It is far to state that, when history is written, 2020 will be remembered mainly for one specific event, and that is the COVID-19 pandemic. First reported on by Chinese health authorities on January 1, it continued to dominate the narrative all the way through to the end of the year. Even the U.S. election, which most would have pegged as the most important news item moving into 2020, took second place to the coronavirus crisis, and indeed was impacted by it, like all other facets of human existence.
The diamond and jewelry business were no different, having to cope with a variety of challenges, including nationwide economic lockdowns, mine closures and shifts to online trading, to mention but a few.
But here and there were number of major news items, unrelated to COVID-19, which otherwise may have garnered considerably more attention than they did at the time. The following is a sampling.
DE BEERS INVESTS $94 MILLION IN LAB-GROWN DIAMOND FACTORY
If there are any questions about the staying power of the laboratory-grown diamond sector, then look no farther than De Beers. Having launched its own laboratory-grown diamond jewelry company, Lightbox, in 2018, the company is building $94 million LGD factory in the U.S. State of Oregon that, which eventually will be able to produce 500,000 carats per annum.
The 5,574 square-meter plant was supposed to have been fully commissioned this year, but that has been pushed back to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Full production capacity should be possible by the end of the first quarter next year. In the meantime, Lightbox is getting its supply of rough laboratory-grown diamonds from De Beers older synthetic diamond subsidiary, Element Six, which has manufacturing facilities in the Republic of Ireland, Germany and South Africa.
A worker at the new De Beers-owned factory in the U.S. State of Oregon, producing laboratory-grown diamonds for Lightbox Jewelry.
Omnichannel marketing is an increasingly dominant trend, where consumers use a mix of online and offline channels as they move through the purchasing process.
OMNICHANNEL MARKETING BECOMES THE NEW LUXURY CATCHPHRASE
In many respects the coronavirus itself in not the agent of change, but rather an accelerator of trends that were already underway, and which became ever more relevant during the prolonged period of lockdown.
Early in 2020, the Boston Consulting Group released a report focusing on the retail sector, which it said is undergoing a transformation before our very eyes, adding that that is a preview of what’s to come. The catchphrase in the new retail environment is omni-channel marketing.
As consumers become more comfortable with buying online and on the go, they are, in the words of the BCG report, becoming channel agnostic. “Shoppers don’t pick a channel with which to conduct their business,” the report stated.
“Instead, they tend to use a mix of online and offline channels as they move through the purchasing process, and may not even be aware.”
ARGYLE CLOSES DOWN, BUT FANCY COLOR COLLECTION STILL RELEASED
For 35 years Australia was considered a major diamond producer, all because of one single mine, Argyle. Producing more than 90 percent of the country’s rough diamonds, at the peak of its production, in 1994, it was putting into the market some 42 million carats of mainly lower quality yellowish and brownish rough stones.
At the same time, it was also considered the world’s most important producer of rare pink, red and purple colored diamonds.
But all ended during in the fourth quarter of 2020.
A set of fancy-colored stones from the 2020 Argyle Pink Diamonds Tender, which was called ‘One Lifetime, One Encounter.’
With production at the aging mine falling, its owner, Rio Tinto, ruled it the mine was no longer economically viable. But the company still unveiled the 2020 Argyle Pink Diamonds Tender, entitled “One Lifetime, One Encounter,” referencing the closure of the iconic mine. It included 62 diamonds with a total weight of 57.23 carats.
The second largest rough diamond ever discovered, the 1,758-carats Sewelo, bought by LVMH in January 2020.
LVMH TAKES THE PLUNGE ON A 1,758-CARAT ROUGH DIAMOND
Louis Vuitton, the French fashion house and luxury retail company owned by the world’s largest luxury product brand, LVMH, announced in January that it has bought the second largest rough diamond ever discovered, for an undisclosed price. Weighing 1,758 carats, it was discovered in April 2019 at the Kurowe mine in Botswana. It is called the Sewelo, which means “rare find” in Setswana, the main local language.
LVMH did not announce how the diamond will be cut, but reportedly several options were being considered. They included a 904-carat cushion-cut diamond, an 891-carat oval-cut diamond or a collection of several stones of between 100 and 300 carats.
IN FIRST, ISO APPROVES SYSTEM FOR GRADING POLISHED DIAMONDS
Though September 2020, diamond-grading laboratories operated without any international authority to accredit and affirm their reliability. What changed on that date is that the International Standards Organisation published ISO 24016, the first-ever standard approved by the body that specifies the terminology, classification and the methods to be used for the grading and description of single unmounted polished diamonds.
“The aim of a standard for grading unmounted polished diamonds is to set rules for determining with maximum precision and accuracy the mass, colour, clarity and cut ofindividual polished diamonds,” ISO 24016 notes in its introduction. “On one hand, based on these four criteria – also known as ‘the 4Cs’ – the diamond trade evaluates the value of diamonds.
ISO 24016, the first-ever standard approved by International Standards Organization, which specifies the terminology, classification and the methods to be used for the grading and description of single unmounted polished diamonds.
On the other hand, some diamond grading reports may be issued based on different standards by different laboratories, potentially leading to different results for the same individual diamond. This situation damages the reputation of the whole diamond trade. Hence, the need for a unique ISO standard for grading polished diamonds.”