By Rhiannon Hoyle
SYDNEY--Rio Tinto PLC (RIO.LN) expects the high-end colored diamonds its sells from an Australian mine to sidestep the volatility facing broader commodity markets as a trade battle intensifies.
Chief Executive Jean-Sebastien Jacques said he expects strong demand and better prices versus last year for stones being sold in Rio Tinto's annual Argyle pink diamonds tender, interest for which is typically greatest in the U.S. but within a niche, "connoisseur" market.
"Are we concerned about the market at this point in time, either in the U.S. or in other parts of the world, the answer is no," Mr. Jacques said in an interview on Thursday.
A selloff in metals and other commodities has intensified this week, as the latest tariff threats from China and the U.S. amplified fears a trade fight could slow commerce and weaken economic growth.
But Mr. Jacques said the small colored-diamond market should be insulated and that Rio has "high expectations" for its 2018 sales, which include 63 rare pink, red and violet diamonds totaling 51.48 carats.
Rio Tinto last year said its 2017 tender fetched a record value, without disclosing prices.
Pink diamonds have previously sold for as much as US$2.2 million per carat. Rio's diamond sales this year will include the largest vivid pink diamond ever sold via the Argyle tender, a 3.14-carat stone, as well as a 2.28-carat purplish red diamond that will also be the largest of its kind.
The nearing closure of Rio Tinto's 34-year-old Argyle mine, which produces almost all the world's pink, red and violet diamonds, is expected to increasingly underpin demand, said Mr. Jacques.
"People know that maybe we will have another two or three of those tenders before the mine closes," he said.
Write to Rhiannon Hoyle at [email protected]