Major changes are afoot at the world’s largest diamond miners: De Beers, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. After 80 years in the business, the Oppenheimer family likely will be out of the diamond trade by years’ end. Both BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have said they want to exit as well.

032312_Graff,-Michelle-blog-shotAmid all this, there is growing chatter about the rise of diamond investment funds, a topic that always sparks debate among jewelers, manufacturers and the like.

In a recent column, IDEX Online’s Edahn Golan said that he expects to see diamond funds and other forms of investment in diamonds begin operations within the year. He reiterated that same point when quoted in a story called “Diamonds as a Commodity” (which led with the question, “Could diamonds be the new gold?”) published by The New York Times on Friday.

The idea of diamond investment funds is one that has been talked about since I started working at National Jeweler more than four years ago. But is now the time for it to happen? 

As noted above, there are major changes taking place in the industry. Though it has been said that it will be “business as usual” at De Beers, Anglo American is bound to have a different take on the business once the Oppenheimers are gone. While there has been much speculation about the future owners of the diamond mines operated by Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, the latest reports have named a leveraged buyout firm called Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. as a front-runner in the bidding war.

It’s also worth noting that last May, Harry Winston Diamond Corp., which reportedly also is interested in the diamond assets of BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, announced that it was teaming up with a company based in Zurich to create a diamond investment fund. (Interestingly, it’s been noted how Harry Winston CEO Robert Gannicott said during the company’s recent conference call that diamonds are “too complex” to be treated as a commodity. Except for when, I guess, Harry Winston wants to treat them that way?)

There’s also the current world economic situation to consider. On Monday evening, I had dinner with an independent jeweler who said he was investing in natural color diamonds because he knows they are going to go up in value, unlike his stagnant stock portfolio, which still is struggling to recover from the beating it took during the downturn.

This retailer has at least one client who feels the same way; the two actually share ownership of a nice yellow diamond, which they (obviously) hope to sell for a profit eventually. And he said he’s interested in investing in more natural color diamonds.

I understand that one jeweler investing in a natural color diamond is not nearly as complex as launching an entire diamond investment fund. But I use this anecdote to make a point: Given all the economic instability in the world, people are looking for somewhere stable to put their money.

Are diamonds going to be it?

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