Mumbai—The somber mood that prevailed across Surat and Mumbai early in the fourth quarter of 2022 seems to have given way to a sense of cautious optimism.
Indian diamantaires are realigning their plans and adjusting to the uncertainties that cloud the current global outlook.
Though sales in the U.S. market between Thanksgiving 2022 and New Year 2023 were not as buoyant as the prior-year period, most people in the industry feel the numbers do not paint an accurate picture of the strength of jewelry sales.
The overall opinion seems to be that 2021 was so exceptional it should be a treated as an outlier, not a measuring stick. The results of 2022 may not have matched those levels, but it still was a fairly good year.
Additionally, many companies realigned their production targets in March 2022, soon after Russia invaded Ukraine and the United States, subsequently, imposed sanctions on Russia
Initially this was seen as a short-term measure, but later most took a longer-term perspective, once it became clear the conflict was likely to be prolonged.
Production at India’s diamond factories, therefore, slowed over the last six to eight months.
According to the Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), exports of polished diamonds for April 2022-January 2023 (the first 10 months of the Indian fiscal year), were down nearly 10 percent in value terms and 23 percent in volume terms year-over-year.
Similarly, imports of rough diamonds declined about 6 percent in value terms, and nearly 23 percent in volume terms.
The effects of continued uncertainty on both the political and economic fronts and the impact at both ends of the pipeline – affecting supply and hurting consumer sentiment – has been increasingly evident.
Darshan Jariwala, president of Shree Creations, a wholesale retailer of natural diamonds in the United States that is familiar with Indian manufacturers, said, “Global conditions have had a significant impact. The supply chain has been disrupted, as the shortfall of raw material has pushed prices up, adding to existing pressure on consumer demand.”
Over the last few months, he reports that polished diamonds in sizes below 50 points (0.50 carats) moved better compared to larger goods, where the rise in prices of natural diamonds, coupled with the fall in prices of lab-grown diamonds, have affected sales of the former.
Other manufacturers also said there has been some resistance due to price hikes particularly in larger sizes.
With inventory levels among U.S. retailers in these goods being higher, demand has slowed.
However, many companies with established niches and long-term relationships said the impact of price fluctuations remains relatively limited for them.
Devansh Shah, a partner at Venus Jewel, said, “We currently see that sizes +2 carats to +3 carats and +7 carats to +9 carats are doing better than others, while round shape, D [color], FL [clarity] particularly are seeing shortages.”
According to him, the decline noticed in the recent past in demand for pique (heavily included) goods and dossiers (diamonds with grading reports) may ease as the Far East market is showing signs of opening up.
Shah also addressed the concern about U.S. sanctions on Russian goods.
“We are compliant with the latest regulations and requirements from our customers. We have been able to identify the origin of our diamonds since many years now, so it is easy for our customers to choose based on their preferences,” he said.
Another large supplier to the U.S., KBS Group, said it is providing clients with written assurances the polished has not been manufactured with rough sourced from Russia, based on their own verification, when possible, and on similar written assurances provided to them by suppliers in their network.
Other large manufacturers also publicly have declared they have systems for tracking all stones from the time the rough diamonds are logged into their systems, thus ensuring segregation.
Most industry members and market observers assert that in India, Russian imports have dropped by about 30 percent in volume terms since April.
Yet, it does appear some goods may still be going to the U.S. market on the basis of being “substantially transformed”—meaning cut and polished—in India. As a few diamantaires explained, decision makers have to balance the sanctions with the question of their impact on the livelihoods of a large number of artisans’ families.
However, this assortment of challenges has not set alarm bells ringing.
Among the reasons: there are prospects of an immediate uptick in demand from China with an end to the zero-COVID policy and related lockdowns, and the surge in consumer demand for lab-grown diamonds, which is helping companies transfer some of the existing cutting and polishing capacity in and around Surat to this sunrise sector.
Moreover, prospects in the U.S. market are far from bleak.
Sandeep Shah of KBS Group said after a period of some uncertainty in the middle of last year, various parts of the value chain started to adjust to the realities of inflation, a drop in consumers’ discretionary income and the rise in prices of raw materials.
“Though the industry may not be bullish about the coming year, most are taking steps carefully and remain positive,” he said. “Everyone is keeping inventory light, and while offtake of polished may be slow for a few months, we feel H2 2023 will be better than H1.”
Nilesh Kothari of Jewelex also feels there is no immediate cause for concern.
“U.S. retail sales were OK ‘til now, but buyers are now more cautious while replenishing goods currently. The slowdown in offtake may continue for some time. Polished diamond manufacturing in India is at lower levels now, but we believe that there will be a gradual pickup to some extent from Q3 onwards.”
In a similar vein, Shah of Venus Jewel said, “We expect 2023 to be better than last year as prices have now stabilized and markets are opening up, though economic and political factors may still have a high impact.”
According to him, “there are plenty of opportunities … we have developed a number of strategies and tools” to tap into them.
There are many others exuding similar confidence in early 2023, buoyed further by positive signals from the just-concluded Hong Kong jewelry trade show.
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