Home Money ALEX BRUMMER: Copper displaces diamonds as Anglo American puts De Beers up for sale

ALEX BRUMMER: Copper displaces diamonds as Anglo American puts De Beers up for sale

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In demand: Copper prices have risen 20% this year and hit a record high of $11,000 a ton this month.

Diamonds have been at the core of Anglo American since Ernest Oppenheimer created the modern company almost a century ago.

In an industry where brands mean little, De Beers is the great exception.

Their products have inspired generations of young people embarking on married life, and the gems remain the shining stars of movies and legends.

As glamorous as De Beers may have been, with its dazzling 1947 slogan “A diamond from a mine is forever,” the company is now up for sale.

The appeal of diamonds has been overtaken by workplace copper, a metal less prized than more decorative rivals such as platinum, silver and gold.

In demand: Copper prices have risen 20% this year and hit a record high of $11,000 a ton this month.

The push toward a greener, carbon-free economy has changed all that.

Copper prices have risen 20 percent this year, hitting a record high of $11,000 a ton this month.

Some traders predict a glorious future for the reddish metal, perhaps quadrupling in value to $40,000 a ton.

There is a history of speculators seeking to make a fortune in copper. In the 1990s, Japanese bank Sumitomo lost $2.6bn (£2bn) to disgraced trader Yasuo Hamanaka.

The giants of the mining world seek to double their commitment to metal. Anglo American’s proposed disposal of De Beers, as it seeks to defend itself from a triple attack by Australian mining giant BNP, has to do with copper.

BNP’s three successive offers and talks with Anglo aim to take control of four copper projects in Chile and Peru.

Copper’s conductivity makes it critical for the world as it moves toward more electric vehicles, solar and nuclear energy.

The copper mania has left De Beers and diamonds an orphan asset in a mining world where metals are the real stars.

Sparklers hold a special place in Western culture and De Beers has had great control over supplies for decades.

It has been at the top of a trade dominated by the cutters and merchants of the Hasidic Jewish community, based in Hatton Garden in London, Antwerp and Tel Aviv.

Recently, the Netflix series Rough Diamonds offered a window into occluded culture. Anglo’s go-it-alone strategy requires it to sell De Beers in the hope of raising up to £5 billion through a trade sale or by splitting up and listing the shares in London.

The challenge for De Beers is how to preserve the rarity and cachet of mined diamonds. Last year, Anglo wrote down the value of its diamond operation by between £1.3bn and £6bn as sales of its rough diamonds plunged 18 per cent. Sales have been affected by lower demand from the United States and China.

The real villain of the piece is the laboratory stones. These lab-grown diamonds are said to be virtually indistinguishable from their mined cousins ​​and have cornered about 20 percent of the U.S. market alone.

Danish jewelry Pandora is among the fashion brands embracing the newcomer, selling for a fraction of the price of the real thing and carrying less of the stigma that comes with the mined variety.

De Beers itself has Lightbox, its own lab-grown offshoot adopted in an effort to maintain its grip on the market.

The challenge for De Beers’ next owners is how to make their product distinguishable from the lab-grown variety.

One possibility is a marketing agreement with a luxury goods group such as Tiffany or Cartier where they could combine forces to market diamonds around the idea of ​​”real” or “original.”

The cost of a campaign of this type would be high. But this is not impossible, as evidenced by the rising prices of handmade Swiss watches. Many of these high-priced items have diamond-enhanced movements and encrusted cases.

In contrast to the struggle for diamonds, the appeal of copper, amid growing global demand, has never been greater.

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