2019 was a challenging year for the global diamond trade. The entire industry, from miners to manufacturers and from diamond traders to jewelry retailers saw their trade figures and profits decline during the past year. Antwerp, as the leading diamond trading hub, was caught in the middle of the industry-wide storm. “Geopolitical instability led to economic turmoil, which negatively impacted consumer confidence,” says Ari Epstein, CEO of the Antwerp World Diamond Centre.
Softer demand for polished diamonds in 2019 led to a drop in polished prices, yet the year ended on a positive note according to two of the three leading diamond-price indexes, Rapaport's RapNet and PolishedPrices, while Idex saw no improvement in December.
Antwerp’s rough-diamond trade put a weak October performance in the rear-view mirror in November, as the volume of rough exports in particular rose sharply despite another decline in the average price per carat, according to figures from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC). The polished-diamond sector remained more sluggish than usual in what has been a modest month for trade over the past several years.
Imports and exports of rough and polished diamonds to Antwerp slowed in October on a year-over-year basis as the market recession continued to impact the flow of goods and their prices. High inventories of polished goods continue to soften demand for rough goods to polish, pushing rough as well as polished prices down.
The overall poilshedprices index recorded its lowest level since November 2017 last Wednesday, writes Richard Platt for the independent group that provides wholesale transaction-based polished diamond prices. The overall index is 4.9% below its level of this time last year and has lost 3.3% since the start of this year.
The Antwerp diamond industry’s import and export figures for the month of September were mainly in line with what we could call ‘2019 normal’ – prices down, polished trade slow – but the volume of rough goods traded in Antwerp’s hit its highest levels of the year, with the quantity of rough exports more than doubling those in August, according to figures from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre's Diamond Office.
The global diamond industry in the first half of 2019 faced a variety of well-doucmented challenges leading to declining commerce across all segments of the trade.
A combination of factors has led to widespread uncertainty and a global downturn in the diamond industry during the first half of 2019. Antwerp - the world’s leading diamond trade centre - has not escaped its impact, particularly in the rough diamond trade. Economic uncertainty generated by an unstable geopolitical climate has also fostered a heightened sense of caution among the banks that finance the trade, as well as diamond brokers and consumers of luxury goods.
The diamond industry has hit its halfway mark of 2019 and the song remains the same as Rapaport releases their H1 figures detailing across-the-board declines in polished diamond prices amid, as we noted last week, a period of weak sentiment and even weaker demand, all of which is taking its toll on manufacturers and those that supply them.
The Hong Kong Jewellery & Gem Fair last week (20-23 June) provided a snapshot of a cautious diamond industry in the midst of a period of weak sentiment and even weaker demand, according to several traders we spoke with this week. And they do not see any quick fixes on the horizon. While it may not be the largest diamond show of the year, Hong-Kong June is the most important mid-year jewelry sourcing event in Asia, and as such provides us the opportunity to take the pulse of the polished diamond trade. The consensus? Sentiment is poor.
‘Wait and see’
Antwerp’s polished-diamond trade continues to see rising prices in 2019 following a year which the industry recorded its highest ever average price per carat for polished exports. According to figures from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), year-over-year, the average price of polished-diamond exports rose by 42% in April to $2,663 per carat from $1,871 per carat in April of 2018. This led to a 14% increase in the value of polished exports in April despite a nearly 19% decline in the volume of goods exported.
Just about wherever one looks in the diamond industry - natural or synthetic - demand is not keeping up with supply, or is out of balance, writes Edahn Golan on his Diamond Research & Data site.
The Antwerp rough diamond trade had its best month of the year thus far, particularly in terms of value, though like much of the rough trade globally it is operating at much lower levels than in 2018. Exports of polished goods slowed in March while prices continue their steady climb above the record average prices achieved in 2018.
A quick comparison of retail prices show a price difference [between LGDs & naturals] of 20-40%, depending on the specific goods and the retailers’ branding, market positioning, etc. Wholesale prices behave very differently. In the wholesale market diamonds are priced as a commodity ... a much more accurate way of measuring price changes over time. Polished wholesale prices of LGDs are 50-85% lower than those of natural diamonds ... the smaller the goods, the larger the price difference. On average, 1-ct.
