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Critical Questions from The Economist



The Economist, as in touch with the struggles of everyday people as always, asks a critical question: Why aren’t millennials buying diamonds? The article claims that it’s about the exploitative conditions of their production, but let’s face it, it’s not. If it were, maybe there would be declines in chocolate and fish consumption due to their use of child and slave labor and a movement to promote Bangladeshi apparel workers’ unions. Of course none of that is happening in any way that affects the industry. The answer is that young people have no money because of a horrible economy, terrible student debt loads, and no good, stable future in an outsourced, franchised, automated, downsized, quarterly profit economy. So they aren’t buying diamonds. But getting at those issues would be far too close to home for The Economist. Better to just wonder about the declining fortunes of the diamond industry.

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  • Thom

    But has the median cost of weddings, and associated purchasing, gone down? (I have no idea.) It is possible there is something to The Economists’ claim here, even though it is not well researched. I do think it is the case the exploitation in the diamond industry has been relatively well publicized. Do they claim that people are buying other gems, or just no gems at all?

    • so-in-so

      My favorite is the big push on “chocolate diamonds”, in other words making industrial grade stones into sought after consumer products. Plus the one jeweler regularly advertising “two months pay is a reasonable amount to pay for a diamond engagement ring”.

      • Murc

        I’d always heard one month.

      • Thom

        That “two months” (often they say three) idea is a very old one, no doubt cooked up by DeBeers, or at least by retailers, long ago.

        • no doubt cooked up by DeBeers, or at least by retailers, long ago

          This is, in fact, exactly what happened. Diamonds weren’t considered anything special until the early 20th century. In fact, during the 20s they were looked down on as too flashy for respectable people, they were for gangsters and their chippies. Enter the marketing boys.

          In Europe, they pushed “one month’s” salary as the price to show her you loved her, and it worked, starting right after WWI. About ten years later they started the same thing here in the States, just outright making up that diamonds were a traditional engagement gift and that no prospective match was valid without one. Since one month worked in Europe, here they went for “two month’s salary” as the rule. And it worked again. (“A diamond is forever” was coined by a woman whose name escapes me in an office on Madison Avenue in like 1938.)

          The real kicker is that they did it a third time, in Japan in the 1950s-60s as they started to finally get everything going after the war. There, they went for “three month’s salary”, and it worked again.

          Diamonds as an engagement gift are a completely made up tradition that’s less than a hundred years old. Best. Marketing. Ever.

          • so-in-so

            And the “conservative” Economist has a sad because the youngins are abandoning the tradition (and costing the industry profits).

          • Kubricks Rube

            And given that the tradition first caught on 2.5 generation back, aren’t millennials arguably the first generation with large scale access to their family’s diamond rings? Why spend big money on a new diamond when you can pass on a family heirloom? My wife wears my great-aunt’s ring, and I’m a tail-end Gen Xer. I’d be surprised if that’s not becoming more and more common.

            • Thom

              Though I’d say that 100 years is more like 4 generations, I agree about passing on of family diamonds. Add to that the fact that families are typically smaller now than in the past.

              • BigHank53

                Unlike an heirloom dining room table, lots of people will wear their engagement rings until they croak. So you’d expect the diamonds to leapfrog over a generation.

                • Kubricks Rube

                  Yeah, that’s how I estimated. Also, didn’t diamonds become most pervasive here after the Depression? So it’s more like 80 years than 100.

                • Thom

                  Ok, I see.

          • Thom

            Thanks, Charlie. I would add that the discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, South Africa, in 1867, took them from being rare to being not-so-rare. As a result, by the 1880s, owners (led by Rhodes) had to consolidate and monopolize in order to maintain the value of their investment.

          • bender

            I have an anecdote to confirm what you say about diamonds in the 1920s. My mother was born just before WWI. As an adult I developed an interest in antique and vintage jewelry. I mentioned to my mother that I liked Art Deco diamond bracelets and she said “We thought those were for gun molls.”

      • Karen24

        My late father, who loved jewelry and bought my mother quite a lot of the stuff, once referred to chocolate diamonds as “failed coal.”

        • so-in-so

          I like that line, but surely even a industrial diamond is a step up from coal.

