When a tennis ball-sized diamond failed to fetch its US$92 million auction price, a respected financial publication implied it was because millennials were not buying the prized rocks. Apparently, diamonds are only a girl’s best friend if that girl is a privileged, heterosexual, cisgender woman who was born before the early 1980s.
The report in the Economist claimed that millennials are not spending money on the precious stones because the generation has a conscience. It alleged that the young adults who were the children raised by Barney the Dinosaur are worried about buying what are known as conflict or blood diamonds. The term refers to stones mined and produced in areas under the control of rebel forces that use the profits to fund terrorism and war.
As noble as that sounds, it may all be a bit of a storm in a teacup. Sure, those whose formative years coincided with the new millennium do things differently – but are they really that concerned about African child soldiers whose guns were bought with the proceeds of diamond sales? Have they really stopped buying the jewels that have inspired adventurers and stirred up conflicts for centuries? The truth may be quite different to what the publication – or its respondents – think it is.
What Millennials Do Differently
According to reports, millennials are the generation that is doing things differently. They are reportedly more likely to order take-outs than cook for themselves, they drink spirits and wine instead of beer (unless it is artisanal or craft), and they want to buy bigger homes instead of starter homes.
It stands to reason, then, they might prefer, say plastic costume jewellery or carved coconut husk accessories over the real thing. Especially if they approach the subject with as much sincerity and passion (read: rioting) as they did to every social justice issue that came their way online a few years ago.
Financial Constraints Blamed
The responses received by the publication in response to its cover story about the mystery of the millennials and the unsold diamonds implied its editorial staff were idiots. The responses also made it clear that the only social concern those few representatives of the generation had were their own.
Commentators explained that those born at the beginning of the 21st century simply couldn’t afford the pretty rocks. Whether they cited Karl Marx, blamed the recent recession, complained about student debt, bemoaned the cost of living, or described diamonds as worthless, most responses ultimately came down to money – that is, the stones’ price tags versus their bank balances. This is not to say some of them do not dream of one day hitting a jackpot at an online casino and using it to buy enough diamonds to fill a bathtub, because they probably do.
Millennials Are ‘Woke’
One commentator, Jim Varga, implied that his lack of enthusiasm to spend money on the precious stones is because he alleged Europe and America’s love of diamonds, especially as engagement ring gems, is a relic of colonialism.
Writing for an online publication, Varga asserted the tradition would have depended on the colonisation of southern Africa. He also claimed the tradition only became widespread after the 1930s, when the electrification of South Africa’s diamond mines led to an oversupply of the stones. Mining company De Beers countered it by creating a new market through clever advertising campaigns in the USA.
The ads were allegedly so successful, an entire continent of people, and eventually most of the world, started believing that diamonds are the perfect tokens of love and devotion. And that the stones are unbelievably rare; that a single ring should be worth 3 months’ salary, and that a sparkler lasted forever. According to Varga, millennials do not go in for traditions that have been manufactured, and they certainly are not materialistic.
De Beers Begs to Differ
However, none other than the chief financial officer of De Beers was quick to rain on several parades. According to Nimesh Patel, the claim that millennials are not buying diamonds is nonsense.
Instead, they are spending more money on jewellery than earlier generations do – or did, for that matter. Patel said that the demand for the stones among the generation is the same, if not greater, than the demand among their parents’ generations. Millennials are responsible for 45% of the company’s sales, and as such, rightfully earn a spot among its top 4 markets.
What surprised the CFO, however, was not that diamonds have also turned out to be a millennials best friend. It was that the youngsters who are buying them are doing so long before they reach a stage in life when their disposable income is at its largest. What’s more, many are buying the stones for themselves, and not for others. 26% of purchases by Millennials were to celebrate a personal achievement. Well, well. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.