Sales of rough diamonds by Debswana Diamond Company jumped 64% in 2021, statistics released by the Bank of Botswana showed on Monday, driven by the reopening of key global consumer markets.
The total value of Debswana’s diamond exports stood at $3.466 billion in 2021 compared with $2.120 billion in 2020, the central bank data showed.
Debswana, a joint venture between Anglo American unit De Beers and Botswana’s government, sells 75% of its output to De Beers with the balance taken up by the state-owned Okavango Diamond Company.
Debswana sales fell by 30% in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic hit demand while global travel restrictions impacted trading. Since mid-2020 De Beers has shifted some of its rough diamond viewings to international diamond centres such as Antwerp to cater for customers unable to travel to Gaborone.
“Demand for rough diamonds remained robust, with positive midstream sentiment and strong demand for diamond jewellery continuing over the holiday period, particularly in the key U.S. consumer market,” Anglo American said in a production update last Thursday.
Debswana accounts for almost all Botswana’s diamond exports, with Lucara Diamond Corp’s Karowe mine being the only other operating diamond mine in the country.
Botswana gets about 30% of its revenues and 70% of its foreign exchange earnings from diamonds. The southern African country expects its economy to have grown by 9.7% in 2021, after an 8.5% contraction in 2020.
Debswana’s production increased by 35% to 22.326 million carats in 2021 from 16.559 million carats in 2020, mostly due to higher-grade ore being treated at its flagship Jwaneng mine, Anglo American said.
Russia’s Alrosa, the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds and a competitor of De Beers, reported revenue jumped by 49% to $4.2 billion last year as demand exceeded supply.
De Beers’ rough prices spiked in the first half of 2021 as supply shortages coincided with buoyant diamond demand at the trade and retail levels.
The miner’s price index rose 14% during the six months, reflecting “tightness in inventories across the diamond value chain, as well as positive consumer demand for polished diamonds,” parent company Anglo American said Tuesday.
De Beers implemented price increases at its January, February and June sights, with an emphasis on the larger categories of rough. This brought prices back to pre-pandemic levels: The index for the first half was flat versus the same period of 2020, the company reported.
Sales volume at De Beers rose to 7.3 million carats in the second quarter from just 300,000 carats a year earlier during the peak of the coronavirus crisis. The average sales price advanced 13% to $135 per carat as demand shifted to higher-value rough.
“Consumer demand for polished diamonds continued to recover, leading to strong demand for rough diamonds from midstream cutting and polishing centers, despite the impact on capacity from the severe Covid-19 wave in India during April and May,” the miner said.
Meanwhile, production more than doubled to 8.2 million carats for the quarter versus 3.5 million carats last year, reflecting planned increases to meet the stronger rough demand, as well as the sharp impact of lockdowns in southern Africa in 2020.
With half of 2021 now over, De Beers was able to give a more specific production outlook for the full year, predicting output of 32 million to 33 million carats — compared with a previous plan of 32 million to 34 million carats. The company has already reduced its guidance for the year twice because of operational issues at mines.
“Most of the impact on production for the year as a whole is a result of the challenges we experienced earlier in the year, particularly with excessive rainfall in southern Africa, the Covid-19-related shutdown in Canada, and power supply disruptions in Botswana,” a De Beers spokesperson commented. “We still expect production in the second half of the year to be significantly above the 15.4 million carats produced in the first half of the year, however, and this will take us to the narrower guided range.”
In the second quarter, output in Botswana more than tripled to 5.7 million carats from 1.8 million carats a year before. Production in Namibia slipped 6% to 338,000 carats, as one of the company’s mining vessels underwent planned maintenance and another remained demobilized.
Output in South Africa more than doubled to 1.3 million carats from 555,000 because the company processed higher-grade ore at the Venetia mine. Canada’s production climbed 14% to 899,000 carats, mainly reflecting the comparison with last year’s slowdown.
De Beers increased prices of goods above 2 carats at this week’s sight as shortages of rough coincided with strong polished demand.