          • JR in WV

            Not by much. Antique jewelry often uses “Jet” which is shaped and polished anthracite coal, especially hard coal.

            • so-in-so

              Of “Phoebe Snow” fame. “Her dress stays white upon the road of Anthracite”.

      • Stag Party Palin

        So true. The marketers of diamonds are the all-time masters of the universe in shaping public perception. I’m not sure about this latest attempt to push what are essentially little turds with a Mohs number of 10. If they can pull that off, they ought to be put in charge of the DNC.

        • randy khan

          My dad used to work for N.W. Ayer, and they had the DeBeers account during a time when DeBeers wasn’t allowed to advertise in normal ways because it was a cartel. (Or at least so I was told when I was a kid; today that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.) One of the things he did for DeBeers was make a movie about diamonds, framed around a couple shopping for an engagement ring. It was at least somewhat educational – it included the 4 Cs stuff and a segment on how diamonds are mined – but clearly also was propaganda, including stuff about how rare diamonds are and, of course, the 2 months salary guideline. The idea was that they’d give the movie to TV stations for free, and they’d run it when they didn’t have anything else to air. That sounds bizarre today, but in the early 60s a lot of TV stations were looking for cheap ways to fill empty spaces in their schedules, so it worked.

          The best part of the movie from my perspective was that there was a scene showing a bunch of famous diamonds all in one place, which they accomplished by making glass replicas. My mom got the replica of the Hope.

          • Thom

            This is a great story.

        • vic rattlehead

          My wife likes diamonds, but I am happy with my plain wedding band. She suggested one with a diamond but that’s just too ostentatious and high maintenance for me.

      • Cheap Wino

        More and more people are renting because buying a house is financially out of reach. For those kinds of people spending “two months salary” is laughably unrealistic. The diamond industry is suffering from a smaller pool of potential buyers. I, for one, have no sympathy.

    • catclub

      But has the median cost of weddings, and associated purchasing, gone down?

      Good question! It sure looks like the median cost of weddings has gone up, and the average even more so.

      Given that the prosperous and well educated are now more likely to marry, they might bias that number up as the total number of weddings falls slightly.

      • JustRuss

        I’m curious where the data for wedding costs comes from. My guess would be professional wedding planners, who I’m sure have seen expenditures go up as the one percent hoovers up more and more wealth. For the hoi poloi who can’t afford to hire wedding planners, might be a different story.

      • tribble

        People also often marry later, which might make for more expensive tastes as well as capacity to pay. Though really, big, expensive weddings are as much a product of marketing as the two month salary engagement ring.

        • bender

          The destination wedding at a resort was unknown to the middle class in the Fifties and Sixties. I think it started with a hippie-era desire for self expression in the location chosen for the ceremony, and then got commercialized. The decline in regular churchgoing and the fact that many people have family and friends in scattered locations may also have made it more attractive.

    • njorl

      Weddings are often paid for by parents. Bigger weddings often mean more gifts for the young couple.

    • los

      tats are the new orange?

  • Another reason is that diamonds don’t actually have any intrinsic value.

    • Denverite

      That’s not true. There are a number of industrial and commercial uses for diamonds.

      • they don’t have to be gem quality and they can be synthetic. That has nothing to do with gemstones.

        • Denverite

          Sure, but you said “diamonds.”

          • Oh come on. Obviously this entire discussion is about gemstones, not tile saws.

            • Sheesh. I thought it was about baseball.

              And softball.

          • Jim in Baltimore

            Using industrial diamonds to split hairs?

    • SIS1

      They have significant industrial uses, but then you can use artificial diamonds for that.

      • catclub

        IF I were buying diamonds, I would want a perfect lab made one.

        I think that kind is now being made, but still hard to find.

        • njorl

          Generally, a “perfect” diamond is less valuable than one with desired imperfections. Last I heard, you can make any kind of diamond you might want in a lab. High quality lab grown diamonds are cheaper to produce than those dug out of the ground.
          Low-quality lab grown diamonds are not much cheaper to make than good ones, so low quality mined gems are more competitive.

          • njorl

            Oh, and lab grown diamonds offer a unique opportunity. You can convert the carbon from your loved one’s corpse into methane and use it to grow a diamond.

