Thomas White Global Investing
China Stamp
April 23, 2010
A Postcard from Asia Pacific
China: All That Glitters Are Diamonds

A sparkling diamond on a reflective surface

De Beers expects China to become the world’s largest diamond consumer market by the end of this decade.

It’s one of the biggest events of the year, and the Chinese have been preparing for years. When the Shanghai World Expo kicks off in May, there will be over 190 countries attending. But the Belgian pavilion at the Expo will be shining brighter than others. Antwerp is showcasing its biggest and brightest jewels at the Diamond Exhibition Center. And China is buying diamonds like never before. A perfect match.

Belgium’s diamond industry has reason to cozy up to China as its best friend. The diamond capital of Europe saw exports to China soar 55% to $737 million in the first three months of this year. This means that China is now officially Belgium’s biggest buyer of diamonds, pushing the U.S. off its perch. China is also close to displacing the U.S. as the world’s largest diamond market after diamond sales in 2009 surged 16.9% to $1.5 billion. That is a sweeping figure from a country that used to covet traditional jade jewelry and gold rather than diamonds. But that is changing. And how.

Much as China’s bicycles are making way for the latest BMWs and Audis, so too are China’s new elite coveting the luster of the sparkling stone. It’s part of the subtle cultural makeover that characterizes China these days. A new younger generation that has grown up over the last two decades of China’s glittering economic success will not remember the pain of the past, but rather look forward to the country’s eventual march towards becoming the world’s biggest economy. As such, while the older generation would probably buy a gold ring, China’s new rich young go further and buy diamond rings. Diamonds are in fashion at wedding ceremonies, and retailers say that a majority of their consumers are young couples looking for that extra luxury to launch their marriage.

Online portals have also sprung up by the dozen, extending diamond shopping beyond the major cities and reaching out to a vast Internet populace. Antwerp World Diamond Center’s (AWDC) chief executive officer Freddy J. Hanard was quoted by Antwerp Facets as saying that China’s diamond market is ‘the most dynamic in the world.’ Boosted by demand from China and India, diamond prices are soaring and investment diamonds have even outperformed gold as an asset class in the first quarter this year.

China’s new love has not only reignited and breathed new life into Antwerp’s diamond industry, but has also brought fresh hope for diamond producers around the world. Recently, Sotheby Asia held its first diamond exhibition in China. And now AWDC is pulling out all the stops to ensure that its pavilion at the World Expo is a success. The Ministry of Civil Affairs says that around 10 million couples get married each year and in 2010, that number is expected to touch 11.82 million. Now that is a lot of weddings. And a lot of diamond rings.

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