Prices rose around 5%, and more in some categories, market insiders told Rapaport News on Monday. Near-gem items also saw significant increases, while prices for other stones under 2 carats were either stable or slightly up.
“They seem to have picked areas where they’ve seen room [for price growth], and they’ve just hiked the prices up,” a source in the rough sector said on condition of anonymity. “For the time being, the market is absorbing it.”
Rough trading has been strong in recent weeks because of reduced supply from the large miners and solid polished sales. The RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™) for 1-carat diamonds has risen 2.5% since May 1.
Rough above 1 carat has been especially sought-after, with premiums on the secondary market rising while manufacturers look to fill inventory gaps. A backlog of grading submissions at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has exacerbated the situation.
The June sight value will be similar to last month’s $380 million as customers snap up the limited goods available at the sale, sources said. Proceeds were higher earlier in the year — peaking at $663 million in January — when manufacturers restocked after the holidays and De Beers had larger volumes available to sell.
“There’s a shortfall in goods,” an executive at an Indian sightholder said Monday. “They’re not able to serve everyone what they’re entitled to.”
Rough demand slumped during the 2020 coronavirus crisis as the global supply chain froze. De Beers chose to maintain prices until August, when it offered deep discounts to encourage sightholders to resume buying. It has since reversed those cuts, gradually bringing prices to above pre-pandemic levels in many categories.
The sight began on Monday and runs until Friday. De Beers was not available for comment at press time.
Rough-diamond demand was robust at this week’s De Beers sight despite the ongoing Covid-19 crisis in India, customers reported.
Manufacturers snapped up the limited supply in anticipation of rough shortages, sources told Rapaport News. Sales will still be 10% to 25% lower than the previous cycle in March because of reduced availability, they estimated. That translates to a sight value of $330 million to $400 million.
“People are buying from the miners and the big sources, thinking that there will probably be tenders that will be canceled,” a sightholder said. “There is the perceived idea that there’s going to be a shortage in certain goods. People are as eager to buy rough as they were four weeks ago.”
De Beers is not offering any ex-plan goods — those over and above customers’ prearranged allocations — the sources added. The miner has fewer diamonds available for clients after reducing its inventories during a strong first quarter for the rough trade, when it sold 13.5 million carats against production of 7.2 million carats. It has suffered operational difficulties at some of its Botswana deposits, exacerbated by a temporary shutdown at its Gahcho Kué mine in Canada.
“If De Beers offered 20% more [goods at the sight], I think the market would eat it up,” a rough-sector insider commented.
While India’s diamond and jewelry sector has received permission to operate during the country’s several coronavirus wave, manufacturing levels have slumped by between 10% and 50% in the past month. This has resulted from capacity restrictions and absenteeism, with smaller sizes seeing a sharper downturn.
Companies that manufacture larger goods operate in factories with more space for social distancing and are able to retain workers by offering higher pay, a sightholder explained. Many employees who produce smaller stones have left Surat and returned to their hometowns for health reasons.
“My production is down by a little less than 10%, but for people who are in smalls, their production has been severely hit, and is probably down by more than 30%,” said an executive at a large-stone manufacturer.
In line with this, the market for large rough has survived better than the small-stone segment, sources explained.
“Anything in [0.75 carats] or up, it’s in big demand,” a customer noted. “You can sell whatever you want.”
Meanwhile, polished demand has strengthened as companies anticipate lower availability alongside steady retail sales. A backlog at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has also affected the supply situation, with the turnaround time standing at around a month for the Mumbai laboratory and a little more in Surat.
“Due to the supply scarcity, people are stocking [up on] some of the goods, so demand is high, and will remain strong for a month or so,” another manufacturer said.
India’s virus outbreak has seen activity shift to other global centers. Many large manufacturers relocated their buying teams to Dubai before travel restrictions went into effect, enabling them to continue obtaining rough for their factories, reported Trans Atlantic Gem Sales (TAGS), a tender house located in the emirate.
