India saw a slump in polished-diamond exports but an increase in rough imports in October as global demand remained slow and manufacturers brought goods into the country ahead of a two-month shipment freeze.
Polished exports fell 33% year on year to $1.26 billion, the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) reported earlier this month. Inbound rough shipments rose 9% to $1.02 billion despite a two-month voluntary pause on imports aimed at reducing inventories. The policy came into effect on October 15.
A decline in rough prices ahead of the optional freeze and the Diwali holiday created an opportunity for Indian companies to buy, added GJEPC chairman Vipul Shah.
About the data: India, the world’s largest diamond-cutting center, is a net importer of rough and a net exporter of polished. As such, net polished exports — representing polished exports minus polished imports — will usually be a positive number. Net rough imports — calculated as rough imports minus rough exports — will also generally be in surplus. The net diamond account is total rough and polished exports minus total imports. It is India’s diamond trade balance, and shows the added value the nation creates by manufacturing rough into polished.
A 3.06-carat pink diamond ring will be the star of an upcoming jewelry sale at Heritage Auctions, where it is set to fetch as much as $300,000.
The modified marquise-shaped, fancy-pink stone, surrounded by 0.55 carats of full-cut diamonds, will lead the December 4 Holiday Fine Jewelry Signature Auction in Dallas, Texas, Heritage said Monday.
Other standout items include pieces by Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Tiffany & Co., and diamond earrings created in 1950 by Parisian jeweler Jean Schlumberger. One of the more interesting lots is an enamel and 18-karat gold helicopter by Pierno Frascarolo & Co.
Visit rapaport.com/sanctions for facts and support. Martin Rapaport will fast for three days next week — Tues.-Thurs., Nov. 7-9 — to protest WDC’s support for Kimberley Process that certifies Russian diamonds. Trade is urged to fast for one day, Tuesday, Nov. 7, as WDC and KP meet in Zimbabwe. Prices of rounds stabilizing; 1 ct. RAPI +0.3% this week but -2.2% for Oct. Fancies still falling. Surat factories to close for three weeks over Nov. 12 Diwali holiday. NY DDC to hold Israel trade week Nov. 27-30.
One of the world’s most popular types of rough diamonds has plunged into a pricing free fall, as an increasing number of Americans choose engagement rings made from lab-grown stones instead.
Diamond demand across the board has weakened after the pandemic, as consumers splash out again on travel and experiences, while economic headwinds eat into luxury spending. However, the kinds of stones that go into the cheaper one- or two-carat solitaire bridal rings popular in the US have experienced far sharper price drops than the rest of the market.
The reason, according to industry insiders, is soaring demand for lab-grown stones. The synthetic diamond industry has paid special attention to this category, where consumers are especially price-sensitive, and the efforts are now paying off in the world’s biggest diamond buyer.
The shift doesn’t mean engagement rings are about to go on deep discount — the impact is limited to the rough-diamond market, an opaque world of miners, merchants and tradespeople that is several steps removed from the price tags in a jewelry store.
However, the scale and speed of the pricing collapse of one of the diamond industry’s most important products has left the market reeling. Now, the question is whether the plunging demand for natural diamonds in this category represents a permanent change, and — crucially — if the inroads made by lab-grown gems will eventually spread to the more expensive diamonds that are typically dominated by Asian buying.
Industry leader De Beers insists the current weakness is a natural downswing in demand, after stuck-at-home shoppers sent prices soaring during the pandemic, with cheaper engagement rings having been particularly vulnerable. The company concedes that there has been some penetration into the category from synthetic stones, but doesn’t see it as a structural shift.
“There has been a little bit of cannibalization. That has happened, I don’t think we should deny that,” said Paul Rowley, who heads De Beers’ diamond trading business. “We see the real issue as a macroeconomic issue.”
Lab-grown diamonds — physically identical stones that can be made in a matter of weeks in a microwave chamber — have long been seen as an existential threat to the natural mining industry, with proponents saying they can offer a cheaper alternative without many of the environmental or social downsides sometimes attached to mined diamonds.
For much of the last decade, the risk remained unrealized, with synthetics eating away at cheaper gift-giving segments but making limited headway otherwise. That is now changing, with lab-grown products starting to take a much bigger bite of the crucial US bridal market.
De Beers has responded to weakening demand by aggressively cutting prices for the category known as “select makeables” — rough diamonds between 2 and 4 carats that can be cut into stones about half that size when polished, yielding centrepiece diamonds for bridal rings that are high quality, but not flawless.
De Beers has cut prices in the category by more than 40% in the past year, including one cut of more than 15% in July, according to people familiar with the matter.
The one-time monopoly still wields considerable power in the rough diamond market, selling its gems through 10 sales each year in which the buyers — known as sightholders — generally have to accept the price and the quantities offered.
