There are few things that are more alluring and exciting than a diamond — but one of them is a significant new diamond discovery. Now those are truly rare.
In Canada, we haven’t had a significant diamond discovery for years — and the current lack of spending on exploration makes one less likely to happen in the future.
Globally, exploration for diamonds has nearly ground to a halt. In Canada last year, coal exploration attracted more spending than diamond exploration ($61 million vs. $50 million), which fell 21% from the previous year, hitting a 20-year low.
Adding to this downward momentum, in June, Rio Tinto suddenly pressed pause on its 75%-owned Fort à la Corne (Star-Orion South) diamond joint venture in Saskatchewan. After pouring more than $180 million over the past six years into a bulk-sampling program and other work to evaluate the project, Rio Tinto told JV partner Star Diamond it would not be spending more money this year “beyond what is necessary for care and maintenance.” Star Diamond, which holds 25% of the large but low-grade project, said that Rio also advised that it “intends to conduct a near-term review of its alternatives regarding the project, including its potential exit.”
It’s not clear yet what Rio Tinto will ultimately decide to do. But further investment, rather than pulling back, would have given the sector a much-needed shot in the arm. And the company, which saw its Argyle mine in Australia close in late 2020, certainly needs to replace that production and would be motivated to make the project work, if possible.
While the diamond trade and diamond prices were devastated by the pandemic, prices have made a strong comeback (in part benefiting from uneven efforts globally to avoid purchasing diamonds mined by Russia’s Alrosa). De Beers reported a 58% rise in its average selling price to US$213 per carat for rough diamonds in the first half of the year, and its rough price index rose 28% compared to the same period of 2021.
That’s not likely to help revive exploration immediately, however.
The fact is that there have been too many surprises in diamond development around the world, which have shattered investor confidence.
De Beers’ revenue rose 24% in the first half of 2022, but the miner gave a more somber outlook for the rest of the year.
“We can only have strong rough sales if that’s also coupled by what’s going on on the polished side,” De Beers chief financial officer Sarah Kuijlaars told Rapaport News on Thursday. “The polished position was very strong in the beginning of the year, but it has leveled off. We have much more caution about the next six months than we’ve had for the previous six months.”
Revenue jumped to $3.6 billion in the first half as strong consumer spending during the 2021 holiday season led to intense restocking in early 2022, parent company Anglo American reported the same day. Underlying earnings gained 84% to $491 million.
Rough sales grew 27% to $3.3 billion from five sights during the period. The remaining revenue relates to other businesses such as the company’s consumer brands and industrial-diamond business.
The miner’s rough-price index, which measures like-for-like prices, rose 28% compared with the same period of 2021. The average selling price for rough surged 58% to $213 per carat, reflecting the market upturn and a shift in the product mix to higher-value goods. Sales volume fell 20% to 15.3 million carats.
The higher average price resulted from the introduction of the new Benguela Gem mining vessel off the Namibian coast, which enabled the extraction of more lucrative stones, Kuijlaars explained. In addition, production at the Venetia deposit in South Africa was focused on the final cut of the open-pit mine, which has a relatively high grade — the number of carats per tonne of ore — and high quality, the executive added.
De Beers’ results painted a complex picture of the market. Last week, the company raised its production plan for the full year in response to strong demand, predicting output of 32 million to 34 million carats. It also noted that the sanctions and boycotts targeting Russian diamonds, as well as growing interest in provenance initiatives, would “underpin” demand for its goods. The sixth sales cycle of the year, which took place earlier this month, brought in proceeds of $630 million — 23% higher than for the equivalent period a year ago.
However, inflation in the US and lockdowns in China have created concerns across the industry.
“This time last year, our operation was coming out of Covid-19 [during which output slumped],” Kuijlaars pointed out. “To stabilize our production has been really important, and that strong production gives us confidence for the full year. That’s our part in delivering reliable supply. As we sell that through, we are very alert to signs of any slowdown in the remaining four sights of the year.”
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has begun accepting submissions for a new service providing consumers with source verification for diamonds.
