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March 2000

By Melanie A. Cissone

From haute couture runway shows to jewelry industry shows, diamonds are taking center stage in the design world.

At Fashion Week in Paris in January, De Beers presented the winners of the Diamonds-International Awards at the Louvre Museum. This inspirational competition encourages the whimsical and fantastic in jewelry designs. Like their haute couture fashion counter-parts, the winning entries of the DIA are eventually translated into jewelry designs that have more commercial appeal. It’s the chance to experiment with new techniques and technology, such as invisible settings, and the opportunity to put art before the mechanics of design that gets the creative juices flowing for these designers.

Representing 16 countries, the winning DIA entrants used diamonds to create spectacular masks, hair cones, serpent bracelets, chokers and more. The countries with the most awards were Japan with five and Italy, Brazil and India with three each. The U.S. landed two awards.

There was no expense spared on the number of diamonds used in any one piece. Tamjid Abdullah of the United Arab Emirates used 450 diamonds weighing a total of 57.52 cts. to create a white gold mask; John Calleij of Australia used 219 diamonds weighing a total of 43.90 cts. for his piece called “Virtual Eros,” a veil-like virtual reality-style mask; Manami Makigaya of Japan used 288 diamonds totaling 5.5 cts. to create a stunning platinum hair cone; South African, Kevin Friedman used African beads, 684 diamonds and a 4.18-ct. emerald-cut center diamond for his traditional African choker; and four-time winner Martin Gruber of Nova Stylings designed a platinum and gold choker containing 103 cts. of diamonds.

Of the 29 winning entrants, certainly no one appreciates the image-building power and recognition the awards brings to a designer than La Casa Damiani of Italy with 18 awards to its credit. Never having sold any of their unique winning pieces the firm uses them to attract attention to its high market catalogue.

Here in New York, at the JA show in the Jacob Javits Convention Center, an 18k solid gold pen encrusted with diamonds made its debut. Introduced only two weeks before the show, the pen with its 22 diamonds, designed by Sunny Aiya, is already on back order with its manufacturer, Connoisseur Jewelers, with expected deliveries in the coming weeks. The pen carries a wholesale price of $650 with diamonds. The 18k solid gold pen alone sells for $450.

As if the lingerie and the publicity surrounding their Internet-simulcast fashion shows isn’t enough, one of the most popular previous Victoria’s Secret shows featured as its finale a diamond pave bra with a hefty price tag. More understated in its design but no softer on the wallet was the “Millenium Bra,” made from 24-ct. gold thread with a 15-ct. center diamond. It was unveiled in December in Tokyo by Triumph, Inc., a German lingerie maker. This unique delicacy goes for a mere $1.9 million.

If you or your firm is interested in entering the DIA competition look for an announcement calling for entries in the last quarter of 2000. Applications and rules may be obtained by contacting the Diamond Information Center directly at (212) 210-7000.

The current collection of winning entries will be on exhibit in various cities around the world with a final stop in New York in late November 2000.

Since 1992, there has been a more than 1000% increase in platinum sales in the U.S. This increase, coupled with record sales of platinum jewelry in 1999, demonstrates that platinum’s popularity continues. According to figures from the Platinum Guild International: “One quarter of all women now choose platinum over white or yellow gold for their engagement rings and wedding bands – this is up from 1% seven years ago.”

Total world demand for platinum has more than doubled in the jewelry category, from 1.36 million oz. in 1990 to 2.73 million oz. at year-end 1999. By region, the largest increase in demand over the last decade has come from countries outside of Europe, Japan and North America with the greatest growth in demand for platinum jewelry coming from China.

In its Platinum 1999 Interim Review Johnson

Matthey PLC reported platinum supplies declined to 5.06 million oz. in 1999 — compared to last year’s 5.4 million. The continuing increase in platinum demand compared to world supply is reflected in the upward trend of the price of platinum per troy ounces. During the week of February 14th, “spot” prices were all over the place, hitting an 11-year intraday high on February 17th of $555. This compares to a $380-$430 range from November to mid-January when the price break-out began.

Different media sources are reporting that General Motors is looking for alternatives to platinum in the manufacturing of autos. According to Johnson Matthey, this marks the third successive year of forecasted decline in demand by this group. Driving these decisions from Detroit are the requirements to meet tighter controls on hydrocarbon emissions. This trend away from platinum is likely to impact platinum prices.

One prevailing issue that has plagued the platinum world has been the December 1998 Russian export restrictions. Johnson Matthey had anticipated that Russian exports would resume by year-end 1999. However, last week it was announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to approve platinum export quotas by month’s end. Exports would resume two to three days thereafter. This suspension has cost the Russian government approximately $500 million in earnings it would have received from export agencies and taxes. Hardest hit by these measures has been RAO Norilsk Nickel, which produces one-fifth of the world’s platinum. Russia is second to South Africa in platinum production. As a result of the recent surge in prices, platinum may surpass gold as South Africa’s top export item

Laurie Hudson, president of PGI-USA, says, “The outlook for platinum in jewelry is excellent.”

Having just attended both the JA and IJO shows, where the Platinum Guild hosts the Platinum Pavilion, Ms. Hudson said, “The mining world is committed to meeting the increasing demand for platinum in jewelry. In the U.S., the largest western market in the world for platinum, sales of this precious metal continue to grow at both the manufacturing and retailing level.

“Platinum prices have been undervalued over the last five years and lately they have been very volatile. However, we believe the price will stabilize at approximately $500/oz. in the early spring. This gives both manufacturers and retailers the comfort zone they need to develop their own pricing.”

Ms. Hudson said the bridal market is strong and growing. Additional growth segments include women’s gifts and self purchases. “Holiday 1999 sales of platinum jewelry were the highest ever,” Ms. Hudson said. “Ninety-four percent of all jewelers surveyed reported increases in their platinum jewelry sales. Ten percent of all women over the age of 18 own a piece of platinum or partially platinum jewelry … The major jewelers have gotten behind platinum. When they showcase platinum pieces it really spreads the consumer’s education and knowledge. When I began in 1992, there were approximately 150 retailers stocking platinum jewelry. Now there are 20,000.”

Platinum will always be in style; it is a precious material and precious materials don’t go in and out of fashion. It depends on how the retailers sell it.”

The PGI-USA is launching a major branding campaign this spring that de-emphasizes platinum as white jewelry.

She said, “White as an accessory in fashion may come and go but jewelry is not something that women color coordinate with their clothes. As the most precious of all metals, platinum’s white color is merely incidental to its inherent beauty and value.”

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