Millennials are big buyers of diamonds. Aged 18-34, millennials from the United States, China, Japan and India contributed to 45 per cent of total retail sales, worth about US$26 billion, according to a 2015 De Beers report.
Chinese millennials are even bigger spenders. They account for 68 per cent of diamond sales in China, a number that is significantly higher than other markets.
The diamond industry has developed a top-down approach to decoding millennials’ attitudes to diamonds to make the stones even more appealing.
The Diamond Producers Association, which represents the world’s seven biggest diamond mining companies, launched a marketing campaign in the US last November with the slogan “Real is Rare”. A voice-over in a short film from the campaign says, “Maybe we won’t ever get married, and maybe we will … but it will be wild, it will be kind, and it will be real.” The association is looking to expand the reach of the campaign to China in April this year.
Will this resonate with Chinese millennials? There are different societal and economic factors at play.
Commitment to independence
“A diamond is an investment for me. I bought it for the inherent value, but more importantly, it feels good to treat myself,” says Sheryl Li, 28, who works at a hedge fund in New York City. She put aside a small amount of her salary each month to purchase the diamond. For Li, diamonds don’t symbolise marriage, but the commitment to something else – her financial independence.
Li is not the only Chinese woman who thinks this way. According to research from advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, more than 40 per cent of Chinese women regard financial independence as more important than marriage, and over 30 per cent think financial independence equals success.
Many brands have shifted the focus of their storytelling to women away from marriage and towards empowerment. One way this is evident is in their choice of brand ambassadors.
On October 2017, diamond sellers De Beers announced Fan Bingbing as its global ambassador. On its official China website, the company wrote, “World-renowned celebrity Fan Bingbing is an excellent actor, entrepreneur and philanthropist. Pushing herself to accomplish these titles is the true pursuit of self.”
In the promotional video Women of Forever, Fan remarked how her parents expected her to become a music teacher but she decided to pursue acting as a career at a young age. Chinese netizens have given Fan the nickname “Mister Fan”, as she symbolises a new breed of women in China who can accomplish as much or more than men.
Marriage is not eternal
As women become more independent and financially successful, they are less willing to tolerate an unequal marriage. Before, marriage could be seen as a means to gain financial safety, but in today’s society, to marry or not, or remarry or not, doesn’t have a single, definite answer. Consequently, the magical symbolism of “one diamond forever” has faded.