Millennials aren't as interested in buying diamonds as their Baby Boomer counterparts — and an increasingly agitated diamond industry is trying to win them over.
Slowing sales in recent years have led the diamond industry to look outside of the once-bulletproof engagement ring market to attract millennial customers. A new campaign from the Diamond Producers Association, its first in five years, encourages millennials to commemorate any "real" relationship, not just one that leads to the altar, with a diamond.
But a closer look shows that it's not that millennials have altogether stopped buying diamonds. They spent $26 billion on the stones in 2015 alone, more than any other single generation, according to the De Beers Annual Diamond Insight Report. Millennials are approaching both money and marriage differently, though, and it's affecting their spending habits.
First of all, millennials simply aren't getting married as soon or to the same degree as the generations that came before them.
According to research from Allen Downey at Olin College, a projected 47 percent of women born in the 1990s will remain unmarried at age 33, as compared to 38 percent of women born in the 1980s. That's a staggering increase from the mere nine percent of women born in the 1940s who were single at 33.
It seems that many millennials are also choosing not to get married at all. While only eight percent of women born in the 1940s remained unmarried at 43, a projected 36 percent of women born in the 1990s will make the same choice.
While for a while, diamonds were often de rigueur, more and more of today's young couples are opting for other stones, such as sapphires or rubies, to signify commitment. Those can stand out more as unique and can also serve as a way for consumers to rebel against what they see as the diamond industry's heavy-handed marketing tactics.
"Millennial consumers have distinctive preferences, which in many ways diverge from previous generations," Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Ashley Wallace said in a research note from June 2016. "They tend to be more value conscious, more concerned with sustainability and ethical production, and often value unique and individual products versus items that are standardized and mass-produced."
Millennials increasingly value experiences over things. Young couples would rather put their money toward a wedding or honeymoon than blow the budget on one ring.
That's in part because they view ownership differently than other generations. Instead of coveting nice cars and big homes, millennials seek out experiences, such as vacations and concerts, that they can post about on social media.
Millennials also view relationships differently: They tend to approach them as partnerships and make decisions as a team. The model of marriage that was touted as ideal in the 1950s — working husband, stay-at-home wife — has changed, and for some couples, it makes sense that other traditions, such as buying and wearing a diamond engagement ring, would change too.