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1990: Diamond Markets Eventually Turn From Boom to Decline But Survive

May 1998

Consider the following:

Consumer spending in the U.S. on cars, appliances and home furnishings jumped 20% in the first quarter of 1998.

Toyota, the biggest Japanese carmaker reported that domestic Japanese car sales fell 21% in March 1998.

It’s pretty obvious, right? Everybody knows that the U.S. market is abuzz, while the Japanese market, and even more so, the Southeast Asian market, are in the dumps. Right?

Moreover, while the downward trend of the above-mentioned categories hold true for all luxury items, the trend also applies to diamonds, as CSO President Anthony Oppenheimer pointed out recently. In an interview in The Financial Times, Oppenheimer recalled that Japan’s imports of polished diamonds had fallen by 25% last year from the 1996 leveles and continued a similar slide this year. He added that he “can’t see the Japanese market recovering for a couple of years.”

On the other hand, is an amazing, but encouraging report from Japan. Apparently, Tiffany & Co. is finding a great deal of success selling diamonds in Japan in these hard-knock times. According to a report in Fortune Magazine, Japan now accounts for a full 27% of Tiffany’s business worldwide. Fortune even goes so far as to exclaim that “The Japanese have adopted a novel response to the whole recession thing: buy diamonds retail.” Fortune adds, perhaps half tongue in cheek, that with the numbers Tiffany is showing in Japan, “maybe Tiffnay should be looking at Indonesia next.”

A similarly optimistic dispatch emerged from Hong Kong with Christie’s spring jewelry and watch auctions setting record prices. The largest single-owner collection of internally flawless diamonds ever offered for sale in Asia was 100% sold, of which a necklace made up of five pure white internally flawless diamonds totaling 32.41 carats, sold for $1.28 million to an Asian private buyer after reports of “frenzied” bidding. The diamond became the most expensive diamond necklace ever sold at auction in Asia.

The bottom line? Diamond demand persists at the high end of the market and to skillful marketers, even during these lean years in Asia. But this good news should also temper the almost complete reliance on the U.S. market which we see now. There is a summit to every boom, and the 1 trillion gain in the U.S. stock market in the first quarter of ‘98 could eventually run out of zeros.

Diversification in various diamond markets may therefore be the wisest, safest route to go the distance.

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