De Beers’ weeklong May sight, its fourth of the year, began on Monday, featuring viewings in Dubai, Antwerp and Tel Aviv. The session is also the first under a new supply contract that came into effect on April 1.
The agreement sees the miner offer proportionately more goods to manufacturers rather than dealers in an effort to limit the reselling of boxes. Sightholders expected sluggish rough trading on the secondary market this month as a result.
Certain assortments have also changed, with 8-grainer (2-carat) rough now forming part of a category of larger stones ranging from 2 carats upward, sightholders noted. The size was previously in a 4- to 8-grainer (1- to 2-carat) box, which will now become 4- to 6-grainers (1 to 1.50 carats).
“This was focused both on responding to sightholders’ commercial needs and ensuring we have the most coherent offering for beneficiation customers,” a De Beers spokesperson said.
Customers forecast stable pricing at the sight following successive increases from December to February.
Debmarine Namibia, a subsidiary of Anglo American’s diamond unit De Beers, on Monday reported a 13% drop in production to 1.125 million carats last year as demand slumped during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Namibia has the richest known marine diamond deposits in the world, and is among the top 10 producers of gem-quality diamonds globally. Production, however, has been severely hampered by weak demand on the international market.
Debmarine’s revenue fell 5% to 6.6 billion Namibian dollars ($427 million), the company said. Royalties and tax to the government also slipped 6%, to 2.1 billion Namibian dollars.
Debmarine Namibia, a 50-50 joint venture company between De Beers and the Namibian government, has partnered with five African commercial banks in a $375 million financing deal to build a new diamond mining vessel.
Chief Executive Otto Shikongo said work on the ship, to be known as the AMV3, was progressing well. Construction is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2021, and production from the vessel is planned for the second quarter of 2022.
The ship, with the capacity to add 500 000 carats of annual production, will be the seventh in the Debmarine Namibia joint venture’s fleet, which mines high-quality diamonds from the ocean floor using hi-tech surveying equipment.
In celebration of the natural beauty of the countries from which its diamonds are produced, De Beers Jewellers has introduced Reflections of Nature, the venerable house’s latest collection in the stratospheric world of high jewelry.
The dazzling collection features five sets Okavango Grace, Motlatse Marvel, Namib Wonder, Landers Radiance and Ellesmere Treasure with a total of 39 exclusive pieces.
The latter is probably the most unexpected as few laymen would recognize Canada as a source for diamonds. Yet, Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic is the third largest producer of diamonds in the world.
The pieces in this DeBeers set were designed to reflect the island’s glacial beauty and are evocative of the ice and frosted flora of Ellesmere Island, where diamonds were first discovered in 1991. While colored stones are employed throughout the other Reflections of Nature sets, the Ellesmere Treasures are indeed treasures with their all white diamonds.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Okavango Delta in Botswana is inspiration for De Beers’ Okavango Grace set. Recalling the lush wetlands and the fluidity of the delta’s reeds, the set features a color scheme of rough pink, green, brownish pink, purple and grey diamonds suspended in organic strands that move freely with the wearer.
Design of the Namib Wonder set is based on the beauty of the world’s oldest and largest sand dunes found in Namibia’s Namib Desert. Brilliant white and yellow diamonds set the stage for white rough diamonds, which are cap-set allowing them to move more freely and catch the light from every angle.
The spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the peaks and caverns of Motlatse Canyon in South Africa provide the creative cue for the colorful Motlatse Marvel set. Pink, yellow and white diamonds conjure bejeweled sunbursts.
The teaming underwater universe of South Africa’s Landers Reef is suggested in the Landers Radiance multi-colored, multi-cut theme. “A rainbow of white and fancy color diamonds evokes the vibrant colors of corals and fish, shimmering in sunlit waters” is how De Beers’ promotional materials describe this set.
With introduction of the collection, De Beers Jewellers is reaffirming its commitment to environmental conservation through its widespread Building Forever sustainability initiative and the houses’s commitment to its code of best practices principles. That includes conservation of “The Diamond Route,” some 50,000 acres throughout Southern Africa.
