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July 2004

Someone asked the other day, “Are polished prices leading De Beers to increase rough prices, or are De Beers rough increases’ pulling polished prices?” It’s like the question of the boy walking his dog. You don’t know if the boy is leading, or is the dog leading, by looking back, or are they both in sync?

We do know that polished prices rose considerably in June across the board, from flawless to SI2, in some cases as much as ten percent since January. This is mostly due of course to the rough price increases earlier this year from De Beers, followed by other producers. Slowly, the old inventory is being depleted, and the price increase is being felt down to the jeweler and the consumer.

While part of the firmness in polished prices is due to the increased cost of rough, it was also fueled by the general improvement in the economy, as proved by the retail demand at the recent JCK Show in Las Vegas. Asia and Europe are also picking up considerably. However some in the industry believe that this mini-bren (fire) is caused by dealers holding back from selling and speculative buyers betting that De Beers and other producers will raise prices again.

In the short run, everyone is happy when there is an increase. In the long term, nobody really gains from these price increases if they don’t reflect economic reality. Already, we’ve heard a young cutter tell his father, “Put the goods in the safe, go on vacation and we’ll make tons of money.” It is reminding us of 1979 all over again, and that’s a little scary. We remember a speech by De Beers chairman Harry Oppenheimer, in which he said something along the lines of “You can’t say that De Beers never makes mistakes. But you can say we never make the same mistake twice.” Let’s hope the industry can say the same thing.

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