The price of vivid yellow diamonds is expected to rise this year as a result of declining supply, according to Q4 figures from the Fancy Color Research Foundation (FCRF). Jim Pounds, FCRF advisory board member and executive vice president of diamond at Dominion Diamond Mines, which has produced high levels of vivid yellow as its Ekati mine in Canada, commented, "as the mine transitions from open-pit mining to underground, a substantially reduced amount of stones will be available during 2019. Therefore, we anticipate a slight increase in vivid-yellow prices.”
The value of India's polished-diamond exports grew by approximately 6% to over $24 billion in 2018 despite a 10% downturn in the volume of goods exported, according to figures from the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC). The rise in value is attributable to a 17% higher average price per carat, calculated at $775, for the 31.5 million carats exported, reflecting an industry-wide trend in 2018 of softening trade in smaller, lower-quality goods and more robust demand for larger goods.
The Antwerp diamond trade was nothing if not balanced in 2018. The industry traded a total of $46 billion in 2018, representing an increase of less than a percentage point over 2017 ($45.9 billion). The value of value of the goods flowing in and out of Antwerp was once again divided equally between rough and polished goods, with the polished trade good for $22.9 billion and the rough trade representing $23.1 billion.
The rough diamond trade in Antwerp during the month of November was marked by a resurgence of imports and exports of lower-priced rough after three sluggish months concerning the volumes of goods traded, while the polished trade experienced a general slowdown.
Independent diamond industry analyst and consultant Paul Zimnisky, proprietor of the Zimnisky Global Rough Diamond Price Index, takes an in-depth look at developments in the laboratory-grown diamond market in his latest contribution to the discussion, "2018: The Year of the Lab-created Diamond". Here he focuses on the impact (or current lack thereof) that De Beers launch of its Lightbox lab-grown diamond line (announced late May 2018, first available late September 2018) has had on the pricing of laboratory-grown goods.
India’s polished diamond exports rose by 19% on a year-over-year basis during the month of October, reaching $2.31 billion compared to the $1.93 billion exported in October 2017, according to figures from the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC). The strong showing was backed by the increased quantity of goods exported, up 8% to 2.9 million carats from 2.7 million a year ago, as well as an increase in the average price per carat, which climbed 11% to $791. However, polished exports fell slightly from $2.37 billion last month.
The Antwerp diamond trade in October booked value gains across all categories - particularly for polished-diamond exports and imports - with the exception of rough-diamond imports, which followed the recent decline in production and sales from the diamond miners.
Polished diamond prices in October gave back some of their gains for the year, as prices declined slightly ahead of India's Diwali festival, when polishing factories close for the month of November. This according to figures from Rapaport's RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI). Rapaport says inventory levels have risen but sentiment has not been dented as expectations for the US holiday season are positive.
The polished-diamond trade in Antwerp during September again witnessed a surging average price per carat, particularly for imports (+22%), however, the trading center remained quiet after the traditionally slow summer holiday, as a result of which the volume of goods traded declined notably. Some have attributed the September slowdown to the Jewish holiday period, while others tell us that Indian companies are still hesitant to acquire smaller goods, with many having already purchased what they need for the upcoming Diwali holidays.
The polished-diamond trade in Antwerp rode a higher average price per carat, particularly for exports (+6%), to solid value gains during the traditionally slow month of August, when the industry takes a three-week hiatus. The volume of rough goods traded during the month declined notably without having much impact on the overall value of those goods, as the average price per carat for rough goods is also outpacing that of the year prior by approximately 6%.
Rising prices of rough and polished diamonds led to substantial value gains for Antwerp’s diamond trade in July, which surged during the weeks preceding its traditional August recess, according to data from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC). Rough diamond imports surged by 23% and exports by 18% compared to the same month a year ago, while polished imports gained 28% in value and exports gained more than 8% compared to the month of July 2017.
Antwerp's polished diamond trade in June rode rising prices to another month of gains, according to data from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), as the Belgian polished trade reasserted its modest upward trend in 2018. The value of polished exports increased 4% year-over-year to $1.04 billion despite 6 percent decline in the volume of goods traded, backed by a 10% climb in average price per carat, to $2,395 from $2,183. The average price did fall short of a May high of $2,688 per carat, likely skewed by the value of goods flowing to Las Vegas for the JCK trade show.
Polished diamond prices have been rising steadily in the first half of 2018, according to analysis on the RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™), and this trend continued in June. Having risen by 3.4% in H1 2018, the index for 1-carat diamonds climbed another 0.8% in June. According to the RAPI, 0.30 ct. stones have continued to rise more sharply than any other category, gaining 3.1% in June and 9.7% since January.
