Price rise plagues diamond dealers

DIAMONDS, the symbol of love, beauty and eternity, have lost some of their sparkle and succumbed to the plague in India.

Hong Kong jewellers warned yesterday that the price of diamonds would rise because diamond workers have fled in droves from the plague-hit city of Surat in north west India.

But while the wives of rich tycoons will have to pay extra, young lovers have little to fear because engagement and wedding rings are unlikely to be affected.

Tens of thousands of diamond cutters and polishers work in Surat, which is as important to the diamond industry as the Dutch port of Antwerp and a key stage in a diamond's journey from the mine to the high street.

But last week it was a virtual ghost town when pneumonic plague broke out.

Chedam Shah, Hong Kong manager of Indian firm R. A. Gem, said it was almost impossible to place orders because there was no one in the workshops.

'It is a big problem, and it is going to take at least three weeks before things get back to normal,' he said.

Work would be further disrupted by the imminent Hindu festival of Diwali.

Mr Shah said: 'Prices will go up at least a few per cent. If the jewellery has many diamonds then that will be a problem because there will not be sufficient diamonds to complete it.

'We've had a wholesale order for 3,000 pieces of six carat diamond, but they will not be getting their goods.' But wedding and engagement rings would still be available, he said, as they usually have single stones.

Mr Shah said around a hundred diamond merchants from western India had been in Hong Kong two weeks ago for the Hong Kong Jewellery and Watch Fair, but they had flown in several days before the first plague cases were reported.

in Surat.