It’s one of the world’s most exclusive clubs, known over the years as the Syndicate, the Central Selling Organisation and the Diamond Trading Company.
For more than a century, De Beers has sold most of its rough diamonds to a select number of customers, a list that reads like a who’s who of the opaque gem-trading world. Tiffany & Co, Graff Diamonds and Signet Jewelers Ltd all own subsidiaries in this group, guaranteeing a steady supply of gems with the pedigree of being vetted by De Beers.
In the diamond trading world, becoming one of De Beers’s elite buyers is viewed as essential to achieving success and making money. Now, it’s no longer so easy.
De Beers sells its gems through 10 sales each year in Botswana’s capital of Gaborone, and the buyers – known as “sightholders” – have to accept the price and the quantities they’re offered. It’s a system that originated in the 1890s and designed to benefit both miner and customer, who receives the diamonds at a discounted rate.
But the discount has been shrinking. In some cases, the prices have been higher than the going trading rate, forcing customers to sell at a loss, according to people familiar with the matter. Some sightholders now struggle to make money from a business that was once highly lucrative.
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