De Beers diamond sales tumble as Covid hits global demand

Sales at the diamond miner De Beers have slid to their lowest level in almost a decade, after the pandemic took the shine off global demand for gems and jewellery.

The world’s biggest diamond producer said it had provisionally sold $2.7bn (£1.9bn) of rough diamonds during 2020, down a third on 2019’s sales of more than $4bn.

Global demand for diamonds and jewellery tumbled in the spring, knocking sales and prices.

At the same time, diamond production at some of the company’s southern African sites declined by 27% as coronavirus restrictions hampered operations.

De Beers was also forced to cancel one of its regular sales events in Botswana after travel restrictions prevented buyers from attending.

Earnings at De Beers, which has been part of the vast Anglo American mining group since 2012, plummeted in the first half of the year to just $2m, down from $518m for the same period in 2019.

The company warned in July that it might have to cut jobs as it looked to overhaul its operations.

However, sales have improved in the final quarter and De Beers said it had provisionally sold $440m of rough diamonds in December, during its final sales cycle of the year, which was slightly higher than at the same period last year.

Its chief executive, Bruce Cleaver, said Christmas demand for diamond jewellery in markets such as China and the US was boosting demand for polished diamonds, which in turn supported the company’s sales of rough diamonds.

However, Cleaver warned that the ongoing pandemic continued to pose a risk for recovery of the diamond industry for the rest of this year, and in 2021.

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