Selling Diamonds to People Who Aren’t Getting Married

Selling Diamonds to People Who Arent Getting Married Lead image: Minerva,Chris/Getty Images, Video: BrainStuff Selling Diamonds to People Who Arent Getting Married Lead image: Minerva,Chris/Getty Images, Video: BrainStuff
Selling Diamonds to People Who Arent Getting Married Lead image: Minerva,Chris/Getty Images, Video: BrainStuff

As much as half of the merchandise sold by some major American jewelers is bridal, but young adults aren't focused on marriage like previous generations have been. It's a strong enough trend that the Diamond Producers Association just introduced an advertising campaign encouraging millennials to make their nontraditional relationships 'real' with diamond jewelry: "Real is Rare. Real is a Diamond."

Here's a clip from the campaign that was published on YouTube in Oct. 3, 2016.

The U.S. marriage rate has been on the decline for decades, according to Pew Research Center. It's flattened out over the past several years, but still: As of 2012, one out of every five of adults ages 25 and older had never been married. In 1960, it was only 9 percent — and by the time that generation reached their mid-40s to mid-50s, their unmarried ranks had shrunk to 5 percent. When today's young adults reach that age, 25 percent of them may remain unmarried, according to projections from Pew Research.

Diamond industry analysts say that retail sales of diamonds are slowing in growth. In the turbulent wake of the Great Recession, over a third of millennials say that their debt prevents them from saving money, or that they find it difficult to save for big purchases.

In a way, America's Great Depression of the 1930s is what created the bridal diamond industry as we know it today. Back then, diamonds were seen as an unnecessary luxury; less than 10 percent of engagement rings featured them. Opals, rubies, sapphires and turquoise were far more popular as engagement stones, and the few diamonds being used were small and of low quality. With demand in a freefall, the De Beers diamond company set out to instill a new — and profitable — tradition in American culture: the diamond engagement ring.

And it worked. From 1938, when De Beers hired ad agency N. W. Ayer to research the market and produce a comprehensive campaign, to 1947, when they launched the slogan "A Diamond Is Forever," the number of diamonds being purchased for engagement rings in the U.S. had already tripled. The campaign positioned diamonds as heirlooms to be cherished and kept, not to be resold back into the market. In the 1960s, with an influx of small diamonds from new mines in Siberia, they shifted their efforts to educate the public about the quality of diamonds, and thus to encourage the purchase of more expensive jewels with fewer flaws, no matter what their size. In the 1980s, another campaign arbitrarily established two months' salary as the benchmark for an engagement diamond's price.

By the end of the 20th century, about 75 percent of engagement rings in the U.S. bore diamonds, according to a report from the Antwerp World Diamond Center.

With millennials set to become the biggest consumer generation within the next few years, it's a savvy move for the Diamond Producers Association (a group of seven of the world's leading diamond producers, including De Beers) to refocus their message. But will it work this time? Millennials tend to be more concerned than prior generations with ethical production practices, and the diamond industry is still wracked with conflict. Furthermore, the "Real is Rare" campaign is relatively conservative despite its acceptance of unmarried couples: The characters it portrays are in heterosexual relationships, in which the man is expected to purchase the diamond for the woman. It's not guaranteed that the generation they're targeting will connect with the message.

Check out the BrainStuff video above to learn more about the history of diamonds.