 buyers arrive each August from all over the world to make roughly $1 billion in deals with some of the industry's biggest firms.
If India is where the Kimberley Process goes to die, the IIJS feels something like its Las Vegas funeral. Display cases are stuffed with porcelain bowls glittering with loose diamonds. The hyaline saleswomen attempt to entice the slick-suited foreign dealers walking about with suitcases of cash. Conspicuously absent is any mention of the stones' origins. As one major dealer told me, buyers don't ask about working conditions in Surat because they don't care; they don't ask about the Kimberley Process in Mumbai because they know it's useless.
None of this is news to officials, who have their suspicions about how the Indian leg of the global diamond-processing chain operates. "The South African ambassador came here [in 2011] to see the Kimberley Process in action," Dinesh Navadiya, head of the Surat Diamond Association, told me. "I showed them the small producers and how easy it is to mix up the packets when two bags [of legal and illegal stones] come in. Nobody can tell because [the Kimberley certificate] only lists total carats. And lots of people are coming from China, the U.S., and Europe to buy polished stones like this."
And Mumbai is where they come to buy. The massive convention center feels like it could be hosting any other trade show, with its stale air-conditioning, pop-up display structures, and cavernous rows of dealers, but upstairs from the showrooms is where the gem world's biggest deals are now iced. Once a buyer's eye is caught, he's escorted above the display level into what would best be described as a "closing room" in a car dealership. Drink trays and potted plants decorate the mahogany desks behind which senior executives from Surat mill nervously about, quickly adjusting their ties and demeanors when the shadows of potential whales begin to creep up the staircase walls. If they make the right pitch, their polishing centers might be in business for years. Once there's a handshake, everything else is a trifle. The Mumbai bourse, where inspection and pickup of the diamonds take place, is in the same neighborhood as the convention hall, and from there, the final hurdle is just across the street.
In the shadow of Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the diamond division of the customs office is always bustling. Nearly $60 million in diamonds passes through every day in hundreds of packages on their way to North America, Europe, and East Asia. The 30 inspectors in this office epitomize Indian bureaucracy: They fly through reams of paperwork, stamping pages hurriedly while staring absentmindedly down the hallway; once in a while they breeze their box cutters across security-taped parcels to scan random bags of diamonds inside.
They can be excused for their lack of vigilance -- their work is purely a formality. The stacks of certificates accompanying every box mean that the onus of responsibility has been passed along to the dealers. "For us, the Kimberley Process has no relevance," explained a frustrated senior official, Dinesh Nanak. The inspectors can't even inspect; the law requires they let even the most suspicious shipments go if they pass the minimal Kimberley bar, which by the time the certificate reaches the airport customs office is worth about as much as a crumpled ATM slip.
Nanak watched as a security guard dollied away a load of packages destined for the luggage holds of planes bound for New York, London, and Los Angeles. In the United States alone, cash registers ring up some $10 billion in holiday diamond sales each year. And it's hard to fathom that most of that loot, at one point in time, passed through this dinky customs office.
Meanwhile, at a quiet suburban Mumbai train station not far from the airport, the angadias are enjoying some well-earned downtime. A few huddle around one of India's ubiquitous tea stalls, exchanging war stories and laughing together over lukewarm samosas as dawn breaks. The next batch of freshly dug rough stones will be filling their stomach pouches soon enough. But when the steel squeals of the Gujarat Mail start drifting back in, they're now a welcome sound. It's time to go home.