JCK Las Vegas Reflects Patchy Diamond Market

Joshua Freedman

SI-clarity goods performed well, but overall trading was mixed.

Diamond trading at JCK Las Vegas set a cautious tone as the US consumer market remained uncertain, exhibitors reported. 

The important fair, which ended Monday, mirrored the mixed trends visible in the sector. Loose-diamond suppliers gave varied reviews, with lab-grown competition continuing to impact sales. Certain categories of natural — chiefly stones with SI clarity — performed well. 

Many exhibitors entered the show with low expectations due to the market conditions. Friday, the first day of the JCK fair, was better than anticipated for diamond dealers, but business slowed on Saturday due to the absence of many Jewish participants, exhibitors said. Activity then tailed off and was quiet on Monday, by which time a lot of retailers had already left. 

Feeling included 

Diamonds with SI clarity, a key US item, sold well as retailers gradually shifted back to natural. This price-point category suffered last year because of competition from lab-grown, but it has recovered this year. 

Suppliers reported steady interest in round, 1- to 2-carat, G- to J-color, SI goods. Diamonds of 3 carats and larger performed well, while melee and quarters — stones of around 0.25 carats — were in demand in SI clarities, said Rishi Mundra, managing director of Hong Kong-based diamond manufacturer and trader Stellar Group HK. 

SI2s performed better than SI1s, reflecting wider market trends. Prices of round, 1-carat, D to H, SI2 diamonds rose 0.9% in May, according to RapNet data; prices for SI1s in those categories declined 1.7% for the same period. 

By comparison, the RapNet Diamond Index (RAPI™) for 1-carat goods — encompassing round, D to H, IF to VS2 diamonds — dropped 3.8% in May. 

In terms of the smaller goods, everyone is looking for SIs,” said a New York-based diamond dealer who wished to remain anonymous. “A common theme I heard from people is that there are no nice SIs in the market. The prices have crept up quite a bit.” 

Manufacturing declines in India have impacted the availability of eye-clean SIs, exhibitors explained. However, inventories of cloudy SIs or those with black centers are high, and the gap between the nice items and the weaker ones has widened. 

Where [the] stones [customers buy] are eye-clean and still look good, they will be able to sell easily,” said Alok Shah, a partner at Indian diamond manufacturer Star Rays, which exhibited in the show’s diamond plaza. “VS is too pricey, [so] they cannot sell it, and piqué cannot compete against lab-grown, so they have nothing left — they have to sit in SI.”  

Return to natural 

Several large Indian diamond manufacturers reported a good show, while smaller businesses had a more varied experience. 

Customers that had invested in lab-grown last year were now shopping for natural, reflecting the sharp drop in synthetics prices and retailers’ margins in dollar terms, exhibitors observed. 

Clients “might have shifted to lab in the last two years, but when they want to come back, they start with the already-known companies,” stated Shreyans Dholakia, brand custodian at Indian cutting firm Shree Ramkrishna Exports (SRK). 

However, high inflation and interest rates, as well as the upcoming presidential elections, created uncertainty about US demand.  

We hear some of them saying consumers are still buying, and some of them are saying there are fewer consumers buying than before,” said Devansh Shah, a partner at Surat-based manufacturer Venus Jewel. “There have been a lot of dealers and retailers who’ve been able to convince their consumers that right now is the best time to buy natural diamonds. We are hearing from retailers that the current prices they see are very attractive.” 

Jewelry in demand 

The Luxury show was busy, with jewelers reporting positive inquiries and sales. The higher-end event began with invitation-only days last Wednesday and Thursday before opening up to general visitors Friday through Monday. 

We expected it to be on the tougher side, and it turned out to be pretty positive,” said Jeff Loots, president of New York-based diamond-jewelry supplier Henri Daussi. The company, which exhibits at Luxury every year, focuses on classic bridal items. 

The show was still slower than last year, reflecting the market decline, he reported. However, he saw solid demand for elongated cushions, and said items with retail prices in the $3,000 to $5,000 range were coming back after taking a hit from lab-grown in 2023. 

The show has been very positive, all in all,” commented Rahil Shah, director of Indian manufacturer Asian Star. It exhibited inside the Plumb Club pavilion, where it displayed its natural and lab-grown diamond jewelry. 

Most of us came with very low expectations, and I think it’s been relatively decent,” Shah continued. “There have been a lot of inquiries for both natural jewelry and lab jewelry. I see a lot of independents sticking strongly with the natural side. Middle-sized retailers” — those with 10 to 15 stores — “definitely want to do more in lab.”  

At the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry & Watch Show, meanwhile, there was strong traffic, reflecting an appetite for signed, branded estate pieces. 

Fair prices? 

The cost of exhibiting at JCK Las Vegas and Luxury was higher than in past years, and direct revenues generally do not cover the expenses, exhibitors observed. Many companies took less booth space than before, according to Stellar Group HK’s Mundra.  

However, the event is about more than short-term sales. 

The idea [of] doing these shows [is that] you meet and network with new clients, and you build that client base,” Mundra explained. “For that, it was a decent show. But now the main idea is that these leads need to materialize for this show to be considered a success.” 

Shah at Venus Jewel echoed that sentiment: “Our focus for all our exhibitions is always meeting and building relationships and selling for a lifetime.”  

Image: The JCK Las Vegas show. (JCK Events).

Source  Rapaport