Antwerp's polished diamond exports in May surged by 62% compared to April and increased 5% year-over-year, according to data from the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), as the Belgian polished trade continues its modest 2018 climb. Polished exports rose to $1.18 billion from April, which achieved only $728.2 million, and outstripped May 2017 exports by $56.5 million. The rise was backed by a 13% increase over April in the number of carats exported, and a 4% increase compared to the same month a year ago.
The Antwerp diamond trade in 2018 as a whole continues to outpace its performance during 2017, showing a double-digit increase in the value of rough goods traded and steady figures from the polished trade compared to the same period a year ago. According to figures published by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, the rough diamond trade in April continued to shine, with the value of rough exports increasing nearly 17% year-over-year, while rough imports surged by 43%.
The value of diamonds traded in Antwerp during the first quarter of 2018 (January - March) increased across the board compared to the same period a year ago, particularly in the rough diamond trade, aided by a surge in the volume and value of exported rough goods in March.
The fourth quarter of 2017 saw a slight rise in fancy color diamond prices over the previous quarter, thanks to continued appreciation from blue stones, writes The Fancy Color Research Foundation (FCRF) in a press release. The significant increases in prices of fancy blue diamonds were offset by continued softness in fancy yellow diamonds and stagnation in fancy pink diamond prices. The Fancy Color Diamond Index in Q4 2017 indicates an overall rise of 0.1% over Q3 2017 for fancy yellow, pink and blue diamonds in all sizes and saturations.
"Diamond prices softened slightly in October amid slow trading as businesses closed for Indian and Jewish holidays," according to Rapaport's latest press release. "Polished inventory levels dropped during the month, but remain higher than usual for this time of year, exerting downward pressure on prices." They note that the number of unique diamonds listed on RapNet has increased 18% since January to 1.4 million, as dealers are holding large volumes of hard-to-move goods and seeing shortages of select in-demand categories, such as RapSpec A3+, SI-clarity diamonds.
Diamond industry analyst Ehud Laniado takes a helpful look at the, "trends, anomalies and problems in the wholesale sector of the diamond market" as we approach the holiday season. As anticipated, demand is rising, but changes in the nature of that demand are causing some concern; in particular, the steady shift to lower-priced goods, lower peaks in demand and an overall decline in polished prices.
According to three of the leading polished price indexes - Rapaport, IDEX and PolishedPrices - September polished diamond prices trended downward, though they steadied toward the end of the month. PolishedPrices pulled the alarm bell mid-month, with the headline, "Polished index falls to lowest level since December 2009", noting that "The overall index is 4.7% lower than this time last year and has lost 2.2% since the start of the year," before bouncing back the next week.
The trend of high volumes of rough diamond exports from Antwerp continued in July, while the diamond capital’s polished trade showed signs of life among persistently soft results. According to figures published by the AWDC, on a year-over-year basis, the volume of rough diamond exports increased significantly (20%) for the third month in a row (+55% May, +53% June), totaling nearly 11 million carats, while their value actually declined by 4% to $1.1 billion. The volume of rough imports also increased 15% while their value tumbled by 14%.
"Polished diamond prices softened in June after the JCK Las Vegas show demonstrated a cautious and changing US market," announces Rapaport News in a press release on polished prices in June. Their message confirms the trends noted in recent months: retailers reducing standard inventory, which is contributing to a build-up of older stock midstream, while consumers seeking lower price point jewelry.
Antwerp's diamond trade in June mirrors the trends we have seen from the diamond capital over the first half of the year 2017, with significant volume increases of lower-priced rough exports and a persistently soft polished trade. On a year-over-year basis, the volume of rough diamond exports increased for the second month in a row by more than 50% (53%) while their value rose only 24%. The volume of rough imports also surged 31% while their value lagged behind at 5%.
In his latest blog post, "A Market in Chaos", diamond industry researcher and analyst Edahn Golan examines the disconnect between the rising trend of lower price point/smaller-diamond jewelry and the willingness of manufacturers to pay more for the rough to produce it. He starts with trends in the consumer jewelry market - because this is the ultimate determining factor for the diamond market - that are demonstrating a distinct shift towards lower value goods. Drawing on his impressions from the JCK Las Vegas show, Golan writes, "The trend of smaller diamonds stood out.
Rapaport has issued a press release on the current rough and polished diamond markets, which boils down to the following: "Amid sluggish polished markets, rough trading remained strong." The second quarter of the year is typically a slow period for diamond trading, and April this year proved no different.