De Beers’ rough-diamond sales soared to $650 million in January, its highest for any month since 2018, as manufacturers replenished inventory following the holiday season.
The total was 18% more than the $551 million the miner garnered a year earlier, and 44% above the $452 million it reported in December, De Beers said Wednesday. This was despite the company implementing a sharp increase in rough prices.
“With the midstream starting the year with low levels of rough and polished inventories, and following strong sales of diamond jewelry over the key holiday season in the US, we saw good demand for rough diamonds at the first cycle of the year as midstream customers sought to restock and to fill orders from retail businesses,” said De Beers CEO Bruce Cleaver. “Sales of rough diamonds are also being supported by expected demand ahead of Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day.”
De Beers held the sight in its usual Botswana location, in addition to viewings in Antwerp and Dubai, as the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented many customers from traveling overseas. Its revenue figure encompasses sales that took place between January 18 and February 2, including the sight and auctions.
The January sight is usually one of the biggest of the year, especially after a positive holiday season. Even so, this year’s opening sale of the year exceeded all monthly sales going back to January 2018, when revenues came to $672 million.
De Beers raised prices by 4% to 5% at the sight in response to the improving balance between supply and demand, as reported last month by Rapaport News. Alrosa lifted its prices by 6% to 7%, with the Russian miner scheduled to publish its January sales value on February 10.
The two largest diamond miners increased prices at this week’s rough sales as demand improved due to post-holiday restocking and strong trading ahead of the Chinese New Year.
De Beers raised prices by an average of 4% to 5% at its first sight of 2021, while Alrosa’s increases were around 6% to 7%, industry insiders told Rapaport News Monday. Both companies implemented steeper hikes in larger categories than for smaller goods, sources said.
“Alrosa makes sure that prices reflect the actual market trends and a confirmed real demand,” a spokesperson for the Russian miner said. De Beers declined to comment.
The miners have steadily been reversing the prices cuts they made in the second half of last year. De Beers’ price rise was its second in a row, with January prices almost back to pre-pandemic levels, sightholders noted.
The rough market showed momentum in January following a better 2020 holiday season than many had feared earlier in the year. Cutting factories in India raised polished production to full capacity as shortages emerged and retailers restocked, prompting manufacturers to buy rough in large quantities.
Demand rose on the secondary market, with De Beers clients able to make profits of 5% to 7% by reselling goods ahead of the sight. Those premiums declined slightly following the price increase.
“[Polished] inventory levels are the lowest for at least the past seven or eight years,” an executive at a sightholder said. “That’s the reason people are going to be more aggressive in their purchasing,” he continued, adding that some traders foresaw a spike in consumer demand due to government stimulus packages.
Prices at smaller miners’ tenders were higher still — in contrast to mid-2020, when manufacturers could get goods up to 25% cheaper on the open market compared with De Beers and Alrosa boxes. Tender prices fluctuate with the market conditions more than contract-sale prices do, as the smaller rough producers have greater liquidity needs.
Some traders expressed concern that the surge in rough purchases could lead to an oversupply, as Chinese retailers have almost finished preparing their inventories for the upcoming lunar festival on February 12.
“It’s time to go back to business, but it’s no time to push your production to the max and buy rough at any price with the excuse that your factory needs it,” another sightholder argued. “The end of year has been OK, including in the States. There are great expectations for a fantastic Chinese New Year, but the reality is that any Chinese retailer has stopped buying as from this week.”
Amid the uncertainty, Alrosa kept its policy of allowing customers to defer 100% of their allocations in January, noting that it wished to uphold the balance between supply and demand.
De Beers also allowed sightholders to refuse a proportion of their allocations for goods up to around 0.75 carats, while maintaining its standard flexibility — including 10% buybacks — in larger categories.
De Beers’ sight began on Monday in Botswana and runs until Friday, with viewings also taking place in Antwerp and Dubai. Alrosa’s sale started last Friday and continues for a week.
