Trade Outlook of Big 4 in Post-Pandemic Global Recovery
Big 4 gemstones consist of diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. These gemstones have been traded for millenniums. Until today, they remain the most sought-after among all gemstones. People generally buy them as heirlooms, wedding gifts, and for long term speculation. During the past 2 years, global gemstone trading market has been hampered due to the pandemic. However, the Big 4 market outlook is still promising. It has been expected that global sales of the Big 4, consisting of fancy diamonds, rubies, blue sapphires, and emeralds, in 2021 – 2031 will grow averagely by 5.7% per year.
Going back to 2017 – 2019, rough diamond production declined around 5% yearly. Covid-19 outbreak was an additional key factor forcing producers to reduce their diamond production as consumers held off on diamond consumption following economic sluggishness. Consequently, polished diamond producers, having faced oversupply since 2019, cut down rough diamond purchase because they needed to empty their stocks before acquiring the new stock. Global rough diamond production of 2020 (production volume of 111 million carats) reduced substantially by 20%1 , compared to that of 2019.
Image source: www.naturaldiamonds.com
As polished diamond traders confronted overstock issue while demand for diamonds diminished, prices of rough and polished diamonds fell 11% and 3%, respectively. Global revenue throughout diamond supply chain also slid 15 – 33%. Moreover, global diamond jewelry sales shrank 15% as international travel constraints limited demand exclusively to domestic consumers.
However, in 2021, global economy has been bouncing back. Most nations began to resume economic activities. As a result, confidence for diamond consumption has been growing among consumers, especially those in major diamond markets such as the US, China, and India. Consequently, diamond trading market has been improving. Nevertheless, the world’s top diamond producers-- Alrosa and De Beers—still curb their productions and trading. Therefore, prices of rough and polished diamond jumped 5-20% depending on diamonds’ sizes. Prices of large diamonds have been risen more than those of small diamonds.
Diamond demand was expanding due to increased demand2 for engagement rings, wedding rings, and self-gifts and gifts for important persons on special occasions. Moreover, buying diamond jewelry is also a good way of investment (Diamonds are fit for medium to long term investment) as value of natural diamonds increases owing to their scarcity and rarity; hence they are highly valued. DG Diamant Gems stated that a high-quality diamond of 1 carat or 0.2 grams is valued equivalent to a gold bar of 1 kilogram. It is recommended to invest in a diamond of 1 carat and over, round brilliant cut, D to F color, and clarity of IF to VVS2.
Image source: www.shopping.jubileediamond.co.th
According to diamond price statistics, it is noted that diamond price constantly rose throughout these past years. From 1960 to 2019, price per carat grew averagely by 14% each year, which was higher than inflation rates3 . Referring to Rapaport statistics, price of a 1 carat, round, D color, VVS2 diamond in 2020 was at USD 13,000. In 2021, it went up to USD 13,400, a 3.08% increase from 2020. The larger the diamond, the higher the return. DG Diamant Gems informed that during the past decade, 3-carat-sized diamonds yielded the best return with a 123% surge in value. In addition, during the past 15 years, rare fancy diamonds gave high returns, pink diamonds, in particular, were able to gain a 200% upsurge in return profit.
Currently, consumers’ purchasing power has been rising, so analysts have expected that diamond market will expand. Bain & Company has predicted that in 2022 – 2024, demand for diamonds will recover to the same point before the pandemic. From 2023 to 2030, the market will grow 2-3% per year. It has also been anticipated that production will go up 2% within the next 3-5 years.
Rubies, Sapphires, and Emeralds4
Rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, or the “Big 3” are exquisite rare polished precious stones. Thus, they have always been highly in demand. However, their production volume has declined, particularly during the pandemic. As a result, the whole global colored stone supply chain has been hampered as mining operators were forced to cut down their productions due to economic crisis and lockdowns in many countries. Declines in rough stone volume have caused raw material insufficiency in gemstone cutting and polishing5 in many production centers such as Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc. In addition, most of the leading trade fairs and colored stone auctions were cancelled. Thus, high quality Big 3 gemstones’ prices surged due to declining supplies.
MVI Marketing conducted a survey on 1,100 fine jewelry buyers in the US and interviewed 100 jewelry traders and producers for a study, published in the early 2021. The study found that over 93% of customers preferred buying rubies, sapphires, and emeralds over other colored stones. During the past decade, brides and grooms increasingly chose jewelry with colored stones and demand for colored stone engagement rings soared more than 30%. Retailers offered 15% more products of colored stone jewelry for wedding. The growing popularity of colored stones was partially influenced by celebrities such as Duchess of Cambridge whose engagement ring includes a 12-carat blue sapphire; Jacqueline Kennedy who wore a diamond ring with a 2.88-carat emerald at her wedding; and Jessica Simpson who was given an engagement ring, which features a 4-to-5-carat Myanmar pigeon’s blood ruby.
Duchess of Cambridge’s 12-carat blue sapphire engagement ring
Image source: www.hellomagazine.com/
Usually, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds are more expensive than other gemstones. Their value escalates by appearance and rarity. Growing number of investors have also shifted their interest to premium natural gemstones as safe haven asset. Evidently, at an online auction of Sotheby's in April, “Tutti Frutti”, a Cartier bracelet featuring rubies, blue sapphires, and emeralds, was auctioned at USD 1.3 million. It was the highest price of online gemstone auctions. Additionally, an auction of Christie's Magnificent Jewels in Geneva on May 12, 2020, prices of many emerald jewelry pieces sold were over 3 folds higher than expected. For example, a 6.5-carat emerald ring with slight clarity enhancement was auctioned at USD 117,318 from its expected price of USD 22,343 - 33,515.
