By Michelle Graff
Mumbai--Members of the Indian diamond industry came close Tuesday to doing something they have not done since the advent of the financial crisis in 2008: banning rough diamond imports.

In the end, though, the approximately 250 diamond exporters who gathered in Mumbai opted to go into what Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) Chairman Vipul Shah described as “self-discipline mode” for the time being and adopt a number of measures to help the Indian diamond industry deal with the problems plaguing it.

They are: an oversupply of diamonds, decreased profitability, lack of bank financing and decreased demand for diamond jewelry worldwide, which many consider to be the issue at the core of the industry’s problems.

“Ultimately, it’s sales,” said Ronnie Vanderlinden, president of both New York diamond company Diamex Inc. and the Diamond Manufacturers & Importers Association of America. “Polished (diamond) sales are weak. Nobody wants to take more rough at the elevated prices.”

This is particularly true of many diamond manufacturers today, as they find themselves squeezed in the middle.

Rough prices have continued to increase in recent years even as polished prices have sunk and demand for diamond jewelry has slowed worldwide. Retailers, who also are faced with shrinking margins, want to pay less for polished stones so they can compete while the producers continue to charge more.

Exacerbating the situation in India are the stockpiles of diamonds many Indian companies accumulated when the economy began to recover and banks there were lending freely.

Now with retail sales around the world, including in the United States, slowing and lending tightening, Indian companies find themselves stuck with diamonds they can’t move and little desire to add to their stockpiles.

On Tuesday, among the list of measures noted by the GJEPC was partnering with diamond mining companies and other segments of the industry to promote diamond jewelry, an idea that works for Prakash Mehta, head of New York-based jewelry manufacturer Interings and president of the Indian Diamond & Colorstone Association.

When asked on Monday about the vote, Mehta said he didn’t think that banning rough imports into India for a short period of time would have much effect, noting that “so many things have to be done.”

To begin with, he said the industry needs to do more to increase sales for retailers, and to divert millennials’ attention from electronic gadgets to jewelry.

He said his company, Interings, works with the five largest buying groups in the United States--IJO, RJO, the Leading Jewelers Guild, CBG and SJO--and hears from their members that “business is slow.”

The world’s No. 1 diamond producer in value terms, De Beers, recognizes as much.

The diamond miner has come under fire recently for charging too much for rough diamonds and not doing enough for its manufacturer customers that find themselves squeezed in the middle.

Over the weekend, in fact, an anonymous sender calling himself “just a simple sightholder” circulated an email to a long list of diamond companies. The email, which also was forwarded to National Jeweler and is posted online, called for sightholders at De Beers sight scheduled for next week to reject boxes that yield less than 10 percent profit.

“I say, let them (De Beers) deal with $300, $400, $500 million (in goods) that are not taken,” the email reads. “I want to see how they survive.”

In reaction, De Beers’s David Johnson said that the diamond miner does recognize the challenges facing many manufacturers and will be giving sightholders the option to defer--put off for a later date--an additional 25 percent of their allocation at next week’s sight, something the diamond miner did earlier this year as well. 

In addition, he said De Beers has undertaken a number of activities intended to stimulate demand for diamond jewelry, including Forevermark, bringing back “A Diamond is Forever,” and joining and helping to form the Diamond Producers Association.

While the DPA’s starting budget of $6 million a year pales in comparison to what De Beers used to spend on generic diamond marketing in the original A Diamond is Forever days, Johnson said the DPA does intend to conduct consumer research to understand how to reach millennial consumers and, in turn, how to focus marketing programs, whether they are led by the DPA or individual businesses.

“It’s the sort of thing that could grow,” Johnson said of the DPA.

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