Big diamond companies have always had the financial clout to control the diamond industry and that trend seems to be on the rise.
Competition is intensifying in the $US70 billion diamond jewellery market as rising wealth in Asia increases demand for higher-priced pieces.
De Beers, the world's largest diamond supplier, is winning customers from companies such as Tiffany & Co and Cartier four years after creating a retail venture with luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Sotheby's Holdings also began selling a line of gems this month.
"Size is an advantage in this business, as is brand recognition," says Scilla Huang Sun, who manages a $US100 million luxury goods fund, including shares of Tiffany, Richemont, LVMH and Rome-based Bulgari, for Clariden Bank in Zurich.
About 25 per cent of all diamond jewellery is sold during the year-end holiday season, says Sally Morrison, director of the Diamond Information Centre, which is affiliated with De Beers.
Christmas Eve tops Valentine's Day as the most popular moment to pop the question, according to New York-based jeweller Jacob & Co. The average price of a diamond engagement ring reached a record $2600 in the US last year.
The global diamond jewellery market will probably expand by 6-7 per cent in 2006, in line with this year's growth, according to Richard Platt, director of Belgium-based PolishedPrices.com, which tracks diamond prices. Growth has slowed from 9 per cent in 2004, mainly because of the stronger dollar, Platt says.
Demand will grow fastest in emerging markets such as China and India, he says.
That trend will help companies such as De Beers and Tiffany because newly wealthy consumers often seek out well-known brands to show off their wealth, says Jacques-Franck Dossin, a luxury-goods analyst at Goldman Sachs.
"There is a lot of cash out there, especially in countries such as Russia and China," says Bernard Fornas, chief executive officer of Cartier, the world's largest jeweller. "When people have already bought their private plane, their boat and their country cottage, they go for high-ticket jewellery."
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