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News & Highlight


  • Coloured gemstones offer myriad possibilities for designers, such as this pair of gemstone earrings in gold accented by diamonds by Caratell. (Photo: Caratell)
  • With the high price of gold, jewellers are turning to silver, which is often plated with black ruthenium and yellow gold as is this bracelet by Jorge Revilla. (Photo: Jorge Revilla)
  • Ring in blue topaz and gold-plated silver by Vianna Brasil, a brand that formerly only created designs in 18K gold. Owner Ricardo Vianna explains that using vermeil can bring the price down 70 to 90 percent. (Photo: Vianna Brasil)
  • Links in both bracelets and necklaces were prevalent on the fashion catwalks this season. Carla Amorim has it in gold and diamonds. (Photo: Carla Amorim)
  • Y-necklaces are a definite design direction for 2020. This delicate lariat was created by Sorellina in black onyx, gold and diamonds. (Photo: Sorellina)
  • Stephen Webster recently joined the lab-grown diamond mini-wave with his collaboration with Atelier Swarovski. Shown here is his gold and rose quartz ring featuring Swarovski-created diamonds. (Photo: Atelier Swarovski)

2020 – A new decade for gems & jewellery

By Cynthia Unninayar 

As we enter a new decade, the gem and jewellery industry faces both opportunities and challenges. On a global basis, the sector is valued at around $330 billion, as indicated by research at Bain & Company. Of this, about 7 percent (US$25 billion) can be considered luxury jewellery, 62 percent (US$205 billion) premium jewellery, while mass jewellery accounts for the rest (30 percent at US$100 billion).

The world’s largest market for luxury jewellery is the United States, while the largest market for fashion pieces is China, which is also the world’s largest consumer of pearls, fei cui, gold and coloured gemstones. In the Asia-Pacific region, consumers spend nearly 50 percent more per piece of jewellery than in other regions.

On the positive side, the global jewellery market is expected to increase over the next few years, even if only modestly, due to an increase in the number of women in the workforce and rising per-capita GDP reflected by a growing middle class around the world. By 2021, Euromonitor International estimates that fashion jewellery sales will grow by 2.6 percent per year, with luxury jewellery growing by 2.2 percent. Statistica notes that US jewellery sales will grow 2 percent a year for the next two years. Higher annual growth in fashion jewellery, though, is expected for India (8.4 percent) and China (3.5 percent). The growth rate for the global industry by volume is expected to be slightly higher at 3 percent per year, suggesting that more jewellery will be purchased, but that consumers will pay less for each piece.

Because the global gems and jewellery industry is so fragmented, this article takes a look at the various sectors of the industry and the major factors influencing them.

Diamond jewellery reigns supreme, by far, in the global jewellery sector, with a value of US$80 billion, with nearly half the demand from the United States. Yet, the industry is facing a number of challenges. According to Bain, the sector is feeling softer demand for polished and rough diamonds, driven by geopolitical and macroeconomic tension that lowered consumer confidence as well as increased e-commerce that decreased the need for inventory on hand. The softer demand for polished diamonds led to a 3 percent drop in prices and is expected to lead to 10 percent to 15 percent lower revenues for midstream players. This is resulting in the lowest profit margins in years, combined with high inventory, which has been building since 2017. Among major diamond players, both Alrosa and De Beers finished 2019 with a sales decline of 26 percent.

But all is not gloom and doom. Bain notes that the market has historically returned to pre-crisis levels within a couple of years. The midstream should clear its backlog in early 2020, paving the way for a better year, even if not a full recovery, with a good chance to rebalance by 2021. And, while non-branded and lower-end jewellery face an uncertain mid-term future, the branded high-end diamond jewellery segment, (about 15 percent of the total) is expected to grow by high single digits in 2020, in line with the growth of personal luxury goods.

Other factors affecting the diamond sector, and indeed the entire jewellery industry, are changing consumer preferences, most notably by Millennials and Gen-Z’ers who prefer experiential purchases and electronics. The diamond sector is finding it challenging to bring diamonds top of mind for these young consumers.

And, although still quite small, with 80 percent of consumption in the States, the lab-grown diamond (LGD) sector grew 15 percent to 20 percent in 2019. Increasing numbers of manufacturers are jumping on the LGD bandwagon, not the least of which is De Beers when it made its surprising−or maybe not so surprising−U-turn with the creation of its LGD sub-brand, Lightbox Diamonds. Another heavy hitter to jump aboard is Atelier Swarovski, which has partnered with luxury-rock designer Stephen Webster and celebrities from the Big Screen, including Penelope Cruz, to create lines of LGD jewellery at affordable prices. Smaller designers are also touting the advantages of LGDs.