Price drop De Beers typically reserves aggressive cuts as a last resort, and the scale of the recent price falls for a benchmark product is unprecedented outside of a speculative bubble crash, traders said.
In June 2022, De Beers was charging about $1,400 a carat for the select makeable diamonds. By July this year, that had dropped to about $850 a carat. And there may be more room to fall: the diamonds are still 10% more expensive than in the “secondary” market, where traders and manufacturers sell among themselves.
De Beers declined to comment on its diamond pricing.
One of the clearest signs of the traction being made by lab-grown diamonds is their share of diamond exports from India, where about 90% of global supply is cut and polished. Lab-grown accounted for about 9% of diamond exports from the country in June, compared with about 1% five years ago. Given the steep discount that they sell for, that means about 25% to 35% of volume is now lab-grown, according to Liberum Capital Markets.
The impact on De Beers was clear in the first half. The Anglo American Plc’s unit’s first half profits plunged more than 60% to just $347 million, with its average selling price falling from $213 per carat to $163 per carat. Its August sale was the smallest of the year so far.
De Beers has responded by giving its buyers additional flexibility. It’s allowed them to defer contracted purchases for the rest of the year of up to 50% of the diamonds bigger than 1 carat, according to people familiar with the situation.
While lab-grown diamonds are currently hurting demand for natural stones, the upstart industry is also suffering. The price of synthetic diamonds has plunged even more steeply than that of natural stones, and are selling at a bigger discount than ever before.
About five years ago, lab-grown gems sold at about a 20% discount to natural diamonds, but that has now blown out to around 80% as the retailers push them at increasingly lower prices and the cost of making them falls. The price of polished stones in the wholesale market has fallen by more than half this year alone.
De Beers started selling its own lab-grown diamonds in 2018 at a steep discount to the going price, in an attempt to differentiate between the two categories. The company expects lab-grown prices to continue to tumble, in what it sees as a tsunami of more supply coming onto the market, Rowley said. That should create an even bigger delta in prices between natural diamonds and lab-grown, helping differentiate the two products, he said.
“With the increase in supply we’ll see prices fall through the price point and reach a level where, long term, it does not compete with bridal because it comes too cheap,” said Rowley. “Ultimately they are different products and the finite and rarity of natural diamonds is a different proposition.”
Petra Diamonds’ rough prices decreased at its first tender of the fiscal year as the anticipated pickup in demand proved disappointing.
The August trading session brought in $79.3 million from the sale of 696,194 carats, with like-for-like prices — those for similar categories of diamonds — falling 4.3% compared with May, the miner reported Friday.
The slowdown was primarily due to flagging prices for rough between 2 and 10.8 carats, which dropped 14% on a like-for-like basis. Prices for diamonds under 2 carats rose 1% to 2%, Petra noted.
While the tender saw strong attendance, “demand was more muted than we had expected in exiting the summer holiday period,” explained Petra CEO Richard Duffy. “The expected seasonal improvement in demand was evident for higher-quality 10.8-carat-plus stones, with solid prices realized. [However,] this was offset by slower demand for 2- to 10-carat size ranges.”
The miner did not sell any exceptional stones during the tender, it reported, though it did garner $1.7 million for a 20.9-carat yellow diamond from its Cullinan deposit.
Overall sales value rose 88% from May’s $42.1 million but slid 23% from the equivalent tender a year earlier, which took place in September 2022. Sales volume was up 49% from May and 34% year on year, while the average price jumped to $114 per carat from the previous tender’s $90.
The August tender did not include any output from the Williamson mine; Petra plans to sell material from that site at its September sale. However, the latest round did feature all the rough Petra had chosen to defer in June, when it postponed its sixth tender due to the sluggish market.
The August sale also contained 75,880 carats of goods that Petra had withdrawn from the May tender due to low bids. Prices for those goods were largely unchanged from May’s offers, but Petra expects demand to rise in the coming months.
“As we enter a seasonally stronger period [that] includes Diwali, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Chinese New Year, we remain optimistic that jewelry demand will improve and provide some support to prices over the balance of the calendar year,” Duffy said.
Main image: Ore processing at the Williamson mine.
In the first half of this year, China consumed nearly 555 tons of gold, up more than 16 percent year-on-year. The trend has been described as a domestic gold craze. But diamonds seem to have lost their attraction, as the market size in China declined to 11.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2022, 2.5 billion dollars less than in 2021. Xu Hua has more from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, China’s biggest distribution center for wholesale jewelry.
