How Millennials Look at Diamonds (It’s Different From Past Generations)

Younger consumers are turned off by bling but still crave something real

This June at the JCK Las Vegas show, the Diamond Producers Association (DPA) will unveil an industry milestone: the first category-driving campaign for diamonds not sponsored by De Beers.

The DPA’s campaign grew out of its research on millennials, including extensive surveys and focus groups conducted by its marketing firm Mother New York. I will take a deeper look at this research in an upcoming issue of JCK.

But last week, Mother New York senior strategist Thomas Henry—an echo boomer himself—provided a sneak peek at the DPA’s research at the agency’s headquarters. Among the main points:

– Millennials graduated into tough economic times.

“Compared to our parent’s generation, we have more debt, less job prospects, and are less likely to own a home than the previous two generations,” Henry said. 

That means they are less able to achieve the same ideals of previous generations—whether it’s a house, car, “all the trappings of the 20th-century consumer ideal.”

– Yet, they are still optimistic and upbeat.

“The overall theme that comes out is social freedom has a much bigger impact on their happiness,” Henry said. 

– Diamond jewelry can seem “too formal” for this generation.

As one focus-group respondent said: “If I see a girl wearing diamond earrings, I would assume they were from Forever 21. I would never assume they were real. I would never expect anyone to wear something that expensive walking around on the street.”

– They value experiences.

“Rather than material possessions being their currency, experiences increasingly are their currency,” Henry explained. “They may not have as much as purchasing power as the previous generation, so they are finding their happiness in other places.”

Experiences also dovetail perfectly with this generation’s ability to share things on social media. And when they do buy something, they want it to have personal meaning.

As Mother New York director of business development Chris Roan put it on a panel following the presentation: “People want to buy things that make themselves smile, rather than what makes other people jealous.”

– Their relationships are more equal.

“Gone are the days of codependent relationship, where you relied on the other person to define yourself,” Henry said. “It’s much more about one plus one equals three.”

Roan noted that it’s now more socially acceptable to be single.

“The relationships that [millennials] are choosing they are choosing from their own volition, they are choosing them because they feel a true sense of satisfaction, not an external pressure to be in a relationship because that is what one does,” he said. “The people who do decide to be in relationships, it’s for the right reasons, and it’s because they are truly happy with the decision they have made.”

Conventional diamonds can seem a little blingy.

“When Kim Kardashian wears something large and flashy, it isn’t really appropriate,” said Henry. “The idea that you would run the risk of ostentatiously showing off that type of wealth feels a little bit odd.” 

– They are as burned out with the digital world as everyone else is.

“Because we have had to learn technology, unlike the generation that is going to follow us, we see it as a double-edged sword, because we remember life before technology,” he said. 

Which means that, in spite of their embrace of the virtual, they also long for something “real.”

“Real moments of connection, real moments of experience proportionally grow fewer, because you are oversaturated with lots and lots of digital connections,” he said. “They are starting to reject this idea that everything has to be fast, everything has to be instant, everything has to be gratifying right now. In some aspects of my life, I want this real thing.”

– All of which could, potentially, mean good news for diamonds.

“If you think about the fact that they are living in an oversaturated world, they are desperately seeking these moments of meaning, which are few and far between, what they love about diamonds, and what we heard over and over again, is the authenticity. [Diamonds are] a product that they still believe carries authenticity, they are from the earth, they are very rare. That is an exciting opportunity.

“The way that millennials live their life now opens up a lot of space for diamonds,” he concluded. “It is just a very different space than diamonds used to occupy through most of the 20th century.”

JCK News Director