When Diamond Prices Fall

Diamonds are considered to be one of the most durable, if not perfectly durable, consumer goods. Because diamonds are highly durable, and thus are typically purchased only once by an individual over a long period of time, the demand for diamonds depends on consumer expectations about future prices. Presumably, a prospective customer who expects diamond prices to decrease over time would be willing to wait to make the purchase – so long as the gain from price decrease is greater than the opportunity cost of waiting.

Historically, the diamond industry worked to combat this issue through clever advertising and rigid supply control. Consumers were slyly coerced into collectively sharing artificially inflated valuations of diamonds. Diamonds were marketed as scarce, precious, and exceptionally valuable. They were tied to the concept of love and marriage, in effect magnifying the opportunity cost of waiting to make a purchase. Diamond producers followed predetermined price progression strategies, raising price by a few percent each year. These tactics, for a long time, worked to keep diamond prices high.


Today, diamond prices are driven by market forces, and this has proven problematic for the industry.


Reduced demand amid slowed economic growth has sent tremors through the global diamond pipeline. Chinese diamond purchases decreased significantly amid the country’s short-lived stock market surge, with consumers pouring money into equities instead of jewels. Following the economic downturn, Chinese consumers, who represent the second-largest market for diamonds, have been understandably reluctant to spend disposable income on diamonds. Low oil prices and a weak ruble in the Middle East and Russia have also contributed to the decline in global diamond demand, resulting in significant price decreases for diamonds around the world.


According to the Rapaport Diamond Trade Index, one-carat polished diamond prices have fallen 27% on average from their high in mid-2011, while larger 3-carat diamonds are down 23% over the same time period. Consulting firm Bain & Company estimates that diamond prices fell 25% in 2015. Inflated expectations for future growth in demand were not realized, resulting in excess stock accumulation for several of the world’s top clearinghouses.




So what happens when diamond prices fall?


The problem lies in the diamond industry’s deeply tangled supply chain. Consumers aren’t taking the bait on lower prices, and retailers have found themselves stuck with high levels of inventory. As a result, they have begun to cease purchases from wholesalers, sending the ripple further upstream. De Beers and other prominent industry players have been forced to close mines and factories in countries such as South Africa and Botswana, putting thousands of miners, cutters, and polishers out of work. Consolidation at the midstream level of diamond production has intensified due to the high level of business closures. Developing nations whose economies depend on the diamond industry are particularly feeling the adverse effect, seeing sharp cuts in GDP. Anglo American, parent company of the famed De Beers, saw its shares hit a 15-year low in August of 2015.




Perhaps, the immensely successful marketing tactic behind the diamond has lost its charm. Or, more likely, the diamond industry is suffering the effects of a lag in the pipeline, and prices will eventually bounce back.










The Diamond Trade: De Beers, Russia, and the Industry Today

Diamonds represent one of the world’s most valuable and sought after natural resources. The global retail value of diamond jewelry is estimated to be $72 B, with an average of 130 M carats of raw diamonds being produced annually. Prior to 1867, however, diamonds could only be found in Brazil or India, or on the hands of the wealthy elite, and annual gem diamond production amounted to little more than a few pounds.

Source: http://www.miningartifacts.org/South-African-Mines.html


The nature of the diamond trade changed drastically following the discovery of diamonds in South Africa and the ensuing mining mania, which mirrored the California Gold Rush of 1849. The De Beers Mining Company, founded by Cecil Rhodes in 1870, emerged victorious from this frenzy and established a monopoly that would dominate the industry for decades to come; by 1887, De Beers was the sole owner of South African diamond mines.

The De Beers monopoly was built upon supply control. In order to regulate the supply of diamonds into the market, De Beers took control of distribution channels and formed the Central Selling Organization (CSO), which functioned as the company’s marketing apparatus and controlled around 90 percent of the world’s diamonds. CSO suppliers, eager to sell their stones, were forced to sign an exclusivity agreement that prevented them from forming outside contracts with other distributors.

With the CSO in place, the De Beers conglomerate functioned as follows: De Beers determines the amount of diamonds that it plans to sell in a given year. Each producer is promised a fixed percentage of this total quantity, meaning De Beers pledges to buy that portion of diamonds from the producer and bring them to market through the CSO. Once the number is set, a subsidiary of De Beers purchases diamonds from all producers, including De Beers own mining operations. De Beers then sells the diamonds to dealers via the CSO and charges producers a handling and marketing fee. To prevent price decrease, De Beers purchases any excess supply of diamonds in the market and stores them in its infamous vaults.

The ability of the De Beers cartel to control prices was threatened by economic depression and outside actors. When inflation was high or the stock market was suffering in a given country, investors would capitalize on the stability of diamond prices by holding large quantities of the gem. De Beers faced the threat of a market flooding if these investors were to engage in a mass sell-off.

Additionally, as has been noted in previous blog posts, cartel members are always haunted by the prospect of profits that could be made outside of the fixed arrangement. In 1957, Russia entered the picture following the discovery of large quantities of diamonds in Siberia. De Beers recognized the threat and struck a deal with the Soviet government to purchase 95 percent of Russia’s annual rough diamond output at a 10-20 percent premium, thus ensuring that all Russian diamonds could be properly channeled through the CSO. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was in a state of economic decline and sensed the substantial revenue increase it could realize were it to take its diamonds straight to market. In 1984, Russia broke from the cartel and flooded the Antwerp clearing house with polished diamonds. As a result, De Beers experienced a sharp decline in profits, and other suppliers threatened to follow in Russia’s footsteps.

Although De Beers was eventually able to renegotiate with Russia under new terms, the integrity of the monopoly had been compromised as the power had swayed in favor of the producer. By the 1990’s, several new sources of diamonds had emerged and De Beers could no longer maintain near-complete control of the diamond trade.

In 2013, for the first time in 100 years, market forces were recognized as the driver of diamond prices, not monopolistic behavior. De Beers now controls only 35 percent of the world’s diamonds, compared to 90 percent for most of the 20th century, and the company posted a 45 percent decrease in operating profit in 2015.

Source: http://roughdiamondbuyers.com/?tag=rough-diamond-prices

Rough Diamond Prices: 2011 – 2015 Source:

To keep profits from falling each year, major producers rely on demand driving ad campaigns instead of supply controlling market manipulation. The diamond industry has shifted its focus away from the U.S. and Europe and onto the newly minted upper classes of China and India.

Despite the industry’s best efforts, diamond prices fell roughly 15 percent in 2015 and threaten to continue on the recent downward trend. Moving forward, the industry will either have to penetrate new markets or come to terms with the shrinking size of its consumer base.



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