XU HUA Shenzhen Shuibei Jewelry Market “We’re at Shenzhen’s Shuibei Jewelry Market, the biggest wholesale market of its kind in China. The market has been crowded with consumers from all over the country for months, as international gold prices continue to rise. Let’s go and see what the best seller is here.”
The hustle and bustle of the Shuibei Jewelry Market since the beginning of 2023 marked a strong comeback from last year. With attractive designs, diverse styles and low prices, dozens of deals can be reached in seconds.
YU WANLING Shenzhen Resident “Shuibei is well-known for its gold sales. The quality gold is more reassuring than other places.”
ZHENG CE Shenzhen Resident “We are about to get married. We prefer to buy some gold rather than diamonds for inheritance or for wearing.”
China’s domestic consumption of gold jewelry reached 555 tons in the first half of 2023. Among the gold consumption, the purchase of gold bars jumped 30 percent year-on-year to 146 tons, while that of gold jewelry reached 368 tons, up almost 15 percent from the same period last year.
HAO RUNSONG General Manager, Lidu Gold “In 2023, our gold sales increased by 20-30 percent compared with last year.”
By contrast, the doorways of neighboring diamond stores looked relatively lonely, as the precious gems lost some significant value over the last few months.
LIU JINGLI Manager, Yishidai Jewelry “The retail transaction volume of diamond inlays is relatively low, and the wholesale sales of our diamond inlays is also declining.”
ZHAO LI Director, The Gold Plaza Operation Center “The sales of diamond jewelry have declined slightly, partly due to falling prices, fewer marriages, the impact of cultivated diamonds, and changing buyer behaviour.”
For daily social needs, some consumers looked to art jewelry as an alternative to diamond jewelry.
HUANG WEIJUN Brand Director, Shenzhen REIEN Jewelry “Our sales of art jewelry in the first half of this year have increased by about 300 percent over the whole of last year.”
Some economists say the booming gold sales are a direct reflection of a gloomy economic outlook.
WU HAIFENG Executive Director, Shenzhen Institute of Data Economy “When people feel uncertainty about the future, especially on the economy, especially about the income growth, people will think to change their investments platform from a variety of the financial products to hard currencies such as gold, such as real estate.”
However, Wu says that the real estate market hasn’t looked good since the beginning of the last year, so Chinese consumers and investors have been looking at other products. Wu added proper stimulative policies are still needed to ensure a healthy market and economic rebound. Xu Hua, CGTN, Shenzhen, Guangdong Province.
Cryptocurrency mogul Richard Heart allegedly used proceeds from the sale of unregistered securities to buy the 555-carat Enigma diamond, according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The SEC has charged Heart — who was born Richard Schueler and who created the Hex cryptocurrency token — with selling the securities to raise more than $1 billion from investors. It alleges that Heart and his PulseChain company committed fraud by misappropriating at least $12 million of those funds to purchase luxury items, including sports cars, watches and the diamond.
“Heart called on investors to buy crypto asset securities in offerings that he failed to register,” Eric Werner, director of the SEC’s Fort Worth regional office, said in a statement Monday. “He then defrauded those investors by spending some of their crypto assets on exorbitant luxury goods.”
The Enigma, which is believed to have come from outer space, is the largest faceted diamond of any kind to appear at auction. Heart purchased it from Sotheby’s at a one-off sale in February 2022 for GBP 3.2 million ($4.3 million). At the time, Heart tweeted that he had bought the stone and would rename it the Hex.com diamond as a nod to his cryptocurrency platform, calling it a “match made in heaven.” Hex has a “5555 day club” comprising people who hold 5,555-day Hex stakes — the longest possible stake in the electronic token.
Sotheby’s, which accepted payment for the Enigma, was not mentioned as a defendant in the SEC’s lawsuit.
“Sotheby’s does not comment on individual transactions, but we can confirm we have established due diligence procedures, tailored and updated to take account of our requirements to conduct business in compliance with applicable laws and regulations,” the auction house stated.
Petra Diamonds’ sales dropped 44% for the full fiscal year as the miner recovered a lower proportion of high-value stones and pushed off its final tender due to low demand.
Revenue fell to $328.4 million for the 12 months ending June 30, the company reported Tuesday. Sales volume decreased 34% to 2.3 million carats.
The company, which operates the Cullinan, Finsch and Koffiefontein mines in South Africa, as well as the Williamson mine in Tanzania, attributed the decline to a drop in the number of large and exceptional diamonds it sold during the year. The segment contributed only $12.6 million in revenue for the year, compared to $89.1 million in fiscal 2022.
Petra also postponed its sixth and final tender of the financial year as a result of lower rough prices and deferred the sale of 75,900 carats of predominantly higher-value stones from its fifth tender, it explained. A drop in production also hit sales, as the miner had lower availability of rough to offer.