            • You can convert the carbon from your loved one’s corpse into methane and use it to grow a diamond.

              Carbon sequestration for the man who has everything!

            • N__B

              Do they have to be dead first? AFAF.

            • los

              Diamond corpses will probably never be market-competitive with paste corpses. According to Donald Trump’s business partners, you can make your own paste corpse in a bathtub.

              • los

                3d corpse printing technology remains rudimentary.

          • Snarki, child of Loki

            “Low-quality lab grown diamonds are not much cheaper to make than good ones, so low quality mined gems are more competitive.”

            The really expensive ones are isotopically pure. Suck on THAT deBeers.

          • nixnutz

            Do you still need to cut the lab grown diamonds to use them as gems or can you grow them princess-cut? I think the price has to do first with De Beers’ market manipulations and then the mining labor but the skilled labor that goes into crafting the actual jewelry has some value. Just not necessarily a lot more for diamonds than any other mineral.

    • dmsilev

      Not at all true. Their hardness is useful in a wide range of applications. I use them professionally; I’m a scientist studying, among other things, the behavior of materials at high pressure. Put material in between the faces of a pair of diamonds, and put a ton or so of force on the back of each one, and see what happens.

      Of course, if things are a bit out of alignment, what sometimes happens is that one of the diamonds explodes (diamonds are very hard, and hence very very brittle). That’s fun.

      • The demand for diamonds for that purpose would be 1/10^9 the present demand and they would be as cheap as rocks, which is what they are.

        • Thom

          Yep. They carry a high price because DeBeers (founded by Rhodes in South Africa) long ago monopolized the mining and wholesale marketing of diamonds to a sufficient extent to be able to control the price.

      • wca

        Put material in between the faces of a pair of diamonds, and put a ton or so of force on the back of each one, and see what happens.

        If this hasn’t already been in a James Bond movie, well, it should be.

        “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to splat.”

        • Humpty-Dumpty

          “You’re terminated, fucker.”

        • Hogan

          Diamonds Aren’t Forever.

      • JustRuss

        Put material in between the faces of a pair of diamonds, and put a ton or so of force on the back of each one, and see what happens.

        Of course, if things are a bit out of alignment, what sometimes happens is that one of the diamonds explodes (diamonds are very hard, and hence very very brittle). That’s fun.

        Wait, you get paid to do this? So jealous.

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          Wait ’till you find out about the “have fun with antimatter” jobs.

          • Philip

            But on the other hand, there’s the chemistry jobs with FOOF…

          • los


      • njorl

        I went to a talk that discussed using micro-diamonds as weapons. The diamond lattice is highly stressed at the surface. When there is only a small interior volume to compensate for that stress, the entire diamond is prone to disintegrate into component atoms exothermally. If you take a diamond just above that threshold and slam it into something it’s very destructive.

        • bender

          Wow, diamond studded bullets.

    • randy khan

      No gemstone has intrinsic value (outside of industrial uses, as others have pointed out), so the question is whether diamonds are unique in regard to changes in appeal to millenials.

    • advocatethis

      Well, as noted by the numerous responses, they do have industrial value. As an investment, though? Not so much. It kills me when people my age – mid fifties – tell me that the diamond ring on their (or their spouse’s finger) is an investment that they can somehow redeem when all other assets somehow lose their value. I get that diamonds are pretty, but I can’t fathom how somebody could think that they are intrinsically worth what they pay for them.

      I have to admit, though, that my thoughts on the value of jewelry has been colored by my experience working in receiving in a department store. When I used to check it in I saw that we had a 300% mark-up on gold. Even when we had our frequent half off sales we still doubled our money.

      • ninja3000

        Indeed. Buy a $4000 diamond from a jeweler (or “dealer”) and then try to sell it back a day, a week, or a year later. All of sudden it’s not worth $4000 anymore.

    • CD

      Isn’t the whole *point* that diamonds lack practical utility or much resale value? That this is a little like a potlatch: deliberately and publicly burning money?

  • Warren Terra

    I’d tend to assume that it’s not just about disposable income, which you propose has decreased (I have no idea, sounds plausible), but also fashion. Maybe diamonds (or even jewelry?) just aren’t the conspicuous display of choice at the moment, for reasons having nothing to do with moral outrage about diamond production, but because people want fancy phones, or branded handbags, or whatever (it may surprise you to know I’m not a fashion connoisseur).

