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1990: Diamond Prices Adjustment May Crash Diamond Market

October 1999

When is a price increase not an increase? De Beers recently puzzled the trade with an announcement that seemed to say that, beginning with the September sight, prices were going both up and down.

In what it labeled a price “adjustment,” De Beers seemed to indicate that the prices of certain stones were rising, but others were falling — although the overall effect was “price neutral,” which many took to mean the increase and decrease cancelled each other out. It gave as reasons the robust American market, and the still-struggling Far East scene.

At the time DRB went to press, it was still too early to tell which diamonds were affected — and De Beers won’t officially comment.

The price “adjustment” took the industry largely by surprise. De Beers had recently adjusted its prices to give sightholders more room for profits, and most expected it to continue that way. But many also hoped that De Beers would announce an increase in order to give the industry a psychological boost, and that sightholders could pass the increase on down the line. This latest announcement in a way satisfies everyone: It lets the trade say there’s an increase, but also doesn’t raise the hopes of the diamond producing countries too high. It also lets De Beers officially hint at a diamond price decrease—something it’s only done once before in its history—in a way that won’t panic people into thinking the market is crashing.

From the release, one would assume that the price of certain “American goods,” (meaning goods popular in the American market, such as full cuts, melees, medium priced caraters from $3000- $4,000, and 3/4s and up certificate stones, from F to J, VS – SI) will increase. The release also seemed to indicate that the price of certain goods labeled “Asian” goods (mostly the “cape,” or low color stones) will go down, because the economies there have not recovered. However, according to some reports, the price of the “Asian goods” has already gone down in certain categories, and this new “adjustment” may just be “formalizing” that decrease.

One thing’s for certain: There will be a lot more talk about the price increase rather than the decrease. By only talking in general term about an unspecified price “adjustment,” De Beers is giving its customers a lot of leeway. No one likes to admit their goods went down in price. But no matter what happens in London, a lot of people will say their stones went up.

The phrase “price adjustment” is different from the standard “price increase.” While previously, rough prices only went up (at least on paper), now De Beers seems to be sending a signal that diamond prices can go up and down like any other product. This is a major shift in the company’s thinking.

The overall message from this unusual announcement is that De Beers realizes it can no longer dictate prices to the market. But it is listening to the market — very closely — and when things change, it will act accordingly.  v

Text of De Beers Announcement

“With effect from the next Sight, commencing on 28 September, the CSO will re-balance its Price Book to take account of current market conditions and global patterns of demand.”

“The retail market in the United States has been performing strongly for some time and there will be price increases in a number of categories of rough diamonds which are ultimately sold into this market. Conversely, the Japanese and South East Asian retail markets have been affected by economic problems, and the recent devaluation of currencies in South East Asia has increased polished diamond prices to the consumer significantly in local currency terms.

“The overall impact on rough diamond prices across all categories sold by the CSO will be neutral.”

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