Leading manufacturers sent the first polished diamonds to the GIA’s Source Verification Service in early July, the institute said Wednesday. GIA-graded diamonds with confirmed origin information will be available to consumers when the initial submissions are returned and as more manufacturers join the program, the organization explained.
An independent auditing firm will vet all cutters before they enter the program. The auditors will confirm the company has the ability to track a diamond from receipt of the rough through the entire manufacturing process. The GIA will evaluate all participating firms regularly to ensure they are continuing to adhere to the guidelines, it noted.
Initially, the GIA will accept only polished natural diamonds with verified source documentation, including Kimberley Process (KP) certificates and invoices from vetted manufacturers. It will add lab-grown diamonds to the service in the near future. Consumers can access the information through the GIA’s online Report Check service, it added.
“GIA’s new service provides diamond-source information to consumers as quickly as possible,” said its CEO, Susan Jacques. “The GIA Source Verification Service is ready to provide verified diamond-source information to address increasing consumer demand and government interest in transparency and traceability across the supply chain.”
Lucapa Diamond Company has recovered one of the largest pink diamonds in history: a 170-carat stone from the Lulo mine in Angola.
The type IIa rough, named the Lulo Rose, is “believed to be the largest pink diamond recovered in the last 300 years,” Lucapa said Wednesday. It is also the fifth-largest diamond from Lulo, and the deposit’s 27th over 100 carats since commercial production began in 2015. Lucapa plans to sell the diamond through an international tender conducted by Angolan state diamond-marketing company Sodiam, it noted.
“The record-breaking Lulo diamond field has again delivered a precious and large gemstone, this time an extremely rare and beautiful pink diamond,” said José Manuel Ganga Júnior, chairman of the board of state-owned Endiama, one of Lucapa’s partners in the deposit. “It is a significant day for the Angolan diamond industry.”
In addition to the pink, Lulo is also the source of Angola’s largest diamond, a 404-carat rough named the 4th February Stone.
Lucapa has begun bulk sampling at “priority kimberlites” as it searches for the primary source of Lulo’s diamonds, managing director Stephen Wetherall added.
Las Vegas… Diamond market sentiment received a boost from the Las Vegas shows, which demonstrated robust US demand. However, polished prices declined amid a weak global economic outlook and a rise in inventory levels.
The RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™) for 1-carat diamonds slid 1.8% in June but increased 7.4% between the beginning of the year and July 1.
RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™)
Year on year July 1, 2021, to July 1 2022
RAPI 0.30 ct.
RAPI 0.50 ct.
RAPI 1 ct.
RAPI 3 ct.
Trading in Las Vegas reflected jewelers’ strong liquidity after a profitable 2021. Activity slowed once the fairs ended and dealers headed for vacations at the beginning of July.
There were also renewed fears of a recession; the US economy shrank 1.6% in the first quarter, and the latest data showed inflation at 8.5% in May. Consumer confidence dropped 4.5 points in June to its lowest level since February 2021, according to The Conference Board.
Chinese demand was low as well following Covid-19 lockdowns in April and May. The lack of buyers meant local jewelers had sufficient inventory for the short term.
Polished inventory in the midstream grew in June. The number of diamonds listed on RapNet rose 4.3% during the month to 1.87 million as of July 1. The high volume came despite the Russian sanctions that limited Alrosa’s rough sales and took an estimated 30% of global production off the market. Russian rough shortages are expected to impact polished supply in the coming months; manufacturers have so far been working with goods from before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Other miners are capitalizing on the new rough-market dynamic. De Beers’ June sales rose 36% year on year to $650 million after a price hike of 8% to 10% on smaller rough — a category Alrosa usually dominates.
We predict that traceable, ethical diamonds will sell at a premium to Russian diamonds as Alrosa goods reenter the market. While US jewelers are upbeat after the shows, there are political and economic headwinds that will likely disrupt the industry in the second half.