    Also: since when were the main consumers of diamonds young people? These seems wildly implausible to me.

    • bender

      If we are talking specifically about diamond engagement rings, I think the massive social changes in marriage also have an effect.

      In the 1950s, patriarchal mores prevailed in the middle class. The convention was that a woman barely into adulthood married a slightly older man who had a good enough job to support both of them and prospects good enough to support children later. The bride either was or pretended to be a virgin. The engagement ring was payment for her virginity and a demonstration of the groom’s ability to support her. The size and quality of the stones in the ring were a status symbol for her among other women.

      Nowadays women earn their own money and compete in status in ways more similar to men’s status markers. Formal engagement follows months or years of the couple living together in what used to be called “sin”. The engagement ring has lost every symbolic meaning it used to have other than the desire of the man to give the woman a wearable gift.

  • Murc


    I have a friend who just got married. He’s on the borderline for millennial, as am I (born in ’81) but basically the platonic ideal of a hipster millennial; lives in downtown Toronto, works in IT, rides a bike, no car, drinks artisanal beer, has a meticulously crafted and maintained beard. Friends in music and fashion. Has the apps for multiple food trucks loaded on his phone. Met his future wife via tindr.

    He bought her a diamond even though neither of them are really into bling. Know why? Because he’s 35, has a really really good job, and could afford it, and while neither he nor his wife are really into the whole traditional wedding thing, he felt like buying her an expensive, traditional gem.

    But he’s 35 and has a really really good job. Ten years ago, as an entry-level web developer, he would never, ever have bought her that diamond.

    If The Economist wanted to impress me, they’d control for income. What percentage of millennials making the modern equivalent of the median wage forty years ago, or more, are buying diamonds, and is that percentage lower than it was for those forty year ago cohorts?

    THAT would prove something.

    Millennials like fancy things as much as anyone else does. We would fucking love to buy fancy cars and big houses/condos and designer clothes and jewelry.

    Give us the money to do so and we will.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      To me the moral of your anecdote is that people always sell out when they make enough money, pseudo hipster lifestyle, political beliefs and geographical location notwithstanding.

      • Murc

        … I’m not sure “likes nice things” means “sold out.” People… like nice things. Has there even been a time when people didn’t like nice things?

        “Sold out” would mean “starts voting Tory, because I’ve got mine, fuck you.”

        Also what the hell is a pseudo hipster lifestyle?

        • Amanda in the South Bay

          I’m just being a bit snarky-though living in the Bay Area and surrounded by friends in tech made me realize the disparity between their pay (and living in downtown Toronto might as well be San Francisco) and lefty ambitions. “I’m a communist and make well over 6 figures!’

        • Pat

          If The Economist wanted to impress me, they’d control for income.

          The Economist only has disdain for your opinion, and also for presenting useful, accurate statistics.

        • los

          Also what the hell is a pseudo hipster lifestyle?
          mcdonaldsdunkin donuts lattes?
          rebadged fords?

    • sparks

      For a piece of fucking carbon? I can think of better ways to waste money.

      • Thom

        We’re all just pieces of fucking carbon, kid.

        • Hogan

          But some pieces are prettier than others.

          • los

            We’re all just pieces of fucking carbon, kid
            Polycarbony – for the man who has everything.

        • sparks

          Your point being?

          • Thom

            It’s an (obscure) reference to The Unforgiven.

            • sparks

              Damn, and I throw really obscure references to films all the time. The last was “Throw away that Gideon, here I come”, for which nobody would likely even know the name of the film it came from.

              • Thom

                Yep, lost on me, though it sounds good.

                • los

                  exclamation contains multi-syllablic words, thus softcore, not hardcore?
                  19 guesses left.

                • sparks

                  It’s from a raunchy 1934 precode Hollywood film called The Meanest Gal In Town.

        • los

          We’re all just pieces of fucking carbon, kid
          my granpaw used to bore me with stoies about making marks on tree fibers with graphite sticks. i forget what granpaw called them things.

