Colour diamonds have increasingly become a consumer favourite, reaping great rewardsfor retailers. Will their popularity continue and where will new sources come from? SAMUEL ORD surveys the landscape with a range of industry voices.
It’s impossible, of course, for anyone to provide an accurate figure on just how many diamonds unearthed meet the requirements to be classed as fancy colour, however the widely cited number is one in 10,000.
Of those that are unearthed, the vast majority are yellow or the common brown. More than 70 per cent in fact! Then there are the far rarer colours that are currently commanding record levels of interest at auction – the blues, greens, violets, blacks, purples, reds and of course, pinks.
The rarity, combined with the beauty of these gemstones, makes them a prize to any passionate collector.
William Gant, LJ West managing director, says it’s a volatile time for the industry around fancy colour diamonds, however, the gemstones themselves remain as highly valued as ever.
“As the recent upheavals in geopolitics and equities and crypto markets have shown, volatility is frighteningly high everywhere you look,” Gant says.
“But premium fancy coloured diamonds have remained a stable and growing asset that weathers such storms, and continues to grow in value.
Gant continued by highlighting the importance of retailers and suppliers alike to remain adaptive.
“The global pandemic forced a period of adjustment on the industry as a whole, by limiting travel and trade fairs,” he added.
“But this also presented opportunities as demand remained strong and disposable income was high from lack of travel. Those who adapted to digital or remote sales methods have performed very well.”
|L to R: Bronzallure, Coeur De Lion, and Pandora|
State of Play
In June last year, Jeweller published a comprehensive review of the market, and with increased optimism spreading with the removal of the shackles of the global pandemic, experts gazed into their crystal balls and eyed a positive rebound in 2022.
“We are looking optimistically forward to a revitalised market in 2022,” Fancy Colour Research Foundation (FCRF) CEO Miri Chen told Jeweller last June.
It’s the kind of good news the industry loves to be told – but has this been the case? The natural colour diamond industry has faced increasing pressure in recent years on more than one front.
The man-made diamond industry has continued to apply competitive pressure as it searched for manufacturing and technological advances.
This has been paired with a new kind of influence precious gemstone manufacturers and retailers are witnessing, which is the rise of the ‘conscientious’ consumer; people who want to not only be told that products are coming from the ethical origins – they expect retailers to be able to prove it.
The conscientious consumer is fickle and once you’ve lost them, they’re difficult to win back. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, these consumers have turned their attention to Russian diamonds and many major retailers have been forced to respond by banning their sale.
Rolling with the punches
With three months of 2022 FCRF data open for analysis, Chen recently spoke with Jeweller and said all indicators remain optimistic despite recent unexpected pressures.
“In light of the COVID lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine, the market no longer expected such a sharp recovery, so in that regard, it’s exceeding expectations,” Chen says.
“In the first quarter of 2022 the average price of fancy colour diamonds across the board rose by one per cent led by pinks at 1.3 per cent and yellows at 0.7 per cent.
“This continues the rise in the price of 89 per cent of all fancy colour categories in 2021.”
Western Australia has been home to some of the world’s most highly sought yellow and pink fancy colour diamonds.
Ellendale Diamonds director Christopher Soklich says that from an Australian perspective, 2022 is off to a respectable start.
“In a marketplace that is continually changing due to social and economic circumstances, it is important to be agile, have a point of difference and that continuity and reliability across all aspects of your business gives confidence to your end client,” Soklich says.
“Whilst this can be difficult to navigate in the current climate your perseverance and diligence will help you reap the rewards.
“We have encountered a solid start to 2022. It has not been without its challenges in an ever-shifting landscape, where thinking on your feet and being able to be adaptable to the challenges presented by the pandemic have been a must.
“As confidence begins to return, restrictions are lifted and freedoms are returned, we expect to see a continuing resurgence in sales.”
Fancy colour pink diamonds are regarded as the rarest in the world. Approximately 90 per cent of these diamonds have been unearthed in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
Soklich said he can’t see any challengers any time soon to the status and prestige held by pink diamonds.
“Our natural Argyle pink diamonds continue to be sought after as the princess of the coloured diamond world,” he says.
“With less available due to the Argyle Diamond mine closure, we expect to see demand continue to increase for these rare and resplendent stones.
“Clients are now being tempted by alternative cuts such as pear and cushion styles, although the round brilliant cut diamond remains the most popular request. We have also seen a surge in requests for larger natural yellow diamonds with pear cuts coming out on top.”
LJ West’s Gant agreed with Soklich and says the popularity of Argyle product has only increased.
“Pink and violet diamonds, particularly from the Argyle deposit, have been in very high demand in Australia,” he says.
“This is likely to continue for some time as these stones are as collectable as they are beautiful. Demand has been strongest for Argyle-certified stones, but these are becoming rarer.
“The vast majority of Argyle’s diamonds are not certified: there has been a growing popularity for stones that have independent origin certification confirming their Argyle provenance – we expect this trend to continue and the value to grow.”
Gant says the hunt for the next big source of fancy colour diamonds remains alive.
“Diamond mining has been predicted to grow over the next couple of years, with locations such as Namibia getting some attention,” he added.
“However, there is no ‘next Argyle’ to be found anywhere as yet – the world waits with bated breath!”
|Golshifteh Farahani for Cartier||Kendall Jenner for Messika||Anya Taylor-Joy for Tiffany & Co.|
It was once suspected the search for a new source of fancy colour stones may end in Russia.
Russian company Alrosa is the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds and fancy colour gemstones account for less than one-tenth of a one per cent of the company’s total output.
In February of 2020, Rebecca Foerster, the former president of Alrosa’s USA branch, hinted at the company’s plans to claim a larger stake in the colour market.
