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How De Beers is trying to make diamonds popular again

De Beers has made one of the steepest cuts to its diamond prices in years

Diamonds displayed during a visit to the De Beers Global Sightholder Sales (GSS) in Botswana
Diamonds displayed during a visit to the De Beers Global Sightholder Sales (GSS) in Botswana (REUTERS)

De Beers made one of the steepest cuts to its diamond prices in years, as the world’s top producer tries to revive gem sales after the market ground to a halt.

The industry almost came to a complete standstill in the second half of 2023 as the two biggest miners all but stopped supplies in a desperate attempt to stem a collapse in prices. While those efforts helped the market to pick up a bit, it’s unclear how much appetite trade buyers currently have. 

To improve demand, De Beers cut prices by about 10% across the board at its first sale of this year, traditionally one of the largest, according to people familiar with the matter. The one-time monopoly made bigger cuts for some larger stones, with one category being lowered about 25%, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the details are private.

The industry has been whipsawed since the start of the pandemic. It was one of the great winners as stuck-at-home shoppers turned to diamond jewellery and other luxury purchases. But demand quickly faded as economies reopened, leaving many in the trade holding excess stock that they’d paid too much for.

Also read: The rise and rise of Surat's diamonds

The cooldown rapidly escalated as the crucial US market wobbled under rising inflation. In addition, consumer confidence in key growth market China was hurt by a property crisis, while competition from lab-grown diamonds increased.

That left the industry with little choice but to curb supply. Russia’s Alrosa PJSC in September halted all sales for two months, and was followed by buyers in India—the dominant cutting and trading centre—voluntarily banning imports.

De Beers allowed its customers to refuse all gems they’re contracted to buy for the last two sales of 2023, though didn’t cut its prices despite declines in the wider market. It has now removed that flexibility to reject stones, the people said.

A De Beers spokesman declined to comment.

De Beers typically reserves aggressive price cuts as a last resort. While it keeps pricing secret, the across-the-board cut this month is hefty. Outside of the early days of the pandemic, the last time the company made such significant price reductions was toward the end of 2019 amid an oversupply of stones.

The Anglo American Plc unit still wields considerable power in the rough-diamond market. It holds 10 sales each year in which the buyers—known as sightholders—generally have to accept the price and the quantities offered.

At this month’s sale, the biggest reduction in prices came in a category known as “select makeables”—diamonds between 2 and 4 carats that can be cut into smaller polished stones used in bridal rings and which are high quality, but not flawless.

Even after cutting prices for that category heavily last year, De Beers lowered them by another 25% this month, the people said. Those gem types have been badly hit by the growing popularity of synthetic diamonds, which themselves have slumped in price. 

The first sale of the year is one of the most important as midstream buyers who cut and polish rough stones into jewelry restock after the crucial holiday period.

The key question is whether the latest price cuts will help build momentum. Prices started to rebound toward the end of last year as buyers who were short of stones and needed new stock to keep factories open fueled demand amid limited supplies. 

Also read: Are lab-grown diamonds the new crown jewel of luxury market?

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