          • Ahuitzotl

            thats what got superceded by clay tablet technology?

      • bender

        Well cut diamonds are sparkly and throw off tiny rainbows. They are also sturdy; when you wear them you don’t have to worry about scratching or chipping them; they don’t dry out or change color with age like pearls and turquoise.

  • SIS1

    Maybe young people have chosen different shiny things to waste their money on in the future – shiny things that can be used for selfies, for example, as opposed to just a real hard allotrope of carbon.

  • tsam

    Maybe diamond jewelry isn’t what millennials like? My three daughters sure don’t give a shit about that stuff. Their jewelry is odd pieces that are more curious and fun than just a plain diamond.

    • Pat

      I lean towards the idea above, that many of them inherited diamond rings from the old folks and are re-using them.

    • nixnutz

      I’m guessing that traditionally most diamonds were bought by men as gifts, so to a large extent women’s preferences were, if not irrelevant, at least inefficiently transmitted to men. So I guess this story reassures me that those disgusting “every kiss begins at Kay’s” and “somebody went to Jared’s” ads are not as convincing as they might be.

    • bender

      All of that, and also most new mass produced “fine” jewelry today is very boring in design because there is no hand work in it. The jeweler drops a gem into a setting ordered from a catalog.

      There was much more handmade detail in the settings of jewelry made in the Victorian period through the Thirties, and what has survived has some variety from piece to piece. IMO the only new jewelry worth buying is either from Asia where they can still afford to do labor intensive design elements like fine granulation, or one of a kind pieces made by competent craftspeople.

  • lige

    I think you can’t really compare the purchase of diamonds, a rarely bought big ticket item, to ubiquitous purchases like chocolate, fish and clothing. It’s a lot easier to forgo an expensive not entirely satifying luxury item for moral purposes, or at least have that as a factor in your decision making, than it is to just stop buying clothes or chocolate.

    • Manny Kant

      Right, but also…

      The article claims that it’s about the exploitative conditions of their production, but let’s face it, it’s not. If it were, maybe there would be declines in chocolate and fish consumption due to their use of child and slave labor and a movement to promote Bangladeshi apparel workers’ unions.

      I think the key word there is “maybe,” because if it weren’t there, that’s a completely nonsensical statement. There has been a lot of public attention to the exploitative conditions of diamond production, and a fairly active campaign saying that people shouldn’t buy diamonds. There hasn’t been anything near that level of publicity about chocolate and fish production, at least. And while I think most people have some awareness that the conditions of clothing factories in the Third World are awful, you have to buy clothes, and “a movement to promote Bangladeshi apparel workers’ unions” is in no means similar to “deciding not to buy diamonds because you think their production is immoral” – you can’t actually expect people doing the latter to also do the former because of some rule of consistency.

      • Spiny

        There’s also a pretty clear upside to not buying a diamond ring for moral reasons – that’s a lot of money you don’t have to spend. Chocolate and fish is not the same trade-off, unless you’re really into specialty chocolate or specialty fish.

        • Manny Kant

          Right. The moral reasons work in tandem with the economic ones.

      • NonyNony

        I somehow skimmed past this earlier but as I say below I agree- the effort to rebrand diamonds as “blood diamonds” has actually been moderately successful and while I think Erik is right that it’s mostly the economy, I think he misses that nobody is doing nearly the same thing with chocolate or garments or fishing.

        • Given the ungodly ways Hip! Young!! Chocolatiers!!! adulterate their products to grab Attention Share, I see no obstacle whatever to a “blood chocolate” brand. (Perhaps with an Aztec priest as frontman.)

  • jamesjhare

    I know the moral bankruptcy of the diamond business weighed heavily on my decision to get my grandmother’s diamond re-set instead of purchasing a new one. I would prefer not to give money to the diamond cartel for any reason.

    • bender

      I hope you saved the original setting, but I bet you let the jeweler melt it down.

      Some people collect vintage jewelry. it’s a sight easier to replace the stone in a vintage setting than to recreate a vintage setting for a demantoid garnet or an antique cameo.

      Same thing with period picture frames. People used to toss them when they remounted pictures. Now some of the old frames are worth more than the pictures they used to hold.