When De Beers first introduced its Lightbox lab-grown jewelry brand in 2018, the diamond world sat up and took notice. The mining giant had long been outspoken about its belief that synthetic stones were neither special nor unique. And despite having entered the field itself, the company still holds by that sentiment. Since first making waves throughout the trade, it has done its utmost to create a clear distinction between the two types of stones, touting natural diamonds as a higher-value, engagement-worthy offering, and positioning Lightbox’s products in what brand CEO Steve Coe delineates as “the accessibly priced fashion-jewelry space.”
But a look at the market four years on suggests that this message may have been lost in translation.
The opening gambit
After the initial shock of the Lightbox announcement wore off, the general theory in the natural-diamond industry was that the brand was De Beers’ strategy for negating the perceived threat of lab-grown. Understood but unspoken in its marketing was that Lightbox aimed to create an alternative stream for synthetics — one that wasn’t bridal and wasn’t in that price range.
“I think there was a great opportunity for lab-grown diamonds that De Beers didn’t want to pass up,” says Dick Garard, president of the International Grown Diamond Association (IGDA). “They thought they had a marketing strategy there…. They came out with a pricing structure, and the intent was to drive the pricing down to that point. I think their overall intent was to help augment their mined-diamond business.”
Jewelry consultant Pam Danziger also took Lightbox’s debut as a warning shot to synthetics — a way of reframing them as a lesser alternative to natural stones, not as a luxury product.
“De Beers tried to tell the consumer what lab-grown diamonds were for,” she says. “They said it’s for fashion, not for anything serious. It was like they were trying to exert market control and keep lab-grown in a separate lane.”
Of course, a company as big and well-known as De Beers can’t rock the boat without creating some far-reaching ripples, and it did — just not necessarily the ones it may have been expecting.
Stamp of approval?
If De Beers’ subliminal strategy was to create an invisible barrier around the space where lab-grown was supposed to reside, the plan did not unfold as it was meant to. Rather than decreasing interest in synthetic diamonds as a viable alternative to natural, the company’s move into the space solidified lab-grown’s legitimacy among trade members and consumers alike.
“[De Beers] kind of heightened the awareness and desire for lab-grown diamonds,” explains Adrienne Fay, vice president of Warren Buffett-owned jeweler Borsheims. “Maybe it was an unintended consequence, rather than a misstep, that by trying to point out that this is a product inferior to mined diamonds, it sort of highlighted the fact that it’s actually a product very similar to mined diamonds, and that there is a demand for it.”
The De Beers name on lab-grown jewelry became the ultimate stamp of approval for customers, agrees Eileen Hopman, owner of Hopman Jewelers in Elkhart, Indiana. Whenever she saw doubt from shoppers about the validity of synthetics, she says, she would whisper the magic words: “Even De Beers is selling lab-grown.” From there, the purchase was usually a fait accompli.
Traders, too, have taken the De Beers move as an endorsement, reports Mark Clodius, owner of Clodius & Co. Jewelers in Rockford, Illinois.
“It certainly prompted overall approval throughout the industry, and quite dramatically,” he says. “It achieved so much publicity that it was hard for jewelers to ignore it.”
“What De Beers has…been successful at is having price consistency among diamond growers.”
Adrienne Fay Vice President, Borsheims
The bridal boom
Fay, Hopman and Clodius are among the jewelers that were already carrying lab-grown diamonds before the launch of Lightbox. From the brand’s debut in 2018 until a year later, the retailers saw a big jump in growth, with sales doubling or better every year after that.
Consumer surveys appear to support this trend. The number of bridal shoppers who feel a natural diamond is important has gone down, according to a 2021 survey from wedding website The Knot. Nearly one quarter of all engagement ring purchases last year featured a man-made center stone, it found — an increase of 11% over two years. Another study, this one by jewelry insurance business Brite & Co., confirms that lab-grown is gaining on natural when it comes to bridal appeal: The market share of synthetic-diamond engagement rings grew to more than 28% in 2021 from 19% the year before, while average spending rose 9%, not far behind the 12% increase that mined stones enjoyed.
