'Why Aren't Millennials Buying Diamonds?'
Purported 'Economists' Ask
Recently, I read an article (well, truthfully more of a paragraph) published by the magazine The Economist, which asked the hard hitting question: "Why aren't Millennials buying diamonds?"
By now, of course, most everybody reading this has come to the logical conclusion, "because most of them don't have that much disposable income." If you're one of them, congratulations, you've got more socio-cultural insight than a publication that Karl Marx referred to as "The European Organ of the Aristocracy of Finance."
The main assertion of The Economist's little note is that Millennials are opposed morally to the diamond industry and that this is the main reason for their rejection of its product. I have no doubt that this is also true, along with the fiscal implications of buying a metal ring with a rock on it for the same price as a 2007 Toyota Sienna minivan — objectively the smarter choice for a young couple about to start a family. (Seriously, they're really reasonably priced all over craigslist. Check it out)
The solution that the blurb of text offers does, admittedly, address this concern in indicating that laboratory made diamonds are available in much larger numbers than ever before, removing the burden of the ethical implications of purchasing a stone pulled from the ground by an underpaid laborer in a mine in Botswana. Shockingly, however, laboratory made diamonds are not significantly cheaper than mined diamonds. Why?
Well, it may have to do with the fact that diamonds were never rare to start with.
Though it may seem as though a diamond ring is an ancient and time honoured engagement tradition, let's first consider the fact that it would be impossible, on the european continent at least, for this tradition to have started any earlier than the mid 1700s with the proper colonization of lower Africa. However, this "Ancient" tradition doesn't even go that far back.
Through the mid 1930s, the idea of a diamond engagement ring among the middle and upper middle classes in America and Europe was entirely unheard of, with the practice of any engagement ring at all being informally done amongst only the most wealthy and generally not as some kind of symbolic marker of attachment, but because they were rich and liked to flaunt their richness. For working class Americans in the early 20th century, engagements were informal, and rings unnecessary.
With the depression in full swing in the United States and Western Europe, jewelry sales plummeted, and nobody was hit harder than the DeBeers corporation. They were (and are) the world's largest operator of gemstone mines. Now, it should be noted that before this point diamonds were, while not rare, also difficult to mine. They were, however, no more or less expensive than other, rarer, but more obtainable gemstones. But in the 1930s with the electrification and industrialization of South Africa, diamonds suddenly became incredibly easy to extract from the ground. In the words of DeBeers own chairman in 1999 "Diamonds are intrinsically worthless." But, nonetheless, there was suddenly a very large supply, owned entirely by one corporation operating without oversight. All that was missing was a market for the product.
Immediately, DeBeers launched a massive ad campaign across the United States with the intent of making Americans believe four things. 1) That giving a woman a diamond engagement ring was the best way to show one's affection. 2) That diamonds were incredibly rare things, as they had been 50 years before. 3) That one of these diamond rings ought to cost approximately two months salary. 4) That "a diamond is forever" (this last to prevent the consumer from re-selling the ring at the end of the engagement as, truly, a diamond will last ostensibly forever and the oversaturation of the market would put an end to DeBeers' artificial supply restriction)
During the depression, of course, there was a large amount of pressure on men, particularly young men, to present themselves as competent providers and so the ad campaign stuck immensely well and, since that time, it has been considered a concrete facet of Western romance.
So maybe it's right that after nearly a century, Millennials are turning away from manufactured tradition and materialism. In only three or four generations we've seen the rise of the diamond ring trend and in one more generation it may be over.