  • Spiny

    Seems like two competing stereotypes of millennials here – one of us as hyper-aware but slightly dim do-gooders who won’t adult properly, and the other of us as catastrophically burdened victims of the globalized economy who can’t afford to adult properly.

    Probably the decline in diamond consumption among millennials is a combination of lack of spare cash, change in fashion, change in marriage age, change in overall marriage rate, and awareness of the industry’s many, many failings. With all of those things operating differently among different types of millennials.

    • Spiny

      Also, the profound changes in gender roles.

      • Just_Dropping_By


      • los

        profound changes in gender roles.
        Finallee11!1 I see a liberel demoaning the wimpee millenyils11!1
        all the men ar like pants-waring butch lezbiins and the girls ware dress and cant evin throw a punch, like week wrist gays1!1

        thats what you get when you are born wen obama is president!11

        I wil hav saddy if yu dont vot for Danaled Tromp that america is not gret
        Ernest T. Blogger

  • Gallipoli

    I think a lot of us also caught on to fact that diamonds are a total racket. Diamond jewelry will never be worth what one paid for it, so its bogus as an investment.

    BUT, too, I think changing ideas about gender roles have certainly impacted it as well. I agree that decline in real income is involved, but I don’t think it makes sense to write off ethical concerns, nor that seafood and chocolate sales proves no one cares about ethics in diamonds – since when were people consistent? There’s a constellation of reasons for why less diamonds are getting bought, and you’re committing the same error as The Economist to focus on one facet alone and totally dismiss an aspect they focused on.

    • Pat

      tee hee, facet.

  • Mondfledermaus

    I was hoping to hear that it was because millennials realized that diamonds and jewelry in general is just conspicuous consuming just to show off.

    • Quaino

      Nothing about millennial culture has proven we have a distaste for consumption. We’re just really fucking obnoxious about it.

  • NonyNony

    he article claims that it’s about the exploitative conditions of their production, but let’s face it, it’s not. If it were, maybe there would be declines in chocolate and fish consumption due to their use of child and slave labor and a movement to promote Bangladeshi apparel workers’ unions.

    I dunno – how many movie and TV shows are there about the evils of the chocolate and fishing industries or the Bangladeshi apparel industry? Also has anyone gone on such a concerted campaign to rebrand chocolate as “blood chocolate” or Bangladeshi-made garments as “blood garments” that it’s managed to become something that “everyone knows”?

    Meanwhile the “Blood diamond” page on Wikipedia has a section on “Blood Diamonds in the popular culture” that includes not just the movie “Blood Diamond” but also examples from James Bond, CSI, Kanye West and Far Cry 2 – and I’m pretty sure that’s nowhere near exhaustive.

    While I think you’re mostly right that it’s about the economy, I think there has been a concerted effort by people with big megaphones to raise awareness of just how nasty the diamond industry is and that it’s been working. In other areas the people with the megaphones haven’t been quite as adept at convincing people that cacao growers or garment factory owners or fishermen are intrinsically evil villains the way they’ve been successful at convincing people that diamond miners are horrible.

  • libarbarian

    Millenials will LOVE diamonds once someone finds out how to use them to make the world’s most impenetrable safe space!!

  • Philip

    It’s just that we’ve all realized diamonds aren’t actually forever. You know what’s forever? Uranium-238. It’s got a half-life right around the same as the age of the Earth! So instead we’re all buying each other uranium rings, obviously.

    • Gallipoli

      Onky ones thay cost at least three months of salary!

    • Ken

      Osmium jewelry: Doesn’t she deserve the rarest metal on Earth?

      (Also the oxides are horribly poisonous and cause tissue necrosis, but we won’t emphasize that in the marketing.)

      • wjts

        If we can get “Necrosis: It’s the Smell of Love” to catch on, we won’t need to worry about that.

        • los

          ride the zombie fad before it fully disintegrates.

    • Uranium-238. It’s got a half-life right around the same as the age of the Earth!

      That’s for pikers.

      Bismuth has long been considered the element with the highest atomic mass that is stable. However, in 2003 it was discovered to be weakly radioactive: its only primordial isotope, bismuth-209, decays via alpha decay with a half life more than a billion times the estimated age of the universe.

