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April 2001

The other day, we were making a deal with one of the most experienced dealers in the Diamond Dealers Club. We asked him why he never budges on prices. “I‘m not sorry for anything I didn’t sell,” he said. “Otherwise, I would have just spent the money on the stock market, and lost most of it.”

It’s a good point: In this time when it’s hard to figure out just where to put your money, diamonds remain a reliable store of value. One site even quizzed investors which would they rather invest in, a half-carat marquise, or stock in Yahoo. Yahoo won, but we’d like to question those who bought a diamond a year ago versus those who invested in Yahoo. We aren’t advocating diamonds as an investment, but there are worse places to put your money.

Even so, there’s no doubt that the diamond market will be hurt if there is a recession. Consider this: 50% of Americans own stock. And the half who don’t probably can’t afford diamonds in the first place. “It is naive to believe the luxury business is immune from the downturn,” one retail analyst told the New York Times recently.

In fact, the industry has already has been hurt by the drops in the market and consumer confidence. But while there is a softening of polished prices in certain sectors, there is no drop in rough prices, which De Beers still largely controls and has kept supplies tight.

We’ve weathered many recessions in this business. Generally, the very top of the market holds its own. And people always still engagement rings— although, if the Japanese market is a reliable guide, they will probably buy lower qualities than in the past. People generally don’t go down in size, as much as color and clarity.

Still, there’s a chance these are things we won’t have to worry about. The Times recently quoted this optimistic view from Bernard Arnault, head of De Beers’ new partner, LVMH: “When I go to the United States today, people seem demoralized. But things can change fast in the U.S. My guess is that if interest rates go down sufficiently, things will come back by the end of the year.” We hope he’s right.

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