By Joyce Fischler
ANTWERP, BELGIUM, center of the world diamond industry - On an out-of-the-ordinary nice and sunny winter afternoon I had the pleasure to interview a legend in the industry, Abraham Aaron 'Bram' Fischler.
At 78, Bram Fischler has been the president of the Antwerp Diamond Bourse since 1986 and is the longtime president of the Federation of Diamond Bourses in Belgium. He recently finished a three-year-term as president of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and is its honorary life president. Bram also led the Diamond High Council for several years. His position as a titan of the industry was further confirmed last fall when he was named an Officer of the Order of the Crown by King Albert of Belgium. Despite the titles and the leadership roles, Bram remains an unfussy and humble person.
Fischler was 15 when he left his childhood home in Antwerp at the beginning of World War II. He walked, hitchhiked and sometimes rode by train to Portugal. Since he spoke Portuguese and German well, the crew of a boat headed to Latin America let him on board to serve as a translator between them and the voyagers.
“When I got to Cuba, I said I am staying here” Fischler recalled, passionately narrating his past. “I worked there as a ‘shleifer’ (diamond cutter).”
La Habana - Havana - was the only active diamond center during the war. When it ended most members of the Jewish community left the country to go back to Europe or to settle in the USA. “The government had asked Belgian refugees to come back to revive the industry,” Fischler said. “I lost my heart to the Latinos, but because there was no way of surviving after the trade had died, I decided to go back.” Fischler, who was from a large family, lost his parents and five siblings during the Holocaust. Returning to Belgium, he found his six cousins who were also orphans.
He quickly took the helm. “Let’s go on with the diamond business, because that’s what our parents had always done,” he recalled telling them. Fifty years later, the Fischlers are one of the biggest families working together in the diamond industry.
Fischler Diamonds Inc. is celebrating its golden anniversary this year. A major DTC Sightholder since 1967, they now manufacture diamonds in four factories in Antwerp and overseas. With offices all over the world, their inventory consists of 0.10 ct to 5 ct stones in more than 400 qualities. Three generations of family members who are very much engaged in defending their industry and promoting diamonds worldwide, manage the company.
A cousin, Stephane Fischler, vice president of the firm’s manufacturing operation, is the Secretary General of the International Diamond Manufacturers Association. One of his four sons, Serge Fischler, president of the NY office, is an active member of the DMIA. [DMIA and IDMA, same just different parts of the world]
Fischler’s philosophy was to build a business based on family and family values. “My biggest achievement in all my years in the industry is my family name,” Bram said. “It is a true success that the family is together at work as well as everywhere else. An honorable name is something better than money.” He tries to make all the employees involved, related or not, feel like kin. “Personnel are practically part of the family. We feel it is very important to create a familiar environment and build a close relationship with our staff. As for the Fischler men, behind every man there is woman. So you can literally say that everybody in the family is involved,” Fischler said with a grin.
GIVING BACK TO THE INDUSTRY:
The Diamond High Council (HRD) was founded in 1973 as a non-profit organization representing the associations of the Antwerp trade and industry. Fischler was president from 1988 through 1993.
“Times have changed a lot,” Fischler reflected. “Structure of business has never evolved as much as in the last ten years. Someone who left the business fifteen years ago wouldn’t recognize it today. The HRD wanted to radically change the ‘junta’, but the stage wasn’t ripe. They wanted the decision-making to be more proficient. Diamond dealers are very old-fashioned and conservative. They have a hard time accepting that everything changes,” he continued.
Part of Fischler’s success came from his natural knack of cutting to the chase. “You know, when someone comes with new ideas they say ‘this guy is out of his mind.’ If he succeeds, they say it’s normal that he did,” Fischler said, chuckling. The diamond industry began to evolve, following the trend in other businesses as they moved from craft to a modern-age trade. “Slowly the producers, the unions, the banks and public relations entered the picture,” Fischler explained. “Today they all form the HRD. The producers and manufacturers realized we need all of the players, big or small, to make it work. All the elements are positive for the diamond industry.”
PLAYING ON A WORLD STAGE:
Bram’s first concern as president of the WFDB was that everybody should be able to make a living.
“It was becoming a game for only the big players, where the big partakers survive and the small ones disappear,” Fischler said. “I say live and let live. I believe that everyone gives something to the business. Even the small competitors defend their stock. I’m proud to belong to the diamond family.”
In his parting message to the WFDB last fall, Fischler said that despite difficulties the diamond trade faced in his term as president, he did not despair and was clear in his commitment to the trade. “We are fortunate to be members of a truly remarkable industry,” he said. “This holds true in Fischler Diamonds Inc. itself, as our goal is to provide the best quality stones at an affordable price to both large and small customers,” Fischler said.
Asked whether the diamond trade has rules and regulations different than other industries, Fischler said, “The diamond trade is based on trust and a handshake. I made a point to make a diamantaire’s name like a credit card, a sort of moral warranty. Someone’s name should be considered as the highest standard. No other business on the planet can do that. It’s based on principles that twenty-four bourses spread around the globe share.”
Before joining the WFDB, new members like China and Russia must agree with the way business is done in the diamond world, Fischler explained. As the basis of the industry, it is accepted.
“The Prime Minister of Belgium once asked me, ‘Bram, how did you make your name?’ I said, ‘I’ve always rooted for the poor.’ I’ve been a member on the committee of the Antwerp bourse since ?68. They’ve asked me to arbitrate the most cases anyone has until today,” he said.
Fischler’s predictions for the diamond industry in general and Antwerp in particular are upbeat and positive. “Sales records are constantly being beaten and will continue to be so,” Fischler said. “You have to keep up and stay in the game. Without relations, you won’t make it far in this commerce.”
The Diamond High Council, he said, represents Antwerp around the globe. “Bourses all over the world are based on Antwerp’s doing. Argyle, BHP, De Beers, all the market makers have offices in Antwerp.” Why Antwerp? “It’s a blessed city,” Fischler said. “He who cuts down the tree, plants two new ones in its place. There have been several crises, but we are like cats, we always fall on our feet. There isn’t one empty office space in Antwerp.” Fischler said like a proud patriarch.
“Compared to the rest of the world, over the last couple of years, diamond commerce is holding up the best. My friend told me how much money he made with real estate and the stock market. So I asked him, ‘Why do you need to be a diamond dealer?’ So he answered, ‘Bram, I need to make a living also!’”
> President, Antwerp Diamond Bourse, (1986 - 2003 - current)
> President, Federation of the Diamond Bourses in Belgium, (1998 - current)
> President, World Federation of Diamond Bourses (2000 - 2002)
> President, Diamond High Council (1988 - 1993)
> Vice President, Steering Committee World Diamond Council (2000 - current)
> Officer of the Order of the Crown
> Honorary Life President, World Federation of Diamond Bourses
“My Family: Lovely wife, five children & their spouses, 16 grandchildren & spouses, 3 great-grandchildren. And helping people.”
“Everybody says I should write a book. They say tell us and we will write it. Unfortunately for the moment I can't find the time since I’m always busy.”