US Buyers Turning to
Coloured Gemstones

Issue 131, July 2015

The US, the world's largest diamond market by total dollar sales, is increasingly turning to coloured gemstones as its jewellery tipple of choice, according to customs data compiled by Global Mining Observer.

The diamond industry perpetually forecasts forward annual expansion, with mining giant De Beers recently predicting a c.30 per cent rise in demand by 2020, but import figures suggest that emeralds, rubies and sapphires are enjoying far faster growth.

The US imported nearly $1.2bn of cut coloured gemstones last year, up dramatically from just $590m in 2008. Like-for-like diamond imports have grown much more slowly from $19bn to $24bn, allowing coloured stones to nearly double their marketshare to around 5 per cent.

A-listers

The ballooning figures show that jewellers and consumers alike are obediently following A-listers, including Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama, into more exotic gemstones than the tired old diamond.

“Among older women, diamonds continue to exert an almost hypnotic hold,” according to consultancy Bain & Co., with surveys pointing to diamonds increasingly being seen as a rich old ladies rock.

London-based Gemfields, the world's largest miner of both emeralds and rubies, appears to be driving the trend to colour, targeting a younger demographic than typical diamond buyers through its brand ambassador, Mila Kunis, a Hollywood actress and chick-flick favourite in her early thirties.

Counter Campaign

In response, De Beers recently announced plans to relaunch its “A Diamond is Forever” campaign, often cited as the most iconic ad-line of the 20th-century. Model Andreea Diaconu, the new face of De Beers, is in fact younger than Kunis, but dressed in sombre charcoal trouser-suits, is aimed at an older audience.

De Beers has “gone for a luxury product style” that targets men, rather than women, says Paris-based advertising creative Edward Chisholm. “They're saying, we're a timeless institution and you are too, providing your wife wears diamonds. He's 40 to 50, lives in Geneva and the kids have finished private school. Even if it's not true, he identifies with that ideal.”

“Mila is much more in the 20s to 30s bracket. It's a group of young professionals who look differently at marriage. The De Beers font is institutional, like The New York Times. Gemfields' is the font of the Obama 'HOPE' campaign and the signage in New York. They aren't enticing you to buy directly, they're building a brand.”

Switzerland

Monthly figures suggest coloured gemstones are extending gains in 2015, with US imports up 11 per cent versus this time last year. Diamond bosses stress that it is not a zero-sum game, with both products competing against high-end electronics, but in Asia and Europe, coloured gemstones also appear to be winning the campaign.

Imports to Switzerland, Europe's jewellery manufacturing hub, have more than doubled from $328m to $857m in the last 5 years, whilst buying by China and Hong Kong, the world's second largest diamond market after the US, has likewise leapt from $121m to $647m.

It is not a one-way street: the figures suggest the diamond market enjoys greater stability, in line with an older and more financially established demographic. Diamond imports into the US fell 34 per cent in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis, versus a 40 per cent drop for coloured gemstones.

“We’re a timeless institution and you are too.”

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