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April 2000

by Melanie A. Cissone

For the better part of the last 30 years, approximately 65% of all available gold has been used for jewelry fabrication. With slightly more than 2,000 tons used in 1989, gold demand for jewelry fabrication climbed quite steadily to more than 3,000 tons by 1998, a 50% increase. On average, the last ten years has seen 76% of the world gold supply consumed by jewelry fabrication, an 11-point gain over the previous two decades.

In the 1999 Gold Survey published by Gold Fields Mineral Services (GFMS), charts show the last ten year’s supply from mine production and scrap has been on a steady incline while the price of gold per ounce has declined to 20-year lows. Another factor causing the downtrend in gold prices is the auction of gold reserves by several foreign treasuries; this month saw the fifth and final such auction of 25 tons by the British in its current series. The next series out of the U.K. Treasury, announced in early March, will see 150 tons of gold reserves sold in six 25-ton auctions beginning in May. In total, these sales represent 58% of U.K. gold holdings. To bring some balance to the marketplace the Washington Agreement on Gold was signed in the fourth quarter of 1999. It places restrictions on the sale of official reserves of many of the world’s largest gold holding countries for the next five years.

On the design front, for the last 16 years the World Gold Council has been tracking socio-cultural changes and influences that affect consumer trends. In Gold Trends 2000, the WGC projects nine lifestyle changes and their corresponding design trends in the new millennium. While the report leans toward the philosophical, it is worth a visit to the Gold Council web site.

Perhaps the most notable of these is “Luxury As Right.” This change in our style of living suggests that the search for pleasure is socially acceptable again. It goes further to say that society is indulging in good food, social ostentation and voluptuous consumption. The corresponding design trend assigned to this lifestyle predicts a return to glamour; design shall play to the human senses and sensuality. It says, “Too much is just enough.”

With these concepts in mind and its commitment to encourage product innovation, the WGC, in cooperation with the Vincenza Fair, presented in January the Millenium Gold Collection, a spectacular compilation of gold creations designed by 123 international companies and exhibited at VincenzaOro 1. Keeping an eye toward the luxurious, many of the designs were glamorous and sensual. In this collection there was renewed interest in the use of two or three different gold colors in rings, bracelets and necklaces, however, the use of yellow gold prevailed in both traditional and contemporary designs. Diamonds dominated as the precious gem of choice in the showpieces. Diamonds were seen both accenting and complimenting different designs.

Gold Council Promotions Manager, Anne DiNuzzo, called diamond sales “phenomenal.” “That actually helps gold sales,” she said. “Platinum is not taking away from gold, however, with a trend toward white in general we have seen increases in our white gold production. Gold is bigger and better than ever before. At the ready-to-wear runway shows for spring there was lots of gold being used – jewelry, belt buckles, handbags.”

Gold jewelry and precious gem designs have stepped away from the 80’s high polished disco look. “We are seeing more low-key matte looks now,” she added.

Regarding the gold market in general, Paul Bateman, president of the Gold Institute in Washington D.C., comments, “1998 was the 7th successive year in growth of U.S. gold jewelry output. At the Gold Institute we represent mining companies and one of the greatest challenges they confront is the increased regulatory constraint in the governance of the mining industry. The cost is great and the length of time it takes to navigate the process to mine new land is approximately 7 years in the U.S. This compares to other countries where the process takes 1½ to 2 years. There is a definite increase in mining companies going to places like Latin America.

On the topic of the environment and the role the mining industry plays in its maintenance, Mr. Bateman says, “After a mine has been used, mining companies treat the reclamation of land with the utmost importance. In fact, land reclamation is a requirement to mine and it must be guaranteed, in the form of a bond, before mining begins.” This was the case of the Diavikdiamond mine in Canada which has had to post millions in Canadian dollars to get approval to mine.

Mr. Bateman concludes, “The real story is in the disposal of official gold reserves.” He points out the recent and pending U.K. sales in addition to the forthcoming Swiss sales this spring. “Selling these reserves, I believe, contributes to the suppressed gold prices we are seeing now.” The U.K. and Swiss reserves are the 5th and 10th largest official holdings, respectively, in the world.

Whether or not you believe that gold investment provides protection against the aftermath of a speculative market or as a hedge against inflation, one thing stands true: gold has always been and will continue to be recognized for its value and beauty. Gold’s unique physical properties, its luster, workability and virtual indestructibility make it the granddaddy of all jewelry fabrication. Unlike platinum, alloyed gold with its variety of colors lends itself especially well to colored diamond jewelry, a segment of the diamond retail market that is gaining in popularity.

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