Alrosa

Despair in the Diamond Market

Isaac Mostovicz writes that diamonds as investments could destabolize the market...

Chaim Even-Zohar’s latest memo reveals the diamond industry in despair. At the moment Diamonds are not being sold to the market of consumer and what we see is inter-trading only. Banks do not see new money coming in, and while they hail the fact that debt went down by 20%, how much was due to real sales and how much was due to squeezing the empty pockets of the industry? The cancer has reached the producers, who act irresponsibly and pour billions of dollars into the market with the only short-term goal of survival. Alrosa lost half a billion dollars this year and De Beers struggles to finance its debt. All in all, somewhere along the line the industry forgot the consumer.

We all know the truth about diamonds for investment (short answer: they’re not), but the new trend that big players want to establish just shows their level of despair, trying to play on the world’s ignorance. This is not the first time that the trade, championed by De Beers, has done so. The world has believed that “all diamonds come from De Beers” and if you do not have a De Beers diamond, something is wrong with your diamond. I do not blame De Beers for not correcting this perception, but they were happy with this ignorance. What we see now, this attempt to attract investors, is something really dangerous. This raises some painful memories. During the heydays of the diamond boom before 1980, a Belgian worker decided to buy some diamonds for investment. When he came to us some ten years later with his parcel, we looked at it and literally had tears in our eyes. Here was a hard worker with a permanent layer of dirt under his nails and who had bought diamonds with full faith that his purchase was a good value that would appreciate. In actuality if he got 5% of his investment, he would have been lucky.

This was not an isolated case–I have a personal example: When my uncle left our company in 1975, he took, as part his compensation, a few parcels of polished goods that were estimated well below market price. When he tried to sell these goods twenty years later, he hardly recovered his investment even after repolishing and regrading many of the goods.

We also can’t forget the $1 trillion of goods at market price that are in the hands of consumers — these goods will be worth much less when consumers try to dispose of them. Jewellers pay about a third less on average for the same goods when going to their suppliers. When they buy from the consumer market, they pay a lot less for several reasons: they have to pay cash, the goods won’t always sell easily, and sourcing from the consumer market is not always steady.

On top of this, the jewellers’ market is very narrow and quite often they will try to move it up the supply chain to their supplier or supplier’s supplier, reducing the value they can offer even further. If the market tries to market diamonds for investment, they are literally cheating the market. Most of the goods that will be sold will fetch only a fraction of the investment when they are resold, even without any more mining. And even extraordinary large and special diamonds, which might have been a good investment in the past, won’t be a good investment if many of them are sold later on at lost or close to par.

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From Russia with Diamonds…

Isaac Mostovicz writes that Russia has a growing stockpile of diamonds...

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Here’s an interesting article on the state of the diamond market in Russia–they’re stockpiling diamonds while they wait for demand to return to protect the market in the long run. They’re also beginning to take charge in advertising diamonds generically the way De Beers used to. At the end of the article, the author sums up the major problem in the diamond industry, but also points to the solution:

“We have to tell people that diamonds are valuable,” [Aleksandr A. Malinin, an adviser to the president of Alrosa] said. “We are trying to maintain the price, just as De Beers did, as all diamond producing countries do. But what we are doing is selling an illusion,” meaning a product with no utility and a price that depends on the continued sense of scarcity where there is none.

At the Alrosa unit that receives diamonds, called the United Selling Organization, where about 90 percent of the output of the Siberian mines arrives for processing, Elena V. Kapustkina pours about 45,000 carats of diamonds though a stainless steel sieve every day to sort them by size.

“It’s just a job,” she said.

When asked whether diamonds had lost their romance for her, Ms. Kapustkina paused, looked down at the pile of gems on her table and blushed.

In fact, she said, her husband, a truck driver, gave her a half-carat ring 22 years ago. “Of course I love it,” she said. “It’s from my husband.”

I hope Malinin’s cynical comments won’t undermine the industry. The industry should really be focusing on people like Elena Kapustkina, who feel an emotional connection to their diamond. Understanding how people interpret luxury and how luxury can give people positive reinforcement will give marketers a distinct advantage–it’s the direction in which luxury marketing is going.

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A Holiday Slowdown for Diamonds?

Isaac Mostovicz writes...

Economic difficulties are hitting the diamond market. Will there be a holiday slowdown? Let’s look at some recent industry news:

DeBeers production of rough diamonds is slowing slightly, down 4.3% in the 3rd quarter of 2008 compared to the 3rd quarter of 2008. However, the prices they’ve been able to achieve for their rough diamonds at auction recently have held up (unlike BHP Billiton, whose prices have dropped 35-40%).

An industry trade group (India’s Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council [GJEPC]), a large producer (Alrosa) and a whole country (Botswana) have all said that the economic crisis is affecting them. GJEPC asked producers to offer fewer rough diamonds over the next few weeks so that the market could stabolize; similarly Alrosa said it would cut its supplies. Botswana has also said that the economic crisis has affected its diamond exports; the country is solvent for now but could be hurt if the recession lasts for a long time.

What does this mean for the holiday season? RBC Capital Markets is predicting disappointing diamond jewelry sales in the US for the holidays. The International Council of Shopping Centers predicts that chain store holiday sales will grow, but the focus will be on basic goods.

All this news suggests to me that a holiday slowdown is on the horizon, though DeBeers being able to hold its prices suggests that those companies with the right offerings will be able to weather the storm.

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