Despite the data, however, De Beers insists it will not hop on the lab-grown engagement train and says it still sees synthetics functioning most promisingly in fashion. The lower price point of that segment “opens up a very exciting opportunity for a much higher level of repeat purchases,” says Coe. “There are some retailers out there that are pushing the [engagement] avenue very strongly…but we see the big opportunity for lab-grown elsewhere.”
Still, by setting a bar and sticking to it, Lightbox might be missing out. The bulk of lab-grown sales at Borsheims are for bridal, and synthetics make up approximately 60% of engagement ring purchases at Clodius. Hopman, who first began carrying them as an alternative to natural stones, says they’ve become her bread and butter, making up 90% of all engagement center stones she sells. The lab-created gems have become so popular with her buyers that she has stopped carrying natural diamonds unless they’re preset in a piece she really likes.
“Like De Beers, we were initially promoting them more for fashion jewelry versus engagement rings,” she explains. “But more people came in and wanted bigger diamonds, and as the prices for mined diamonds began to increase, they were stuck settling for either a smaller diamond or a lesser-quality stone. And we began showing them the lab-grown. Once we let them know the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had sanctioned them as real diamonds, they took off.”
“There are some retailers out there that are pushing the [engagement] avenue very strongly…but we see the big opportunity elsewhere.”
Steve Coe CEO, Lightbox
The price is right
One thing De Beers has managed to do, Fay believes, is contain the price of lab-grown, though not at the $800-per-carat level that Lightbox charges. Not even at the $1,500-per-carat price tag of its Finest line, which includes synthetic stones with a higher color range of D to F.
“De Beers, because they’re such a behemoth, they’re going to have an impact,” asserts Fay. “I think what De Beers has managed to disrupt, and been successful at, is having price consistency among lab-grown diamond growers.”
The figures seem to prove her right. Within six months of Lightbox’s arrival on the scene, the average discount for a 1-carat lab-grown diamond grew to 42% of the equivalent natural stone — up from 29% in January 2018, just before the De Beers brand launched, according to data that Reuters cited from industry analyst Paul Zimnisky. Meanwhile, wholesale prices for synthetics fell 13.3% from 2019 to 2020, according to online marketplace Virtual Diamond Boutique.
Clodius and Hopman are currently selling lab-grown engagement rings at approximately 50% to 70% of their natural counterparts’ prices, depending on the cut and carat weight of the stone, and the price they pay their lab-grown suppliers has dropped since 2018. However, they’re a bit more hesitant to attribute the latter development to Lightbox. So is Zimnisky.
“I believe it’s the overall fundamentals of the market that are pressuring lab-grown diamond prices — particularly the supply side of the equation — not Lightbox per se,” Zimnisky says. “Perhaps the Lightbox launch a few years back has accelerated this trend, but when you really look at the supply fundamentals of the space, how many new producers have entered the space in the recent past, I think it’s more production growth and production improvements that have accelerated supply [and] most heavily weighed on prices.”
“It was like [De Beers was] trying to exert market control and keep lab-grown in a separate lane.”
Pam Danziger Jewelry consultant
Down the line
What does the future hold for lab-grown, and will De Beers play a role in how it gets there? The answer depends on whom you ask.
“Will lab-grown diamonds fall into fashion? Yes,” says the IGDA’s Garard. “But will they also still fall into bridal and high-end? Absolutely. And supply is too tight to meet demand currently, so to have a carat sell for $800? I think that’s a bit low.”
Zimnisky disagrees: “Ultimately, I think the Lightbox price point is the right level for the lab-grown diamond product in general. Sometimes I think it’s too low, and sometimes I feel that it’s too high, so that’s probably a sign that it’s just about right — for now, at least. However…in five years’ time, this price point will probably seem too high. I think we’ll see $500 per carat or less in 10 years’ time. Longer-term, I think the price point is what will ultimately relegate the product to more ‘fashion’-oriented — more so than marketing efforts.”
The Natural Diamond Council (NDC) is facing a massive budget cut in 2023 unless the industry steps in to compensate for the loss of Alrosa’s financial contribution, CEO David Kellie told Rapaport News.
