Last year, The Financial Times published an article titled, Millennials are buying diamonds, it turns out. Counteracting claims that diamonds were no longer appealing to millennial consumers, the article suggests that diamonds are, in fact, becoming increasingly desirable to millennials. By demonstrating how the fashion climate has evolved to accept diamonds as everyday items, and suggesting that the playful designs of diamond jewellery offers a specifically youthful appeal, the article concluded that diamonds were still highly sought-after for the millennial consumer.
However, there is a hugely sceptical opposition to this viewpoint. The contrasting opinion claims that diamonds are no longer fashionable to millennials. The Washington Post even accused millennials of "ruining" diamonds (along with cereal and marriage). So who are we to believe? In 2017 De Beers asserted that across the major jewellery markets, including the US, China and India, millennials represent 45 percent of all diamond purchases - more than any other generation. Yet Forbes suggest that 66% of millennials would rather buy lab grown gemstones. Are millennials killing the demand for diamonds? Or are they facilitating it?
To get to the bottom of this debate, the social contexts and consumer behavior of millennials must be considered. What values does the millennial consumer hold when buying luxury products such as diamonds? Are there other contributing factors that account for their changing relationship to diamonds?
The ethical values of the millennial consumer
Many sources suggest that the supposed dip in diamond buying manifests from the ethical standpoint millennials hold towards the industry itself. The South China Morning Post argues that millennials "are more likely to consider social and ethical concerns before they make a diamond purchase". This potentially leads them to favour artificially-made gemstones if the ethical status of the diamond lies in question.
Even so, ethical standards with regards to diamond mining have supposedly never been better. With this in mind, is it plausible to suggest the ethically-conscious millennial consumer would boycott an industry which displays progressive ethical practices? Surely it would rather suggest the opposite? Whilst ethical guidelines such as The Kimberly Process have been put in place to ensure diamonds are ‘conflict-free’, this only ensures these diamonds do not fund violent rebel movements. Brilliant Earth shrewdly highlights the point that The Kimberly Process "systematically ignores human rights abuses, worker exploitation, and environmental degradation". Therefore, what may seem like an ethical purchase on the surface may conceal a darker history.
François Delage, CEO of De Beers Diamond Jewellers shares his insights regarding the ethical consciousness of millennial consumers: "education and information has been the backbone of the development of modern society, so I believe that we are seeing a new generation equipped with more knowledge, concern and passion than ever before." The long-established jewellery corporation obviously felt the pressure to adapt to this new consumer behavior, as in 2018 they started making lab-grown diamond jewellery.
Marriage is not as important to millennials
It is the general consensus that fewer millennials are getting married. Political and social developments have positioned marriage as a somewhat outdated institution for some individuals. Perhaps it's not that millennials are shirking diamonds altogether, but rather the social change that sees fewer millennials getting married discounts the need for diamond engagement rings. Forbes - who seem to champion the opinion that the death of diamonds for millennials is a fallacy - argue that tradition is in fact, very important to millennials, especially when it comes to marriage. In light of this, those who do decide to tie the knot are very likely to invest in a diamond ring to mark the occasion.
The appeal of alternative gemstones
If one thing is certain in this debate, it’s that the chic appeal of alternative gemstones is trouncing fashion's thirst for diamonds. Despite their reputations as flashy, materialistic and financially competitive consumers, more and more millennials are favouring buying precious gemstones that carry more sentimental value, as opposed to monetary. This firstly, comes down to a fashion perspective; alternative designs featuring citrines or sapphires for example, are more unique and therefore stylish in the eyes of the millennial buyer. Moreover, with highbrow celebrities such as Kate Middleton and Olivia Wilde sporting alternative gemstone engagement rings, it seems à la mode to follow suit.
A Forbes article asserted that four out of five millennials would sell their engagement rings. The study showed that: “55% of Millennials sold diamonds and other sentimental jewelry in 2016 to help prepare for the future [...] and 69% of them would consider exploring alternative engagement rings in place of traditional white diamonds.” It seems that millennials are much more economically-minded than their reputation suggests.
Whether or not diamonds are becoming less appealing to millennials, it is very apparent that fine jewellery lines see a lucrative market with millennial consumers. Diamond jewellery is becoming less and less traditional in design and style. Bulgari have released a cannabis-inspired necklace set with 14.63 carats of diamonds and 5.6 carats of emeralds. Fine jewellery design house Chopard collaborated with Rihanna in 2017 with a collection of colourful jewellery inspired by “the lush gardens of Barbados and the electricity of Carnival”.
Evidently, diamond jewellery is being designed with millennials in mind, but the power, as ever, resides with the elusive and dynamic entity that is the millennial consumer. Will they reinvigorate the demand for diamonds through some new social trend? With millennials, these things are impossible to predict.