“Alrosa deposits are known not only for their colourless diamonds, but also for a variety of rough coloured diamonds. Our cutter’s unique skills allow us to turn them into high-quality diamonds,” she said.
“A closed production cycle guarantees the origin of each stone and allows us to track its path from its birth in Earth’s mantle.
“With these advantages, Alrosa may well become a world leader in the coloured diamonds market.”
Following the invasion of Ukraine two years later in February of this year, it’s safe to see those ambitions have been put on ice.
Retail titans Signet Jewellers, said to be the world’s largest diamond retailer, announced that it will no longer source diamonds originating from Russia as a response to the conflict. Tiffany & Co and other retailers, large and small, have taken similar stances.
FCRF’s Chen says the absence of Russian and Chinese influence on the market will be two of the biggest factors in the months to come.
“We expect the demand for yellow diamonds to continue, especially with the boycott on Russia that significantly affected the supply of yellow diamonds,” she says.
“And when the Chinese, who are in lockdown and with travel restrictions due to COVID, will return to the market, we will see an increase in demand.
“In terms of specific inventory trends, we can see that the leading companies have been buying more fancy colour diamonds and increasingly incorporating it into their collections, and even using yellow diamonds in engagement rings.”
Fancy colour diamonds occupy a smaller segment in the cultural zeitgeist compared to white diamonds and for many retailers, that can make them intimidating to approach as a product for the first time.
Salt and Pepper Diamonds has been part of the Australian jewellery industry since the 1950s and today, sell an intriguing range of naturally flawed gemstones. Owner and jeweller Brendan Cunningham says maximising the unique nature of the diamonds is the key to success.
“My advice to a jeweller considering entering the fancy colour market for the first time would be to explore fancy shapes,” he advises.
“The less likely it is that a customer can compare a stone you offer with one offered by your opposition, the less likely it is that they will shop around. That sounds pretty blunt! But the internet has made it particularly easy to compare the prices of white diamonds. Our current trend cut is the pear shape.
“People are after unique diamonds, although our strength is in naturally flawed diamonds which we are still seeing strong growth we have also ventured into reasonably priced natural colours like browns and yellows.
“Some diamonds even have reddish characteristics. One very cool diamond we found hidden in a parcel with a strong orangish reddish inclusion. At the right angle, it looks like a heart, it’s remarkable.”
Similar to other industry voices, Cunningham remains optimistic about the future of the fancy colour market, despite the wide variety of pressures it faces.
“There has been a lot of talk, especially amongst the manufacturers in India, around price increases,” Cunningham says.
“There’s a shortage of rough and demand is very high. From our perspective, we still have to manage to negotiate reasonable deals while also finding a way to still offer competitive prices that encourage decent retail margins.
“That’s the balance for us, as it is for any jewellery retailer.”
Harsh Maheshwari, director Kunming Diamonds, echoed this sentiment and says it’s thrilling to see the enthusiasm around the rare diamonds increasing each year.
“Fancy colours have had a steady and healthy growth in the past year,” he says.
“Consumers’ knowledge has exponentially heightened about natural colour diamonds, which subsequently has
led to soaring demand in key colours such as pinks and blues, and with JLo’s [Jennifer Lopez’s] new green diamond ring, that has started trending.
“The confidence in entering the fancy colour category is gained by choosing the right supplier or having the right information.
“Don’t shy away from sharing knowledge! It adds another layer to the story of every purchase you make.”
Ellendale Diamonds’ Soklich says informing the customer about the history of a diamond is crucial.
“Education and marketing strategies are of great importance when considering entering the fancy-coloured diamond market, being able to understand the natural beauty, boundless design concept options for unique pieces to be created and detail this to your clients is key to successful sales,” he says.
At the highest end of the market, there are many reasons to feel optimistic about the sector following recent auction results.
The world’s largest blue diamond, the De Beers Cullinan Blue, was recently sold at auction for $US57.47 million ($AU80.96 million) at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. The 15.10-carat step-cut gemstone was expected to go for $US48 million with pre-sale estimates comfortably surpassed.
Meanwhile at Christie’s Magnificent Jewels auction on 11 May, The Red Cross Diamond, a 205-carat fancy intense canary yellow cushion cut diamond was sold at a record-breaking price.
Pre-sale estimates projected that the diamond would garner $US10 million, a target which was comfortably exceeded as an anonymous bidder claimed the item for $US14 million
It’s a fascinating aspect of the fancy colour industry, however naturally, it’s explored by only the ultra-wealthy. That exclusivity may soon be reduced, however, with the rise of Luxus.
Luxus was launched in mid-May. It’s a US-based fractional ownership company which allows investors to buy shares of fancy colour diamonds.
The first diamond on offer is a 0.54-carat fancy pink diamond from the Argyle mine valued at $US400,000. Luxus is making 2,000 shares available, allowing investors to buy in for as little as $US200.
The company was founded by hedge fund expert Dana Auslander and journalist Gretchen Gunlocke Fenton. A company spokesperson says it expects to sell most investment diamonds within 18 months to three years.
Kunming Diamonds’ Maheshwari says it’s not surprising to see more and more consumers take an interest in fancy colour diamonds – even if it means taking an alternative approach to ownership.
“With global markets being so uncertain, collectors are looking at alternative options to invest in,” Maheshwari says.
“Fancy colour diamonds happen to be up there on the list.
“We’ve seen many blue diamonds being auctioned off and breaking records, and a lot are keen on the Argyle Blue Moon too.”
While the uncertainty around the future of the fancy colour industry is well-founded, the passion for these rare and beautiful diamonds
is still very much ablaze, leaving little reason to fear for it’s survival.
For now, however, the hunt remains on for the next significant source.