Another factor influencing diamond sales is the increased focus on sustainability and transparency along the supply chain. This provides a good opportunity for the industry to practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) and ensure minimal negative impact on the environment. Blockchain technology is being adopted to trace a gem from mine-to-market, while higher marketing budgets are truing to encourage the emotional attachment to earth-mined diamonds. In 2019, more than $200 million was invested, including US$70 to US$80 million of generic marketing by the Diamond Producers Association (DPA).

Despite these short-term challenges, Bain notes that the long-term outlook is positive for diamond jewellery. If middle-class growth is strong, combined with effective marketing efforts, demand is expected to grow at an average annual rate of up to 3 percent, with the United States, China and India leading the way. A few really bright spots in the diamond sector are coloured diamonds, which have garnered much attention, especially at auctions, where prices have gone through the roof.

Coloured gemstones
Unlike the diamond sector, the coloured gemstone sector is composed primarily (about 80 percent) of small-scale and artisanal miners, although international industrial companies have entered this space over the decade. Among them is Gemfields with extensive emerald mining in Zambia and ruby mines in Mozambique along with various operations in Madagascar, Ethiopia and other countries. Another major player, Fura Gems extracts emeralds in Colombia, rubies in Mozambique, and sapphires in Australia, among others.

With a global value of US$23 billion, the “Big Three” (emeralds, sapphires and rubies) make up less than 10 percent (around US$2 billion) of coloured gem sales. The rest encompasses a plethora of stones, including some that are rarer than diamonds. Although lower-end gems perform well, high-end stones continue to supply the premium client base. Consumers from emerging Asian economies, in particular, prefer high-quality gemstones that are rare and in unique designs. According to Future Market Insights, the coloured gem sector will probably see growth of more than 4 percent over the next year.

Some of the challenges facing the coloured gem sector are the same as those facing the diamond industry, namely CSR, sustainability, and a transparent supply chain. Industrial players Gemfields and Fura, among others, have expended money and effort to ensure that their gems are sourced responsibly, with support for local communities. To take transparency to the next level, Gemfields partnered with the Swiss gem lab, Gübelin, whose Provenance Proof blockchain technology not only shows a gem’s origin, but also creates an encrypted record of its journey from mine-to-market.

In 2019, gold had its best performance since 2010, rising 18.4 percent to around US$1,560 an ounce as of this writing. And, in light of financial uncertainty, price volatility, lower interest rates and weakening global growth, the World Gold Council indicates that the outlook for 2020 remains bullish.

Of the 190,000 tons of gold above ground, nearly 48 percent is in jewellery. Since high prices impact this market, we are seeing greater shifts of gold-jewellery manufacturers into vermeil designs using coloured gems and diamonds. Others offer designer silver (whose price rose more than 15 percent in 2019) with gold accents.

In terms of CSR, gold faces similar issues as the diamond and coloured gem sectors. Artisanal mining generally uses mercury, and industrial miners are sometimes criticized for poor working conditions. Organisations such as No-Dirty-Gold are working to ensure that gold mining respects human rights and the environment. To this end, jeweller Toby Pomeroy created “The Mercury Free Mining Challenge,” which will give US$1 million to anyone providing artisanal gold miners with a reliable, cost-effective alternative to using mercury. “We cannot just stop mining gold,” he says, “what we need is responsible mining.” There is currently a pilot program underway in Ghana, and hopefully encouraging results will be announced soon.

Other factors
Internet sales of jewellery continue to climb. In 2020, online sales are expected to rise to 25 percent of all jewellery sales, up from 23 percent in 2019 and 21 percent in 2018. In India, for example, the 24-35 year age group is driving demand for online jewellery, where there are more than 20 e-commerce companies operating in this domain. Online sales are not limited to lower-priced pieces, however, as can be seen by fine retailers such as Tiffany & Co, which just partnered with Net-A-Porter to offer pieces from the Tiffany T collection.

As the usage of social media increases, especially Instagram, the way consumers interact with jewellery brands is evolving. Reaching a wider audience at less cost than traditional advertising, jewellers can adjust their collections according to consumer opinions or market them through influencers, which is especially important for self-purchasers.

In terms of design directions, if we can translate jewels from the fashion catwalks to Main Street sidewalks, this next year should see more oversized hoops, asymmetrical earrings, chain links, Y-necklaces and art-inspired pieces in the designer sector. For the bread-and-butter segment, small diamond or coloured gemstone-studded pendants and earrings, stacking rings and bracelets, along with the layered look should prevail. In the bridal world, halo settings seem to be passé while solitaires and streamlined designs are gaining market share. The landscape is also shifting towards customisation as consumers look for jewels not only as accessories, but as a part of their identity.

So, as the new decade opens, and the jewellery industry makes strides in overcoming its challenges, we can look forward to a positive 2020 for all players.

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