DIVA: Antwerp’s most shimmering museum
Text: Arne Adriaenssens | Photos: Frederik Beyens
No city shines bright like a diamond as the Flemish metropole that is Antwerp. As the world’s busiest crossroad of the diamond trade, the city is the place to be for all diamond, silver and jewellery aficionados. To immerse yourself in the story behind them all, head to DIVA – a brilliant museum about all that glitters.
The unbreakable relationship between Antwerp and the diamond sector takes us back to the 14th century when diamonds were transported from India to Venice by the Silk Road. When in the late 15th century, the Portuguese found a faster connection to India by sea, its Jewish community started trading these precious gems instead. Due to the Spanish Inquisition, many Jews fled the country mere decenniums later and stranded in Antwerp, a safe beacon at the time. Once settled, they continued trading, turning Antwerp into the world capital of diamonds.
Global diamond capital
Throughout the centuries, the sector did experience multiple major setbacks, knows Eva Olde Monnikhof, the director of DIVA. “After the Second World War, the Jewish community was unwelcome in many cities. Lode Craeybeckx, the mayor of Antwerp at the time, instead welcomed all Jews back into the city and even offered them a free house and a starting capital to reboot their businesses. While that was a controversial move at the time, the city has benefited wildly from it, as Antwerp remains the world’s most important diamond centre to date.”
As in 2018, 86 per cent of all rough diamonds pass through Antwerp, the sector accounts for 40 to 48 billion euro per year. Nonetheless, few Antwerpians grasp the importance of the sector for their city and country. “That’s where we step in. We want to share the stories, tradition and love for diamonds with Belgians and tourists alike.”
An interactive journey
DIVA is divided into three themes: diamonds, jewellery and silver – three separate trades with a symbiotic relationship. “In many cases, jewellery is the synthesis of gems and precious metals. Therefore, it is important for us to talk about it as well.” DIVA is a merger of the former Diamond Museum and the Silver museum Sterckshof in Antwerp. Therefore, the collection on display showcases a myriad of styles from a wide array of eras.
That link with the past doesn’t prevent it from being a modern, interactive hub for all ages. “A visit to DIVA is about experiencing, rather than simply reading and looking. Amongst other things, we’ve got an interactive dining table with screens in it around which you can sit down and learn about tableware through the ages and the jewellery they wore. On the screens, you can watch and listen to the story of a dining partner from those same ages.”
Furthermore, DIVA offers two exciting audio tours: a fact-packed learning experience on the one hand and an exciting journey of fictional stories on the other. “The latter is about the importance of diamonds, jewellery and silverware throughout the ages. The butler of the diva guides you around her mansion and shares all the household’s secrets with you.”
Creating and shopping
To fully immerse yourself into the shimmering world of gems and precious metals, you attend an initiation or workshop in the museum’s atelier (online booking required). You can get close and personal with a silversmith or make your own jewellery with metal clay. This special clay turns entirely silver when baked. So, you can easily sculpt your proper masterpiece with it. For professionals, DIVA also hosts masterclasses of esteemed international experts. “When Giovanni Corvaja gave a class, we had applications from as far as Japan and Australia. We are proud to collaborate with big names like him.”
If you prefer wearing jewellery over making it yourself, you can shop around in DIVA’s two boutiques. In the museum shop, you find fun gem-related gadgets, as well as wallet-friendly jewellery. For a more high-end souvenir, you can visit the in-house store of Silvius Duron. The family behind this label has been internationally active since the 70s. The brand Silvius Druon was established in 2018 and never fails to provide breathtaking, wearable masterpieces.
Victor and Albert Museum in Antwerp
Alongside its stunning permanent collection, DIVA also hosts multiple temporary expositions per year. From 30 October 2020 until 1 March 2021, they display some of the finest jewels from the 1960s and 70s. It doesn’t require an expert’s eye to see the difference between these bombastic, over-the-top items and today’s minimalistic and refined pieces. In collaboration with the Cincinnati Art Museum, DIVA has acquired pieces from all over the world for the exhibition.
From 5 March 2021 to 6 June 2021, DIVA hosts an exclusive collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum – the world-leading, London-based museum of decorative arts and design. “For the first time in its 170-year existence, it will lend out a part of its permanent collection to other museums worldwide and they have selected DIVA to be the first institute to exhibit them. As our collection matches beautifully with theirs, visitors can expect a unique synergy between these two world-renowned collections which will guarantee an unforgettable experience.”
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