Industry Analysis

Online Diamond Sales 17% of U.S. Market; New Auction Records

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The “Imperial Kashmir,” a 17.16 ct sapphire, achieved a world record for a sapphire when it sold for $236,404 per carat ($4.01 million) at a Sotheby’s Oct. 7 auction in Hong Kong. All photos courtesy Sotheby’s
A recent De Beers study reported that worldwide retail sales of diamond jewelry totaled $79 billion last year; up $5 billion on a 7% increase in U.S. demand and 12% increase in China.

Online sales of diamond jewelry comprise about 17% of the market in the U.S., according to the study. These sales include both strictly online companies such as Blue Nile, as well as traditional retailers who also sell over the Internet.

The De Beers report also noted that 25% of Chinese consumers now research prospective diamond purchases online before making an actual purchase and that the number of retail stores selling diamond jewelry increased 30% from 2010 to 2013. There are, however, strong signs that the heady growth continues to slow, according to De Beers. Retailers in Guangdong Province reported that sales declined 5.1% for the first eight months of the year, while sales of gold pieces nationwide fell 9.1% during that period, according to a government report.

In the U.S., the Department of Commerce reported that jewelry and watch sales from all sales channels increased 4.9% in August, compared to the same month in 2013. This rise reflects even greater sales volume because prices for gold and diamonds declined several percentage points in this year.

De Beers’ noted that diamond production increased 7% to 145 million carats, still well under the 2005 peak of 175 million carats. It also predicts that production will decline, despite new sources coming on stream, because older mine deposits are getting more costly to work as operations go deeper and ore-grade declines.

De Beers’ Oct. 6 – 10 sightis estimated at $465 million, much smaller than previous sights. The October sight is usually small because it comes just before Diwali, which begins Oct. 20.

Indian diamond manufacturers typically take a two-to-three week break in operations and diamond firms settle their accounts for the year during Diwali. This year, some companies have reportedly offered discounts up to 10% on some slower-moving polished goods to enable them to settle with banks that are cutting back on credit or, in the case of the Antwerp Diamond Bank (ADB), closing doors and calling in loans. The Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, India’s largest industry organization, has denied reports of heavy discounting, saying the long-term prospects for the country’s diamond trade “remain robust.”

ADB has a loan portfolio of $1.6 billion – with nearly all of those clients located in Antwerp. However, 60% of that portfolio is held by Indian firms with roots in Mumbai and Surat. Clients reportedly have one year to close their debts to the bank.

Immediately after the ABD news hit, the Indian Branch of Standard Chartered Bank reportedly informed clients that is was further reducing its financial exposure to the diamond industry and insisting on increased collateral to secure credit lines.

Rough prices have been softening in recent months because of the tightening credit and price resistance in the polished market. De Beers lowered prices very slightly on some high quality goods at the past sight, but prices from other producers sold at tender sales have reportedly fallen by 7%.

AUCTIONS: The records for prices keep breaking as the world’s ultra-wealthy buyers vie for rare, important gemstones. At Sotheby’s Oct. 7 Hong Kong auction, an 8.41 ct GIA-graded Fancy Vivid purple-pink, Internally Flawless diamond drew a winning bid of $17,768,041 from a private buyer from Asia. It was the highest price ever paid for a Vivid pink diamond at auction and, at $2.1 million per carat, it came close to besting the all-time per-carat price achieved by a gemstone.

A GIA-graded pear shaped Fancy Vivid purple-pink diamond weighing 8.41 cts sold for more than $17.7 million at the Sotheby’s Oct. 7 auction.
The record pre-carat price for a Kashmir sapphire was broken twice at the same sale, the second time within minutes of the first.  

The first lot was a 12.0 ct step cut mounted by Cartier, which drew a final price of $2.32 million or $193,975 per carat, besting the record set last year by just over $13,000. A few lots later, however, an Asian collector paid $4.01 million for the 17.16 ct “Imperial Kashmir.” At $236,404 per carat, it easily topped the price mark that had just been set.

While the Intense purple-pink set a record for a diamond of that grade, a pink diamond, graded Fancy Intense by GIA that weighed 24.78 cts, holds the record price for any gemstone, selling for $46 million in 2010.

This 12.0 ct step cut sapphire and platinum ring by Cartier set with emeralds and diamonds sold for $2.32 million at the Oct. 7 Sotheby’s auction. It briefly set a record at $193,975 per carat until it was surpassed by the “Imperial Kashmir.”