“Tutti Frutti” bracelet
Image source: www.forbes.com
High quality untreated rubies are the most preferrable gemstones for investment, particularly Myanmar pigeon’s blood rubies due to their extreme rarity and being the most valuable. According to Gemworld6 ’s price data, in 2016, a 2-carat Myanmar ruby of premium quality with no enhancement was priced at USD 36,000. In 2021, its price went up to USD 47,500, an almost 32% from 2016. Best quality rubies can fetch the highest price of more than USD 1 million per carat7 . Value of good quality rubies from other sources such as Madagascar, Mozambique, and Tanzania have also increased. During the past 2 years, ruby price has doubled.
Myanmar ruby ring “The Sunrise Ruby”
Image source: www.gemrockauctions.com
Blue sapphires are the most popular among all sapphires. Kashmir sapphires (India) are the rarest and the most valuable because there has not been any excavation for over one century. They are followed by sapphires from Myanmar, Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and Madagascar. Fancy color sapphires—yellow sapphires, pink sapphires, and padparadscha--have been increasingly popular as well.
Generally, a good quality sapphire of 2-3 carats will be priced at around USD 1,600 – 2,000 per carat. According to Gemworld’ s pricing data, in 2016, a 2-carat good quality untreated Myanmar sapphire was priced at around USD 8,480. In 2021, its price reached USD 8,750, a 3.18% increase from 2016. A high-quality sapphire may be priced over USD 10,000 per carat8 .
Large untreated emeralds, which are extremely rare, are highly sought-after among investors. Emeralds from Colombia are the most expensive owing to their bright green color with fair clarity. Their green color is the most popular in the world. Emeralds from the source are followed by emeralds from Brazil and Zambia.
Nowadays, natural emeralds are priced from USD 200 to 18,000 per carat, depending on quality and origin. According to Gemworld, during the past 5 years, prices of a good quality emerald of less than 8 carats have not changed much. In 2021, price of an emerald of 8 carats is at USD 9,500, a 6% rise from the price of USD 8,750 in 2016.
Jewelry with Big 3: rubies, sapphires, and emeralds
Image source: www.zadok.com/the-big-3-precious-gemstones/
It is clear that the Big 3 colored stones have been highly valued until today. Their value is likely to soar in the future as production has decreased while demand has constantly risen, especially demand for high quality untreated colored stones.
According to data from Cision PR Newswire, in 2020, global gem and jewelry trading value was around USD 366,700 million. It has been anticipated to go up to USD 451,600 million in 2026, or an average yearly growth of 3.5%. Though gem and jewelry business continually expand, maintaining business to sustainably stay in the market needs keeping up with buyers’ changing behaviors as follows.
1) Flourishing online shopping
In the past, gem and jewelry traders were not seriously interested in online trading. However, the pandemic has forced them to fully sell online as most buyers have turned to online shopping. Consequently, e-commerce has flourished greatly. According to Emarketer, in 2020, global e-commerce retail sales was at USD 4.213 trillion, a 25.7% increase compared to that of 2019. It has been expected to reach USD 7.385 trillion in 2025.
A report of Bain & Company states that in 2020, online diamond retail sales jumped 20%. In addition, a report of Mastercard stated that during the first half of 2021, online jewelry sales in the US market surged 75%, compared to the same period of the previous year. E-commerce and online customer correspondence will become more essential for gem and jewelry business.
2) Searching for Information Before Purchasing
Currently, buyers usually need knowledge on products of their interests, especially expensive gemstones. They often look for online information before deciding to buy products. Thus, it is necessary to carry out information communication with customers through popular platforms—Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube. These mainstream online platforms are commonly used worldwide.
3) Growing Ethical and Sustainable Consumption Trends
Before deciding to buy gem and jewelry products, younger generations increasingly consider gem and jewelry business’ ethics and sustainability as key factors. According to the 8th Diamond Insight Report of De Beers titled “Sustainability: Shaping the Future of the Diamond Sector”, surveying opinion of 8,400 consumers in the world’s 7 major diamond consumer markets--the US, China, India, the UK, France, Italy, and South Africa, it was found that around 60% of the consumers considered sustainable factors before buying a product. More than 80% of the consumers were influenced by their peers in choosing green and socially responsible products. It was also found that fine jewelry products were the third most bought products, following food and clothing. They were bought primarily based on sustainable factors. As for diamond jewelry, considering sustainability is the major factor for consumers in all of the markets.
A ring with emerald and diamonds from ethical and responsible source.
Image source: www.aylorandhart.com/us/
Demand on ethical and sustainable gem and jewelry consumption has been increasingly influential and will soon become mainstream. In the future, gem and jewelry industry will have to be able to produce alluring products with materials from transparent and green sources.
In conclusion, consumption of the Big 4 gemstones in 2021 has been gradually recovering owing to purchasing power of the world’s key gemstone consumer markets, which are the US, Europe, China, and India. Consumers are likely to buy more larger gemstones. Though, online gem and jewelry product shopping has been growing, some consumers often look for online information and visit a retailer to have a look at expensive gem and jewelry products in person. Therefore, online and onsite marketing needs to be implemented simultaneously. Providing vital product information should be emphasized more. In order to raise customers’ confidence, a certification from a credible laboratory should be offered. Finally, entrepreneurs should adjust their business operation for transparency, environmental and social responsibilities. These factors are considered challenges and opportunities for gem and jewelry business sustainable expansion.