Pre-Holiday Gem Orders ‘Encouraging,’ Mixed Results for Auctions
December 11, 2017
Diamond and gemstone dealers report that pre-holiday orders from U.S. and Chinese retailers are “encouraging,” with good demand for affordable qualities and higher-end stones. Requests for so-called “bread and butter” middle-quality goods are also improving after sagging for the past several years.
In the U.S., diamond traders reported that orders began to pick up in late November as retailers gained confidence in Christmas season sales. Diamonds from a half to two carats were moving well in the mid-quality ranges and affordable colored gems in fashionable settings are popular. Tiffany & Co., which reported a small increase for the third quarter, is predicting a modest single digit sales increase for the season. Signet Group, however, is predicting a single digit decline as consumers are trending away from shopping malls.
Black Friday weekend and Cyber Monday online sales were strong from retailers in general. The National Retail Federation reported that the average spend was up 15% and analysts say online purchases are running at record levels. Most retail jewelers, however, do a majority of their Christmas sales in the week before the holiday.
In China, the world’s second largest diamond and gemstone market, retailers reported the first upward trend in sales in two years, with Chow Tai Fook and Luc Fook registering strong gains.
PINK DIAMOND TENDER
Argyle reported (undisclosed) record prices for diamonds in its annual pink diamond tender, which featured 58 polished red, pink, violet and blue diamonds. The “Argyle Everglow,” a 2.11 ct Fancy red, the cornerstone of the collection, was purchased by David Shara of Optimum Diamonds in New York. Graff acquired the 2.42 ct pink Avaline diamond, the largest stone.
While the prices in the 2017 edition were strong, many of the diamonds from the 2015 and 2016 Argyle tenders are still with their original buyers.
The first major auctions of the fall season produced decidedly mixed results.
At Sotheby’s Nov. 15 Geneva sale, several top gems went unsold. The 37.3 ct “Raj Pink” was the largest pink diamond ever to come up for auction, but buyers showed little interest and bidding stopped at less than half its top estimate of $29 million. A 7.41 ct Fancy Vivid blue diamond also failed to meet its reserve, as did the Donnersmarck diamonds, a pair of Fancy Intense yellow gems with European royal provenance.
The two bright spots at Sotheby’s were a 33.63 ct Fancy Light pink diamond from Winston that drew a high bid of $12.8 million and a 18.86 ct Burmese ruby ring that sold for $5 million.
The story was much different at Christie’s a day earlier. The top lot was the well-publicized “De Grisigono Creation 1,” an emerald and diamond necklace featuring a 163.41 ct D fl rectangular cut diamond pendant that went for $33.7 million. This was the most expensive D flawless diamond ever sold at auction, according to Christie’s vice president, Francois Curiel.
That diamond was cut from the 404 ct. “February 4” rough found at the Lulo Mine in Angola in 2016. The record price works out to $209,000 per carat, which was much higher than most large D flawless diamonds have been getting in the past year, though nowhere near a record. The high per carat price was notable because the loftiest bids usually go toward faceted shapes – ovals, rounds, etc.
At the same sale, “Le Grand Mazarin,” a 19.07 ct Fancy Light pink diamond, went for $14.46 million. The diamond had been part of the French crown jewels.
Another major fancy pink diamond, the 14.93 ct GIA-graded Fancy Vivid pink “Pink Promise” sold at Christie’s Hong Kong for $32.16 million on Nov. 28. The $2.15 million per carat price was a record. At the same auction, a jadeite, ruby and diamond necklace went for $12.3 million and an 8.8 ct Fancy Intense pink diamond sold for $9.7 million.
On Dec. 5, a 5.69 ct Fancy Vivid blue diamond drew a winning price of $15.1 million ($2.7 million per carat) at Sotheby’s New York sale. A 110 ct. L color, VS1 clarity, which Sotheby’s claimed was the largest round brilliant cut ever offered at auction, failed to sell.
It’s been a good month or two for mining 100-plus carat diamonds.
Alrosa’s Jubilee pipe yielded a 108.34 ct yellowish diamond and a 163.11 ct colorless stone. It also found an 82.8 ct gem, also yellowish.
In Sierra Leone, a small mining company unearthed a 476 ct stone in the country’s Kono area, its primary diamond producing locale. Earlier this year, a digger discovered a brownish 709 ct diamond that Rapaport auctioned on Dec. 4 for $6.5 million ($9,167 per carat) in New York. The buyer, London jeweler Laurence Graff, said the proceeds from the stone will be used to help some of the poorest people on Earth. About $1.1 million from the sale will be distributed to local diamond diggers in the district where the diamond was found.
Lucapa Mining in Angola reported finding a 129.58 ct diamond in early November and Gem Diamonds, a majority owner of the Letseng Mine in Lesotho, has discovered six 100-plus carat diamonds through the first nine months of the year.
Russell Shor is senior industry analyst at GIA in Carlsbad.