De Beers has reduced its production plan for the next two years, aiming to avoid releasing too much rough into the market as the diamond sector attempts to exit the crisis that dominated 2020.
The miner expects to unearth 33 million to 35 million carats in 2021, down from its previous forecast of 34 million to 36 million carats, parent company Anglo American said Friday in a presentation to investors. Output in 2022 will range from 30 million to 33 million carats — compared with earlier guidance of 33 million to 35 million carats — and will remain at the same level in 2023.
De Beers will produce around 26 million carats this year, after the pandemic prompted management to rethink the previous outlook of 32 million to 34 million carats.
“There’s an appropriate degree of prudence being exercised in what we’re forecasting going forward, and we certainly aren’t going to be a contributor to overstocking across the industry now,” said Anglo American CEO Mark Cutifani. “Given the supply situation, we’re going to watch that very carefully. We won’t push more production out there unless we’re comfortable prices are going to increase.”
The adjusted figures came despite De Beers’ expectations of limited global supply, with around 30 million carats dropping out of the pipeline as a result of Covid-19 and the closure of the Argyle mine, he estimated. At least two-thirds of that is unlikely to come back into the market, the executive pointed out. Meanwhile, Cutifani noted signs of a recovery in demand after a difficult year for the industry.
“[It’s] a bit early to call how the Thanksgiving [to] New Year selling season will go, but so far [it’s] quite encouraging despite the obvious Covid issues in the US,” he explained. “China’s been very strong. So far, things are going pretty well.”
However, caution is necessary following a string of major internal and external events that have derailed the diamond market in recent years. Those include a credit crisis in the Indian market in 2018, as well as the US government shutdown that occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, the CEO warned.
Separately, De Beers has made an advance purchase of rough from Debswana, its joint venture with the Botswana government, providing the company with inventory to sell in the first quarter if the demand recovery continues. It also received a one-year extension to negotiations with the African country over their sales deal, after the pandemic prevented the parties from reaching an agreement this year. The 10-year arrangement was due to expire on December 31, 2020.
The diamond sector’s rebound from the Covid-19 crisis will feature ups and downs that will continue into next year at least, De Beers predicted.
“The demand recovery is not expected to be linear, particularly as localized lockdowns take place,” De Beers explained Monday in its annual Diamond Insight Report. “Retailer expectations for the second half of the year are mixed, with more optimism in the US but muted sentiments in India and the Far East.”
The pandemic severely hit Chinese demand in the first quarter of this year and US sales in the second quarter, with the recovery likely to “extend well beyond 2020,” the company noted. The impact of Covid-19 on the global economy and the second wave of lockdowns in the fourth quarter have further harmed consumer spending, it added.
“The consequences of these events will determine the short to medium-term outlook,” De Beers added. “However, a weakening US dollar could offset some of the softness in demand in local currencies.”
The pandemic dented the positive trends that were visible at the end of 2019, De Beers said. Diamond-jewelry sales to Chinese consumers slid 45% year on year in the first quarter of 2020, and by around a third for the entire first half, the company estimated. The second-quarter recovery was “tentative,” mainly benefiting established brands and online sales, it added.
In the US, sales dropped about 40% in the second quarter of 2020, and by just under 20% for the first half. There was “evidence of rising sales” among independent jewelers and chains, as well as online, in June and the third quarter, the company continued. Demand in India dropped by more than 30% in the first half, reflecting a slump of nearly 50% during the April-May lockdown.
In 2019, global diamond-jewelry demand increased 0.5% to $79 billion — a weaker growth figure than in previous years as the strong dollar dented sales in China. Demand rose 4% in the US and 3% in Japan, offsetting weaker figures in other markets. The US expanded its share of the polished-diamond market to 48%, from 46% in 2018, while China slipped to 15% from 16%.
The Chinese yuan depreciated against the dollar in 2019 amid a trade war between Beijing and Washington, DC. In local-currency terms, demand from Chinese consumers climbed 1%.