If there is one thing that Cecil Rhodes, the notorious founder of De Beers, understood, it is this: a diamond’s value is tied to its association with love and romance.
As an expensive product with no inherent practical use, the gem diamond’s appeal is almost entirely symbolic, indicative of a love so strong it can last “forever.”
As a marketing strategy, this worked well for the diamond industry for almost a century.
Since 1938, when De Beers debuted its first official advertising campaign, diamonds have been positioned as a gift a man gives to a woman, first to mark an engagement, and then to celebrate other milestones, like anniversaries, holidays and birthdays.
But what happens when marriage – the foundation of this plan – goes out of style?
As the New York Times reported, the social custom is itself becoming an act of privilege, with only 26% percent of poor adults between the ages of 18 and 55 reporting that they are legally wed, compared to 51% in 1990.
While marriage rates are dropping among the working class as well, they have remained more static within the middle and upper classes: 56% are currently married, as compared to 65% 17 years ago.
This means that the diamond industry has to adapt, and quickly.
And, as the most recent Diamond Insight Report reveals, it is preparing to do just that, by turning its attention to a growing segment of the market that can help protect it against the prevailing trends.
Since the advent of the modern diamond industry, it has been assumed that the vast majority of diamond wearers and recipients will be women. But, what if these women do not have husbands?
The answer is obvious, or at least it should be in the 21st century. Women do not need men – they can buy diamonds for themselves.
According to the 2017 Diamond Insight Report, published by De Beers in September 2017, women – both married and single – are buying themselves more diamond jewelry than ever before.
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Whether she is single or married, this customer is ultimately the one that the industry needs to engage.
If she does not want the sparkling stones, she is not going to ask her husband to buy them or purchase them for herself. This would signals the demise of a product that so far, has stood the test of time.
In other words, the stakes are high. Aware of this, The Diamond Producer’s Association or DPA, comprised of the world’s seven largest diamond mining companies, has already turned its focus away from marriage for its “Real Is Rare” campaign, choosing instead to highlight the many different kinds of love relationships that exist today.
The DPA’s Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Marquardt says that indeed their findings align with De Beers’ when it comes to women buying jewelry for themselves.
“More women are purchasing diamond jewelry for themselves due to a variety of reasons,” she says, “higher income, increased purchase for non-traditional occasions and the fact that couples are getting married a few years later than previous generations.”
She hints that future “Real is Rare” ads will find a way to speak to this customer: “As De Beers Group and our research has shown, female self-purchase is rich territory for diamonds, and it will take on increasing importance in our communications as we enter year two of the campaign.”
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As buyers, single women are a powerful block.
As Rebecca Traister reports in her 2016 book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, a 2012 report claimed that “single, childless, non-cohabitating women over the age of twenty-seven are spending more per capita than any other category of women on dining out, rent or mortgage, furnishings, recreation, entertainment, and apparel: $50 billion a year on food, $22 billion on entertainment, and $18 billion on cars.”
If this remains true, the diamond industry has good reason to zero in on this market and speak to economically independent women outside of the context of marriage. The stone’s future might very well depend on it.