In the fourth fiscal quarter, from April to June, Petra’s rough prices grew 2% on a like-for-like basis versus the same period a year ago, it said. Meanwhile, the miner’s inventories increased to 715,200 carats at the end of the quarter as a result of the deferrals, up from 381,700 on June 30, 2022.
“Our strong balance sheet and flexible sales process enabled us to postpone the majority of our…rough-diamond sales [for the sixth tender] into fiscal year 2024 on the back of what we believe to be a temporary slowdown in demand for rough diamonds,” said Petra CEO Richard Duffy. “We continue to expect a supportive diamond market in the medium to longer terms as a result of the structural supply deficit, which will benefit our strong growth profile.”
Production fell 20% to 2.7 million carats for the fiscal year due to the recovery of lower-grade ore at Cullinan and Finsch. That total was just under the miner’s previous guidance of between 2.75 million and 2.85 million carats for the year.
Petra now expects output for the new fiscal year ending June 2024 to be between 2.9 million and 3.2 million carats, down from the 3 million to 3.3 million carats it previously forecast. It has also lowered its guidance for fiscal 2025 to the 3.4 million and 3.7 million carat range, rather than the 3.6 million to 3.9 million carats it originally estimated. The decrease is the result of a slower-than-expected ramp-up at both Cullinan and Finsch following a delay in work to extend the mines, Petra added.
De Beers’ sales value fell this month as global rough demand weakened and the miner reduced prices of its larger stones.
Proceeds dropped 32% year on year to $450 million at 2023’s fifth sales cycle from $657 million in the equivalent period a year earlier, De Beers reported Wednesday. Sales declined 6% compared with the $479 million that the fourth cycle brought in. The total included the June sight as well as auction sales.
“Following the JCK [Las Vegas] show, and with ongoing global macroeconomic challenges continuing to impact end-client sentiment, the diamond industry remains cautious heading into summer,” said De Beers CEO Al Cook. “Reflecting this, we saw demand for De Beers rough diamonds during the fifth sales cycle of the year slightly softer than in the fourth cycle.”
De Beers lowered prices at the sight by 5% to 10% mainly in 2-carat categories and larger, as well as for some 1- to 1.5-carat items, market insiders said. It also extended its buyback program, which allows sightholders to sell goods back to the miner following the purchase.
This reflected weakness in the rough that produces polished above 0.30 carats, and especially the stones that yield 1-carat finished diamonds. These sizes are especially weak in the US market amid economic uncertainty and a lull in engagements, dealers explained. Rough under 0.75 carats has seen a mild recovery as Indian manufacturers look to fill their factories with low-cost material.
The Group of Seven (G7) meeting that took place in Japan in mid-May proved to be an anticlimax for the diamond trade.
The industry had expected a major announcement to come from the meeting relating to required declarations on the origin of diamonds imported to those countries — an additional measure that would help prevent polished diamonds sourced from Russian-origin rough entering their markets.
While a clear guideline did not emerge, the member nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States — pledged to work toward such measures.
“In order to reduce the revenues that Russia extracts from the export of diamonds, we will continue to restrict the trade in and use of diamonds mined, processed or produced in Russia,” the group said after the meeting.
As it stands, the US and the UK have implemented bans on diamonds sourced directly from Russia. However, the sanctions don’t account for “substantial transformation,” and consequently the manufacturing center is regarded as the source. For example, diamonds polished in Belgium, India, Israel or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Russian rough can technically be imported to the US.
Implementing such detailed declarations is proving more complicated than originally thought. Creating such mechanisms will take time, as Feriel Zerouki, the De Beers executive who heads the World Diamond Council (WDC), said in a recent panel discussion at the JCK Las Vegas show in early June. These measures would apply to the entire industry, seemingly requiring a disclosure of origin for all diamonds at customs.
“How do we support the [sanctions] without paralyzing the industry and making it very cumbersome for natural diamonds to enter the G7 countries,” Zerouki challenged the Las Vegas audience.
Setting standards It’s a sensitive point for an already heavily audited industry, and for companies in each segment of the supply chain that would bear the added expense of verifying such information.
It’s also worth noting that the G7 cannot enact such requirements as a bloc. It will be left to each country to implement its own import rules. That said, there does at least seem to be an effort among those countries to apply some consistency in their systems. It was an open secret that members of various governments and industry bodies met in Las Vegas during the show to advance these discussions, which presumably covered a wide spectrum of industry-related issues.
Central to the talks must surely be the practicality of such declarations. What mechanisms are available to the industry that would facilitate traceability? And who verifies that these initiatives meet the required standards? And on what are those standards based?
The trade has at its disposal industry structures as well as company programs that tackle the challenge of traceability and source verification — although arguably nothing is foolproof.