By Michelle Graff
De Beers Group said it expects to mine between 32-34 million carats of diamonds this year, up from 30.1 million carats last year. (Photo courtesy of De Beers)
London—De Beers Group expects to up diamond production this year despite a down year in 2019 and various economic challenges, including the risk the coronavirus poses to economies worldwide.

The company has a cautiously optimistic outlook for 2020 despite a down year in 2019 and various economic challenges, including coronavirus.

London—De Beers Group expects to up diamond production this year despite a down year in 2019 and various economic challenges, including the risk the coronavirus poses to economies worldwide.

The diamond miner and marketer said Thursday that it has set production guidance at 32 to 34 million carats, meaning it expects production to increase as much as 13 percent from the 30.1 million carats it mined last year.

Driving De Beers’ more optimistic outlook is an anticipated improvement in diamond trading conditions and an expected increase in ore from the final open-pit cut at the Venetia mine in South Africa, which is transitioning to an underground operation. It is expected to start producing in 2021.

The company said: “Preliminary data following the holiday retail season in 2019 indicates that stock levels in the industry’s midstream are returning to a more balanced position following stable consumer demand, especially in the U.S.”

But risks remain, including ongoing trade tensions between the United States and China, the coronavirus and the continuing increase in online purchasing by consumers. (Selling online generally requires retailers to hold less inventory, which affects demand further up the pipeline.)

De Beers dismissed the idea that lab-grown diamonds would negatively affect natural diamond demand in 2020, however, saying its research shows consumers view lab-grown and natural diamonds as two different products, while also pointing out that the man-made diamond market is “very small,” comprising less than 2 percent of the diamond market globally.  

“The value gap between lab-grown diamonds and natural diamonds has been widening,” De Beers noted, “and education around lab-grown diamonds, such as that provided by Lightbox, means that there is declining consumer confusion about lab-grown diamonds. All of this is leading to further differentiation.”

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Total revenue for De Beers—including rough diamond sales, De Beers Diamond Jewellers and Forevermark, Lightbox, detection instruments, and Element Six—was down 24 percent to $4.6 billion in 2019, including the previously reported 26 percent decline in rough diamond sales.

The average realized price for rough diamonds fell 20 percent, from $171/carat to $137/carat, driven by a 6 percent drop in the average rough price index and De Beers selling more lower-quality rough as demand for higher-value diamonds dropped.

De Beers said a range of factors created “significant challenges” for rough diamond demand in 2019.

Weak 2018 holiday sales left the pipeline overstuffed to start to 2019, while more brick-and-mortar stores closed in the U.S. and online sales grew. In addition, a lack of financing continued to impact the midstream.

On the retail side, De Beers described global consumer demand for diamond jewelry as “broadly flat,” though demand in the U.S. remained reasonably strong.

The company said it spent more on diamond jewelry marketing in 2019, $178 million vs. $166 million in 2018, and continued to invest in its downstream brands.

It opened more De Beers Jewellers stores, launched Forevermark in three new countries—Italy, Austria and Belgium—and opened standalone Forevermark stores in China, India and the U.S.

The U.S. store opened in November in Walnut Creek, California and is operated by Judy and Steve Padis of Padis Jewelers.

As previously reported, diamond production in 2019 also declined, falling 13 percent to 30.8 million carats.

De Beers released its results last week as part of parent company Anglo American’s preliminary financial results for 2019.

In what The Wall Street Journal described as an “industry shift,” the London-based mining giant, which produces platinum, copper, nickel and coal in addition to diamonds, disclosed all the mine deaths connected to its operations in 2019.

Anglo American said four people died at managed operations, the lowest in its history.

None of those deaths occurred at a diamond mine, De Beers confirmed. 

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