“We’ve probably been impacted more than anybody [by sanctions against Russian diamonds] in as much as Alrosa was almost half of our funding,” Kellie said in an interview on Thursday. “I want people to understand that we are facing this financial shortfall, and it’s up to the industry to figure out whether we want to be successful or not.”
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions placed on Alrosa, in March the miner suspended its membership of the NDC, which is mandated to promote natural diamonds on behalf of the industry. The company also stepped down from the NDC board and notified that it would cease all financial contributions.
Alrosa accounted for 45% of the NDC’s $70 million annual budget. De Beers contributes an equal amount, and the remaining members — Lucara Diamond Corp., Arctic Canadian Diamond Company, Petra Diamonds, Rio Tinto and RZM Murowa — make up the rest. India’s Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) also contributes.
The loss of Alrosa’s estimated $31.5 million will not affect the NDC’s 2022 budget since it receives funding in advance of its spending plans, Kellie noted. Rather, it impacts the group’s plans going into 2023, “leaving us with a significant challenge for next year,” he stressed. “We need to resolve this by October time to have visibility as to what our strategy will be for next year.”
Now in his third year as NDC CEO, Kellie is appealing to others in the industry to support the organization and enable it to build on the strong growth experienced last year. The jewelry sector saw double-digit growth in 2021, exceeding pre-pandemic levels, by most reports. The spike in demand also had a positive ripple effect on the rest of the diamond and jewelry market.
“I think we’ve proven what we’re capable of doing since launching the Natural Diamond Council, and the impact of consumer demand on our industry,” he explained. “The last year and a half has demonstrated that the whole value chain is dependent on consumer demand.”
The NDC launched in mid-2020, rebranding from the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) as the body responsible for category marketing and driving consumer interest in diamonds. It shifted from a reliance on one central advertising campaign toward continuous content creation suitable for all platforms, particularly social media.
Now, after Alrosa has withdrawn its funding, the NDC needs more stakeholders from the industry to fill the void, Kellie pointed out. A fraction of revenue from various points in the supply chain would massively change the ability of the NDC to drive consumer demand, he noted.
The organization is still considering how companies can contribute, as well as the general appeal it is making, which would have to align with its legal structures and bylaws. Currently, funding could be via a voluntary contribution by corporations or through retail partners investing in their locality by using the NDC’s marketing assets — an avenue that has grown over the past two years, Kellie said.
He is calling on the industry to demonstrate leadership to drive consumer demand for diamonds.
“It’s a case of how we are going to keep this incredible industry moving forward,” he stressed. “My view remains that we are half the size that we should be if we look at the industry as part of luxury and not as a commodity. I would love to continue to drive this industry forward and to build it to what I believe it should be.”
The NDC is currently shooting its 2022 campaign, which will be unveiled around September, ahead of the holiday season. Kellie declined to confirm whether actress Ana de Armas had signed as ambassador for natural diamonds for a third year.
De Beers, the world’s top diamond producer by value, has once again increased the price of its smaller stones as sanctions on Alrosa, its Russian rival, have worsened a global shortage caused by two years of covid-related shutdowns.
The Anglo American unit had hiked prices by about 8% at its first sale this year, with the sharpest increases of up to 20% affecting small-scale roughs, as demand reached pre-pandemic levels.
Prices for these diamonds, which usually end up clustered around the solitaire stone in a ring, have soared since early April, when Alrosa was targeted by US sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Diamonds are one of Russia’s top ten non-energy exports by value, with shipments in 2021 totalling over $4.5 billion, and its state-owned diamond producer is responsible for about a third of global supply.
Unlike Alrosa, De Beers doesn’t produce much of diamonds used in lower-end jewellery usually found a chain stores such as Costco or Walmart which is creating increasing shortages as Alrosa’s ability to supply the market remains uncertain.
People familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that De Beers applied a 5% to 7% price increase this week in Botswana, where the company holds 10 sales each year in events known as sights.
