(Bloomberg) -- One of the largest jewelry retailers in the U.S. says it doesn’t expect a significant increase in its diamond prices this year despite wartime sanctions on Russia, the top supplier of the precious stones.
Signet Jewelers Ltd., the owner of Kay Jewelers and Zales, says it expects buyers in Asia to step up diamond purchases from Russia, preventing a squeeze as more companies elsewhere restrict or ban their use of Russian gemstones after the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
“If 30% of the world’s supply of diamonds goes away, why wouldn’t you expect the prices to go up dramatically? It’s because there’s another outlet for those goods,” Signet Chief Executive Officer Gina Drosos said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Historically, most of the largest Russian diamonds go to Asia.”
The forecast from Signet comes as the broader diamond industry is trying to assess the upheaval in the Russian market. U.S. President Joe Biden banned the import of rough diamonds from the country earlier this month. Signet then went a step further, ordering its suppliers to avoid buying any new gemstones that were mined in Russia, even if they were cut and polished in another country.
Drosos said she expects other U.S. jewelers to follow suit in banning diamonds that were mined in Russia from their supply chains. “We believe that we are, in fact, leading self-regulation in the industry,” Drosos said. Customers “want to know that the diamond they’re buying didn’t fund this war, because we’re all appalled at what’s going on.”
Still, some traders and others in the industry have said they are skeptical that Signet can enforce its self-imposed ban given how difficult it is to trace the origin of many diamonds, which are often mixed in parcels based on size and quality. Signet is working with its suppliers to ensure that they uphold the company’s Russia ban, Drosos said. “We trust and verify -- so we will also be doing independent audits,” she said.
Read more: Signet hits diamond trade with refusal to buy Russian gems
Signet’s ban applies to Russian diamonds purchased after the country’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. The company is working through the existing stock of diamonds, though, which means it’s still selling Russian diamonds it purchased prior to the invasion.
The Akron, Ohio-based company is stepping up its production of new products to offer alternatives to consumers who are avoiding Russian gems, and to position the company for potentially extended turmoil in the diamond market. The company can also increase its supplies from other diamond-producing countries. “We’ve tripled the production in our Botswana factory over the last three years. If we need to triple it again, we will,” Drosos said.
Signet is testing whether there’s increased demand for lab-grown diamonds, which currently represent around 10% of its diamond sales. It’s also offering more engagement rings with gemstones such as sapphires.
“Who knows how long customer sentiment might continue to exist even after the conflict ends?” Drosos said. “Our innovation teams are roaring at full speed to make sure that we’ll be able to withstand that.”
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