More Japanese unloading their diamonds for yen

Customers inside Komehyo jewellery store in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. Japan's market for second-hand goods is expanding as people unload luxury items acquired during the boom years, while a weakening yen makes Japanese diamonds and jewellery attract
Customers inside Komehyo jewellery store in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. Japan's market for second-hand goods is expanding as people unload luxury items acquired during the boom years, while a weakening yen makes Japanese diamonds and jewellery attractive to overseas visitors. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Tokyo - Diamonds aren't necessarily forever. At least not in Japan, where jewellery owners are unloading unwanted jewels for cash at a record pace and shipping them off to buyers in China and India.

The appeal of gem-encrusted rings and earrings that were part of the luxury fashions of the 1980s and 1990s has faded as the population ages and the economy languishes.

In a country that does not have any mines and was the second-largest buyer less than a decade ago, exports of used diamonds are up 77 per cent this year, Ministry of Finance data shows. "I want to spend the money on travelling or dinner rather than just holding the diamond in my closet," a 64-year-old housewife said after selling her two-carat diamond ring at Komehyo jewellery store in Tokyo's bustling Shinjuku district.

As the population shrinks and the number of retirees grows, Japan is seeing the market for second-hand goods expand as people unload luxury items acquired during the boom years.

About 25 per cent of the population in 2013 were older than 65, up from 12 per cent in 1990.

For some people, cashing in means getting rid of unneeded things to lead a simpler life.

Others are selling inherited jewellery or preparing for one's death, said Japan Re-Jewellery Council executive director Shuzo Takamura.

The market for used goods has expanded about 10 per cent annually since 2009, reaching 1.5 trillion yen (S$16.3 billion), as people are more comfortable selling to shops, Mr Takamura said. A weakening yen is also making Japanese diamonds and jewellery more attractive to customers visiting from overseas, according to Komehyo's senior manager Naoto Owaki.

Japan's diamond exports in the first four months of this year jumped 77 per cent to 38,032 carats from the same period last year, the highest since 2007. The value more than doubled to a record 3.01 billion yen, ministry data going back to 1988 shows.

India and Hong Kong were the top buyers in terms of volume, each accounting for about one-third of the total.

China was the fastest-growing market for diamonds last year after the United States, according to De Beers.

Japan now ranks fourth behind the US, China and India.

Bloomberg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2015, with the headline 'More Japanese unloading their diamonds for yen'. Print Edition | Subscribe