Published in FOCUS magazine in February 2014.
Today, China is the world’s second largest diamond market, tripling in size in the past five years to US$22.8 billion. Sotheby’s in Hong Kong was also recently host to the record-breaking purchase of a US$30.8 million white diamond. As with many luxury trends in China, at first the con- sumer base wants nothing less than what they perceive as ‘best in class’ items, but as the market matures, tastes become more sophisticated. Currently, Chinese are rivalling European and American preferences for mid-range diamonds. Having seen sales increased 31 per cent in the past three years, this range shows dramatic growth. Previous consumers focused on quality, specifically the diamonds’ clarity, but new consumers understand that high and low quality diamonds may not differ greatly in appearance. Last year, SI dia- monds (the rating Slightly Included, meaning with minor internal defects), which have the same level of clarity American consumers favour, accounted for 30 per cent of sales in China.
Domestically, to cash in on the less-than-premium diamond trend, a factory in China also plans to mass-produce synthetic diamonds, potentially manufacturing 480,000 carats of rough a year. Although many synthetics are for industrial purposes, they can expect to fetch 20 to 30 per cent of the price of natural diamonds. Although the factory intends to ensure buyers know the goods are lab-grown, those farther down the supply chain may not get the message.
Consumers and investors are also seeing these gems with more clarity; diamonds are not only a luxury, they are an investment. In the past, many saw gold as the best hedge against inflation, but countries often use gold to impact exchange rates, making diamond values less vulnerable to economic trends.
Many factors make diamonds a solid investment. For example, while high-end diamonds account for a small amount of produc- tion, lower quality diamonds can offer higher revenue. Additionally, experts predict diamond supply will grow at a compound annual rate of 2 per cent versus 5.1 per cent demand globally, which will put further pressure on prices. Investors attribute this to a decline in kimberlite, the host rock for diamonds, and the decrease in legendary miner and trader De Beers’ historic stock. In the past, stored gems have acted as a buffer when global diamond stocks have declined, creating more consistency in supply.