12 June 2018
Millennials and their predisposition to redefine social conventions are changing the way companies market bridal jewellery. Placing greater importance on experience and personal preference, this generation of tech-savvy, highly expressive individuals buy what they want, the way they want it – engagement rings included.
The diamond jewellery industry has come a long way since De Beers introduced the “A diamond is forever” slogan in 1947. For many decades, this powerful campaign created the perfect emotional link between love and diamonds, which are both portrayed as eternal.
Then came the milllennials – people born between 1981 and 1996, according to Washington DC-based think tank Pew Research Center. De Beers was one of the first to recognise this generation’s penchant for defying standards and making their own rules, particularly with their discretionary purchases.
"People don’t want to be told what an engagement ring is or what it is not. Millennials decide on their own. They would go for something that was never designed as an engagement ring but is special and makes them happy. " – Jonathan LeVian, Le Vian
According to De Beers’ Insight Report 2017, although marriage is still on the agenda of most millennials, 69 percent of them say plans to marry are often delayed – most often by their economic situation. Since people get married at a later age, they also become more mature and have more financial muscle.
The same study said the giving of diamond jewellery is no longer confined to two milestones in a woman’s life – engagement and marriage. In fact, women are buying or receving diamonds for other occasions. These developments are creating a huge opportunity for today’s jewellery retailers.
Millennials in India, for instance, are driven by a desire to own beautiful jewellery as opposed to their parents and grandparents who buy jewellery for investment purposes, according to Aakrosh Sharma, senior vice president for Merchandising and Fulfillment at India-based CaratLane.
“Indians have traditionally bought jewellery for financial security. Parents and grandparents tend to look for products that provide the highest value for resale at a later date. Millennials, meanwhile, consider the jewellery design and are less interested in the gold value or potential value appreciation of the jewellery,” he said.
Millennials in India are increasingly showing a taste for a more universal style – understated designs in white metal adorned with more diamonds, Sharma added.
Traditions however still have a strong impact on marrying couples. Jonathan LeVian, merchandising and marketing senior manager of New York-based diamond jewellery company Le Vian, said people continue to buy engagement rings and some women, even millennials, still go for the classic and simple diamond centre stone and a clean shank.
On the other hand, there are those who favour unique stones such as fancy colour diamonds or even coloured gemstones such as aquamarine, morganite or blue topaz, among others. The bottomline is millennials follow their own rules.
“People don’t want to be told what an engagement ring is or what it is not. Millennials decide on their own. They would buy a traditional engagement ring with a centre stone but they would also go for something that was never designed as an engagement ring but is unique and special, and makes them happy,” noted Jonathan. “Millennials want to buy what they want, the way they want to buy it.”
Women have also been taking a more pro-active part in choosing their engagement rings, according to Tanya Stafford Waymire, general manager at US-based jewellery retailer Robbins Brothers.
“The one distinguishing shopping pattern of millennials versus that of previous generations is the number of brides-to-be shopping on their own, prior to the prospective groom ever making it to a jewellery store. The millennial bride is quite clear about what she wants. Though she isn’t paying for her engagement ring, she is absolutely deciding where it is going to be purchased,” Waymire said.
Other gemstones are also steadily gaining popularity as engagement ring centre stones, revealed Sasha Shusteff, vice president of Engineering at online jeweller CustomMade Inc.
Beyond the so-called Big Three (sapphires, rubies and emeralds), there is rising interest in morganite, amethyst and aquamarine, among other stones. Customers are also looking for a personal touch in jewellery designs: Birthstones, design elements reflecting their heritage, or a gemstone from where they met their future spouse, to name a few.
“Millennial customers are increasingly interested in a more personal purchasing experience. They are looking for individuality and customisation when buying their rings,” said Shusteff.
She added that buyers are less pressured by abstract expectations such as the old premise that one should spend two to three months’ salary on an engagement ring. Customers are now comfortable in setting a lower budget, especially when both partners are involved in the purchase, she continued.
“People still love diamonds and timeless designs. The majority of engagement rings we create are designed with a diamond centre stone. Some are interested in black, salt and pepper, and brown diamonds while others are more receptive to lab-grown gems, especially those opposed to unethical mining practices,” she remarked.
"The millennial bride is quite clear about what she wants. Though she isn’t paying for her engagement ring, she is absolutely deciding where it is going to be purchased." – Tanya Stafford Waymire, Robbins Brothers
With coloured gemstones gaining favour among consumers, luxury jewellers are likewise introducing combinations of coloured gemstones and diamonds in their jewellery collections, marketing expert Anusha Couttigane, a senior fashion analyst at UK-based Kantar Consulting, said.
“The demand for black/coffee/yellow diamonds has long existed in the affordable jewellery segment. While this is a trend that began with fashion jewellery, it is now firmly embedded in the bridal category so we can expect more coloured gemstones or fancy colour diamonds in this product segment,” she added.
"Shoppers invest time and effort in finding something unique and personal. This behaviour resulted in more product diversity in the engagement ring market, with higher demand for mixed metals and coloured gemstones, which often cost less than traditional diamonds." – Anusha Couttigane, Kantar Consulting
Marketing for millennials
Couttigane also cited a number of lifestyle differences that characterise the millennial generation, particularly concerning socioeconomic trends.
“A large proportion of millennials has had to contend with the recession, which has impacted their affluence in many parts of the world. This means many rites of passage that shape adulthood like home ownership have taken a backseat,” disclosed Couttigane. “Where possible, many millennials have prioritised basic necessities over discretionary life events like marriage.”
New cultural norms have also compounded this pattern, with many prioritising careers over settling down and cohabitation becoming far more common, negating the need to marry first in many societies. The appeal of the “big white wedding” has also been diluted, with many couples opting for smaller, more intimate weddings.
Millennials would rather spend their money on their honeymoon or living expenses, Couttigane continued.
“More engagement/wedding ring shoppers invest time and effort in finding something unique and personal, rather than confining themselves to diamond solitaires with a minimum price tag. This shopping behaviour resulted in more product diversity in the engagement ring market, with higher demand for mixed metals and coloured gemstones, which often cost less than traditional diamonds,” she added.
On this front, De Beers has found an effective response to market changes by recognising in its study that there is still appetite for diamonds among millennial shoppers but the motivation is different. “This generation includes far more self-purchasers, specifically among professional women who reward themselves with diamond jewellery as opposed to waiting for marriage for their first major diamond investment. The bridal jewellery market is still the biggest segment of the market, but fashion jewellery is rapidly accelerating. We can see diamond specialists around the world responding effectively to this, with more fashion-focused ranges that are not occasion-driven,” said Couttigane.
Transparency and technology
Couttigane also mentioned a growing demand for transparency where millennials are motivated more than ever by the ethics of a brand. Jewellery brands that rely on responsibly sourced gems have to work harder to ensure their processes adhere to industry standards and that consumers can be assured of both the traceability and transparency of their supply chains, she added.
Technology, particularly blockchain technology, is helping accelerate this. More and more diamond brands are investing in this technological advancement to foster consumer confidence, she added.