The world’s two biggest diamond miners are selling stones again after the industry all but halted supplies in a desperate attempt to stop a collapse in prices.
This year’s rout that was driven by swelling inventories forced the sector to take radical steps to support the market. Russia’s Alrosa PJSC in September halted all sales for two months, and was followed by buyers in India — the dominant cutting and trading centre — voluntarily banning imports. De Beers allowed its customers to refuse all gems they’re contracted to buy.
There are now signs that the market is starting to pick up. Alrosa began selling rough diamonds again at the end of November, offloading more than $100-million, according to people familiar with the matter. De Beers, which held its last sale of the year at the start of December, sold a similar amount, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the details are private.
The industry has been whipsawed since the start of the pandemic. It had been one of the great winners as stuck-at-home shoppers turned to diamond jewellery and other luxury purchases. But demand quickly eased as economies reopened, leaving many in the trade holding excess stock that they’d paid too much for.
That cooldown rapidly became a slump as the US, by far the industry’s most important market, wobbled under rising inflation. Plus key growth market China was hit by a property crisis that hurt consumer confidence. And to make things worse, lab-grown diamonds started making big gains in some key markets.
That left the industry with little choice but to choke off supply. Those efforts so far seem to be working, with some price gains for rough diamonds, though concerns still linger that fresh supplies from miners’ large stockpiles could test the recovery.
Alrosa’s recent sale saw it sell to just a handful of mostly India buyers, the people said. Many in the industry refused to deal with Russian gems following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine as Western retailers said they didn’t want to buy the stones. Before the war, Alrosa sold to about 50 customers each month.
And while De Beers has resumed sales, it still allowed buyers to reject goods they’re contracted to buy, the people said. The unit of Anglo American has a long history of managing supply by stockpiling goods to prevent prices falling.
De Beers and Alrosa declined to comment.
India’s diamond industry earlier this month also announced that it would lift the voluntary ban on imports on expectation that demand will recover and prices of polished items to stabilize.
The miners’ sales have been small compared with what the dominant producers usually expect to sell at this time of year. The rebound has also been driven by buyers who are short of stones and need new supplies to keep factories open, rather than strong demand for polished gems, the people said.
A more lasting recovery will demand on how robust jewellery sales are during the crucial holiday season, which spans from Thanksgiving to the Chinese New Year.