Indians Rush to Buy Gold Jewelry Despite Record High Prices

An hour’s drive from downtown Mumbai, a two-hour long wait, metal detectors and body frisking didn’t deter thousands of people from turning up to buy jewelry at a fair on a recent Friday.

Record high gold priceshave not dented India’s demand for the precious metal.

Indian customers look at gold jewellery items on display at the Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) store in Ahmedabad.
Sam Panthaky | AFP | Getty Images
Indian customers look at gold jewellery items on display at the Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ) store in Ahmedabad.

The annual event in the suburb of Goregaon offered consumers the chance to buy jewelry at wholesale prices from 1,600 stalls run by jewelers from across the globe.

With the festive season — marked by Diwali, considered the financial New Year by many Indian businesses - around the corner, consumers are rushing to make their annual jewelry purchases, fearful prices will go up further.

“I’m buying jewelry because gold is probably going to rise, so it’s better to buy now,” Devli Bhatia, a 26-year-old shopper told CNBC, as she eyed her next purchase, a gold cocktail ring with nine different colored semi-precious stones.

The precious metal, which is widely regarded as a store of wealth by Indians, is traditionally gifted during weddings and religious occasions, particularly during the months of October and November.

Spiraling gold prices, which should typically put pressure on margins of jewelry producers, are in fact benefiting them, according to Ram Babu, owner of the Jaipur-based precious jewelry supplier Gold Mountain.

“With the increase in gold prices, my sales have gone up, not down, " says Babu. "People don’t have trust in paper money, so they are putting their money in gold and silver."

“Gold was around 8,000 rupees per 10 grams ($480 per ounce) during 2006-2007, but my sales did not match what they are today,” he adds.

Dharshan Zaveri, owner of Manubhai Zaveri, an Ahmedabad-based wholesale and retail jeweler shares the same view. While dealing with a queue of middle-aged Indian women waiting to view his ornate creations, he told CNBC that his company’s sales are up at least 20 percent from a year ago, despite the 44 percent run-up in gold prices to more than $1,700 over the past 12 months.

According to the World Gold Council in the first quarter of 2011, demand for gold jewelry from India rose 12 percent year on year, accounting for 37 percent of the global total, and this demand is set to climb.

“Gold is so central to the Indian psyche, it’s at the center of every occasion, every festival. Bridal demand [for jewelry] makes up 40-50 percent of the total demand," said Prachi Tiwari, director of marketing at the World Gold Council India.

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Demand will also continue to grow alongside higher levels of disposable income as seen over the past decade, adds Erik Wytenus, head of currencies and commodities at JP Morgan in Hong Kong.

Leg Up for Silver

The rise in gold prices has also been a boon for jewelers dealing primarily in silver, particularly with more price sensitive customers.

“With everything getting so much more expensive, people are looking for cheaper, and yet as good alternatives,” says Ravi Jaising, founder of Mesmerize Jewelry.

“Although silver doesn’t replace gold in any way, it is a good substitute for jewelry. Today you can get the same look as you would when using gold, and at a significantly cheaper price,” adds Jaising.

Precious metals designer Dipika Vijay agrees that silver will never replace gold for Indian customers, but believes the recent surge in silver prices is creating more interest around buying jewelry made in the white metal.

“A lot of people fall back on silver, its way cheaper than gold. I see it being a potential investment opportunity in the future,” says Vijay.