Photo credit: Kelly Sikema on unsplash.com
Part 2 of a 2-part series
The largest conflagration between East and West since the end of the Cold War, coming on the heels of a global pandemic lasting two years, and an ill-conceived public health policy that is isolating the world’s second largest economy, would seem like a recipe for a less than sterling business environment, particularly when one dealing in a non-essential luxury product. But diamonds and diamond consumers often react counterintuitively.
On October 5, 2022, an internally flawless fancy vivid pink diamonds weighing 11.15-carats called the Williamson Pink Star sold for $57.7 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, which was more than twice as much as its pre-sale estimate. This was a new world record for price per carat paid at auction for any diamond or gemstone, and was the second highest amount ever paid. The buyer was an undisclosed individual from Boca Raton, Florida.
While it was not necessarily the year that one would expect records to tumble, it also would be overstating the case to contend that the Sotheby’s sale was reflective of what was happening in the general market. There certainly was concern, but through the year data continued to point to the diamond’s resiliency.
This certainly was the case after the first six months when De Beers reported rough diamond sales rose to a value of $3.3 billion, from $2.6 billion a year earlier. Rough diamond sales volumes totaled 15.3 million carats, up from 19.2 million carats, with the period of comparison having benefited from very strong demand recovery following the impact of COVID 19 in 2020.
De Beers’ counterpart, Russia’s Alrosa, pointedly did not provide accurate sales data, a somewhat unusual phenomenon given the fact that the company’s shares are publicly traded. Whether that was to hide the real impact of Western sanctions on Russia as a result of its invasion of Ukraine, or to mask the fact that it is selling well despite the sanctions regime, is up for speculation.
The 11.15-carat Williamson Pink Star, which sold for $57.7 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. It was a new world record for price per carat paid at auction for any diamond or gemstone. (Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.)
MIDWAY THROUGH YEAR, THE EXPERTS ARE UNCERTAIN
Halfway through the year, Mastercard SpendingPulse reported that, despite an inflationary climate, jewelry sales in the United States were continuing to surge. In fact, jewelry purchases outpaced most other categories, rising 87 percent over the corresponding period in 2019, and showed the highest rate of growth of all the segments reported.
But the experts were mixed about what was in store. Tenoris, a new jewelry and gemstone trends analytics company, reported during the third quarter that, after two-year of almost uninterrupted gains, U.S. jewelry and diamond sales had started to slow.
But, they were reluctant to declare the latest data as indicating a trend – “at least not yet,” they stated.
“Since the COVID outbreak in February 2020, consumer demand had been veering off the beaten path,” Tenoris explained on its website, noting that, during the first half of 2022, sales were generally higher year over year
A study conducted by the U.S.-based Luxury Institute, which asked high-ranking business executive and consultants to predict responders were also asked to predict how strongly major regions of the world may be affected by the current situation, and the severity of the impact on key luxury categories, showed that most expected a downturn, and 41 percent a full luxury recession.
Those who saw a recession looming believed the impact will be strong in Asia/Pacific, mainly because of vulnerabilities in China. These included the government’s response to COVID, an unstable real estate market, a slowing economy, a dependency on expensive commodity imports, and continuing supply chain issues affecting exports. Luxury watches and jewelry are seen were considered likely to experience a medium level impact, due to supply shortages plus their high investment value.
OVERALL, THE STATE OF MARKET IS POSITIVE
While final results for 2022 are not yest available, it now seem relatively clear that, while the markets were not unaffected by geopolitical events, they had not collapsed as a result of them.
De Beers’ Diamond Insight Report which was released in October, showed that lobal demand for natural diamond jewelry in the first half of 2022 grew by an estimated high single digit figure compared with the first half of 2021.
Growth was estimated to be strongest at low double digits for the United States and Japan, the De Beers report said, while India and the Gulf grew in single-digit figures. China was the only country to experience a decline in diamond demand, largely due to the impact of continuing COVID-19 lockdowns.
The high rate of inflation and the global economic challenges exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict dented consumer confidence during the second quarter, leading to a measurable softening in demand for demand, although in general the outlook remained positive, the report said.
“Don’t let the declines create an impression of a down market,” wrote industry analyst Edahn Golan in November, who cautioned about comparing market data to 2021, which in many respect was a year lived in reaction to 2020, when business ground to a near halt because of the COVID crisis.
Despite the concerns of many, consumers packed shopping malls during the first weeks of the 2022 end-of-year holiday season.
Compared to 2019, which Golan termed as a “the last ordinary year” for the jewelry industry had, sales this year outperformed the years ago every single month.