Around 60 handpicked customers known as sightholders are given a black and yellow box each time. These contain plastic bags filled with stones, with the number of boxes and quality of diamonds depending on what the buyer and De Beers had agreed to in an annual allocation.
De Beers rises small diamonds price amid shortage Prices for small rough diamonds, the type that would end up clustered around the solitaire stone in a ring, are climbing.
The miner increased the price of its rough diamonds throughout much of 2021 as it sought to recover from the first year of the pandemic when the industry came to a near halt.
The strategy, which applied to stones bigger than 1 carat, granted De Beers a steady recovery during the year, with prices gaining 23% in just over a year, parent company Anglo American said in a December presentation.
De Beers now only carries working inventory stocks and its mines are running at full tilt. There is little chance of material increases in supply before 2024, when a $2 billion underground expansion of its Venetia mine in South Africa is expected to be completed.
The diamond jewelry industry is going into the year with diamond supply at historically low levels, estimated by Bain & Company at 29 million carats in 2021. “Upstream inventories declined ~40%, driven by high demand and slow production recovery, and are near the minimal technical level,” the report stated.
The Gemological Institute of America (GIA) plans to convert all of its paper reports to digital within the next three years, beginning with its Diamond Dossier in 2023.
The digital reports, which it will link to an app, will be more secure than their paper counterparts, the GIA said Tuesday. They will be paired with a new inscription-matching service, called GIA Match iD. This feature captures a diamond’s inscription image and links the stone to its GIA report using artificial intelligence (AI).
As each report category is introduced in digital form, the printed reports will be discontinued, the GIA told Rapaport News. However, some specialty services, such as the Monograph reports and notable letters, will continue to be available in printed versions.
“Digital reports…build on our decades of innovation and move our consumer protection mission forward,” said GIA CEO Susan Jacques. “This important transformation allows GIA to offer consumers a truly modern and engaging experience while helping our industry progress toward a more sustainable future.”
Starting in January 2023, the new Diamond Dossier service will offer a fully digital report, including the 4Cs; the app, which enables retailers and consumers to view, save and share information for their diamonds; and the Match iD instrument.
The elimination of GIA paper reports will save 20 tons of paper and 18.5 tons of plastic each year, the GIA said. It will also reduce transportation-related carbon emissions, the institute added.
Diamond trading was stable in May despite concerns about inflation, rising interest rates and slumping stock markets. Polished prices initially declined but later steadied as dealers anticipated supply shortages resulting from Russian sanctions.
The RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™) for 1-carat diamonds slid 0.5% in May but was 9.3% higher on June 1 than at the beginning of the year.
RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™)
Year to date Jan. 1 to June 1
Year on year June 1, 2020, to June 1 2021
RAPI 0.30 ct.
RAPI 0.50 ct.
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RAPI 3 ct.
US demand is supporting the market even as economic uncertainty sets in. Expectations are rising for the Las Vegas shows, which begin June 8. Dealers hope the positive sentiment will boost trading in the second half of the year. Chinese wholesalers remain cautious as activity resumes after the country’s Covid-19 lockdowns.
Inventory levels are high but have decreased in select categories. The number of diamonds on RapNet stood at 1.8 million as of June 1, up 43% from a year earlier. The quantity of 0.30-carat, D- to H-color, IF- to VS-clarity goods fell 14% in May; 0.50-carat diamonds in the same range declined 11%. Both categories were still significantly above last year’s levels.
While the sanctions on Russian goods have not yet caused notable polished scarcities, shortages are likely in the coming months. Rough supply has dropped since Alrosa canceled its March and April sales. Prices at rough auctions have increased — particularly in the small-diamond category, which Alrosa dominates. De Beers raised prices of small rough at its latest sight from June 6 to 10.
The market is splitting into two segments: Russian and non-Russian goods. Some big cutters are finding ways to buy Alrosa rough in order to serve centers that remain open to buying Russian-origin polished. These diamonds will likely sell at a discount to non-sanctioned ones.
US and European jewelers and brands may have difficulty filling their sourcing requirements in the coming months without Russian supply. This will lend further support to diamond prices.