LONDON, United Kingdom — Jewellers who fill up Christmas stockings with diamonds are increasingly doing so by investing in or securing supply deals directly from individual mines, avoiding the industry’s middlemen.
Antwerp’s diamond dealers, who buy and sell 80 percent of the world’s most valuable gemstones, have lost their bank.
The Antwerp Diamond Bank, a source of finance for 80 years to the network of companies that trade, cut and polish in the Belgian port city, will stop lending after a sale by KBC Groep NV to China’s Yinren Group collapsed last week. It’s likely to make loans scarcer in an industry that relies on debt to buy the dull, rough diamonds that are finished into jewelry.
Firestone Diamonds Ltd. plans to sell gems from its Lesotho mine in Antwerp, giving a boost to the Belgian port city as it battles rivals in the Middle East and Asia.
“Antwerp is probably where we go first,” Chief Executive Officer Stuart Brown said in an interview in London yesterday. “We can see the most people in the shortest period of time there.”
Antwerp, the world’s biggest trading hub for uncut diamonds, gets a new lender to the industry today as Union Bank of India opens a branch in the Belgian city.
The move by the Mumbai-based company means that five Indian lenders will be active in Belgium, according to the country’s central bank. The Antwerp office, in the heart of the city’s diamond district, will dedicate a fifth of its $200 million loan book to diamonds in the first year, Union Bank Chairman Arun Tiwari said in an interview in the Belgian city. The office will also undertake trade finance, remittances and syndicated loans.
Banks lending in the $15 billion diamond-financing industry are cutting the amount they’ll offer to clients amid fears that prices are rising too fast.
Antwerp Diamond Bank and ABN Amro Group NV, two of the biggest lenders to the industry, have reduced the amount to 70 percent of rough diamond purchases from 100 percent, demanding that buyers of the stones front up more of their own cash.
Belgian exports of uncut diamonds climbed 46 percent by volume in February, helped by a second tender sale of stones from Zimbabwe, trade group Antwerp World Diamond Centre said.
Imports of rough diamonds rose 35 percent by volume, according to a statement from AWDC. January exports of uncut stones rose 22 percent with a 12.5 percent increase in imports. Exports of polished gems last month rose 13.6 percent, while imports fell 0.9 percent, AWDC said.
De Beers is making the biggest change to the way it sells diamonds in more than a decade as it seeks to direct more gems to its most successful customers.
The world’s biggest diamond producer plans to jettison a process that allocates gems to buyers in proportion to their business plans. It will instead emphasize buyers’ track record in making purchases at previous sales events, the Anglo American Plc unit said in e-mailed comments this week.