MILLENNIALS RING THE CHANGES
written by Lucy Farmer
‘A Diamond Is Forever’, says the slogan of the century, written for De Beers in 1947. It was these four words that bound the promise of eternal love to a sparkling stone, and made the diamond ring a rite of passage for betrothed couples the world over. But, as retail sales of diamonds slow and millennials challenge the enduring symbolism of this prized jewel, a diamond perhaps isn’t forever any more.
The millennial generation (those who reached adulthood around the year 2000) have distinctive preferences that differ from their parents and grandparents. Coming of age in a globalized post-consumer world, this is a generation that values self-expression over standardized products. They prize ethical provenance over material luxury. They are marrying later, or not at all. In short, the status symbol diamond engagement ring is losing its lustre. Millennials also have less dollar in their pocket than the previous generation did at the same age. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have money to burn, or any less attachment to jewelry as a gift, a celebration and a keepsake. To catch their eye, the industry needs to adapt its product offering and sell them a new narrative. One that better fits their worldview.
The Diamond Producer’s Association (DPA), a global trade group of seven leading diamond producers, is an industry body that is keeping a trained eye on these changing trends. In Autumn 2016, the DPA launched its “Real is Rare” advertising campaign in a bid for millennial market share. The vignettes follow young, passionate couples on carefree (and, crucially, tech-free) journeys in which they explore their own love story through authentic experiences – a love story that doesn’t have to end in marriage. The jewelry is barely there, a subtle glimmer that celebrates a special connection. The message, though, is loud and clear: diamonds are still the best expression of love and commitment, however that looks to them.
The DPA, and other brands, are reframing luxury for the millennial mind. This is a generation that values what something means as highly as the material it is made from – if not more. Some millennials are shunning diamonds entirely, and looking for alternatives. The reasons are myriad: the expense, a sustainability consciousness, or simply the desire to break with tradition. One way the industry is responding is with created diamonds. Made in a laboratory from a diamond ‘seed’, created diamonds are identical to mined diamonds, sharing the same optical, chemical and physical attributes. So what’s not to like? Some diamond industry insiders claim that a lab-made diamond doesn’t embody the romance and eternity of a mined diamond, which emerges from the Earth after millions of years in the making. But many millennials are attracted by the idea that created diamonds sit better with their ethical inclinations – plus they are an exciting modern innovation.
Fotocredit: Clear Tear Drop by Kurt Pio, as seen in Gem Visions
Producers are also innovating with diamond simulants, such as cubic zirconia, which is an equally sparkling but less expensive option. First created in the 1970s for laser technology, the jewelry industry saw its potential and has been developing it as an appealing alternative to diamonds ever since. Swarovski’s Pure Brilliance Cut for zirconia, for example, has 57 facets, resulting in the same brightness as a Tolkowsky ideal cut – the most perfect diamond cut in the world.
In parallel, the millennials’ shift away from the traditional ring-finger rock and towards a more individual expression of love has seen jewelers set diamonds – natural and created – in increasingly contemporary and experimental designs. Diane Kordas’s Pop Art collection is a good example: the necklaces shout ‘BOOM’, ‘POW!’ and ‘OMG!’ in blue, yellow, black and white diamonds. The colorful stacking rings look like a heart rate captured in sparkling stones. Mociun’s Unexpected Unions collection combines colored diamonds with clusters of gemstones for a cocktail-ring take on fine jewelry. Meanwhile, POP Diamond Jewelry sets a single diamond on a spiritual string bracelet, the better to protect against negative energy and draw strength and courage from the shining jewel. They give a proportion of each sale to charity, too.
Fotocredit: Popart with Genuine Diamonds by SUNJEWELS, as seen in Gem Visions
Millennials are the jewelry industry’s most important demographic, and the fortunes of the industry lie, largely, in their hands. As they continue to spend their cash on diamonds and jewels, they are writing their own brand of luxury. A new world in which the material is somewhat immaterial.
Fotocredit: Popart with Diamonds, Getty Images