Indian city of Surat cuts and polishes 80% of the world’s diamonds.
Indian city of Surat cuts and polishes 80% of the world’s diamonds.

Global Diamond Business in Distress

Global Diamond Business in Distress

The global diamond industry is facing disruption that could stretch through the first few months of next year, as a result of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s radical move to abolish most of the nation’s cash overnight.
In the western Indian city of Surat craftsmen usually spend 10-12 hours a day in small mills or grimy sheds cutting and polishing 80% of the world’s diamonds but the business is based on cash and the demonetization of the high-value banknotes from Nov. 8 has prevented many from operating. Thousands of diamond brokers in the area’s narrow lanes are also doing little business, Reuters reported.
The lack of cash is not the only problem for an industry that employs one million people in India, most of them in this port city. Modi’s shock treatment is intended to make it much more difficult for those laundering ill-gotten gains or evading taxes, and that means diamond buyers are demanding proof of tax payments that are often not available, the traders said.
Top diamond miners, such as Anglo American-owned De Beers and smaller Canadian producers such as Stornoway Diamond and Dominion Diamond are seeing weaker demand and prices for cheaper stones used in lower-priced jewelry.
The picture for retailers and consumers of diamonds is less clear. The cash crunch has also badly hurt consumer demand for diamond jewelry in India, the world’s third-biggest market.
That means there are more of the cheaper finished stones to export, helping to create a temporary glut and lower prices at wholesaler and store level. However, that may not last if the cutters and polishers of India can’t get back to work soon.
But the luxury buyer doesn’t have to worry. Much of the higher-value jewelry business, with the highest grade one-carat stones usually costing more than $14,500, is protected because cutting and polishing is also done in Belgium and by bigger Indian companies that rely on bank transactions.
“The knock-on effect of Indian demonetization has meant a reduction in the prices of lower quality diamonds,” said Tobias Kormind, managing director of 77 Diamonds, an online jewelry retailer based in London. “As a result, we’ve seen an increase in demand for those kinds of diamonds as our clients have snapped up these favorable deals.”
In India, jewelry demand typically climbs in the winter months’ wedding season. But this year sales are plunging as nearly two-thirds of jewelry is usually purchased with cash, which is in short-supply.
The demand is unlikely to revive any time soon as India struggles to dispense enough new notes, industry officials say.

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