      • Stag Party Palin

        So the more Pepto-Bismol I take, the longer I’ll live? Cool.

    • JMP

      But nothing is forever; even black holes will eventually disintegrate into Hawking radiation in about 10^90 to 10^100 years, leaving the universe a completely empty place.

  • petesh

    How are the sales of fur coats?

    • rea

      They’ve tanked, due to global warming.

  • While I agree that you can’t boil it down to distaste for poor labor practices, I think you’re understating the degree to which awareness of how the diamond industry works has played into the decline in their popularity. Put simply, diamonds have become unfashionable, not just because people are more aware that they’re extracted under exploitative conditions (hence the growing importance of “conflict-free” diamonds), but because more people know that they’re a crock. The jewelry industry invented the notion of a diamond engagement ring less than a century ago (not very long after the idea of white wedding dresses, which are impractical, have no reuse value, and cost ten times what a comparable, non-wedding dress would cost). And because there are enough diamonds out of the ground to keep all engaged couples on the planets in bling for decades, their value is entirely artificial – a diamond engagement ring loses almost all of its value the second you take it out of the store.

    No doubt relative poverty and changing gender roles also play a role, but as many people in this thread have noted, plenty of millennials will spend money on fancy appliances, sports gear, or vacations, but wouldn’t consider a diamond ring a particularly worthwhile investment of their money.

  • Morse Code for J

    Sorry, law school has all my diamond money. Go ask them.

  • Emily68

    My opinion, based on personal experience only, is that we just aren’t as into bedecking out selves with jewels as we used to be. (When I got married in 1971, my fiance gave me a bicycle instead of a diamond. So much more practical and, being carless at the time, we peddled off into the sunset for our honeymoon.)

    • catclub

      we just aren’t as into bedecking our selves

      OTOH, I have seen people with many tattoos, and have heard that those are not free.

      • B. Peasant

        Not free, and no resale value, except possibly in some very limited markets.

  • randy khan

    Silly me, I thought I would check to see how bad the decline in diamond sales has been. The answer is, not so bad, as in there hasn’t been one at all.

    Late last year CNBC reported that worldwide diamond sales went up by 4% in 2014 and were expected to rise “only” 2% in 2015. And it turns out that the relative softness was a result of declining demand in China, which presumably was all about the economy there, not a result of decreasing purchases by millennials in general. (In fact, if demand in China went down, it must have been going up by better than 2% elsewhere.

    The story did say that the number of engagement rings with non-diamond stones in the U.S. went up from 6% to 8%, but diamonds are still in 84% of engagement rings and that the amount spent on engagement rings in The Knot’s annual survey went from an average of about $5,400 in 2013 to close to $6,000 in 2015, an increase of between 10% and 11% in 2 years.

    • MacK

      You do realise The Knot’s surveys are considered to be advertising designed to create an impression of a high normal cost for weddings and marriage? It’s advertisers want it that way.

      • randy khan

        Interesting, but I’m not sure that has any impact on the accuracy of a reported increase in price.

        Either way, it’s a minor point in context of the claim that millennials aren’t buying as many diamonds when compared to the actual sales data.

        • los

          maybe increased The Newt and The Donald’s bling buys for mistresses have masked the decline in millennials’ bling buys?

  • randy khan

    Also: Two posts in a row involving diamonds. Just saying.

  • I also think that the rise of synthetic gems has kind of weakened the primacy of diamonds. When you take rarity out of the picture, is a diamond really preferable to a sapphire?

    Engagement rings are an unsavory practice anyway, so it’s only good news if people are buying fewer of them (or putting fewer blood diamonds on them).

    • catclub

      Engagement rings are an unsavory practice anyway

      Does that include synthetic gems?

      If there are now synthetic gems, which aren’t unsavory, should that lead to MORE engagement rings?

      • To clarify: I think that the tradition of commemorating the decision to commence a lifelong partnership with a one-way transfer of useless valuables is obsolete and patriarchal. A mutual exchange of rings or other jewelry is less objectionable to me because it doesn’t have the same connotation of purchasing another person’s affections or putting a claim on them (the ring meaning they’re “taken”).

    • bender

      Synthetic sapphires began to be used in jewelry about a hundred years ago. The smaller sapphires in Edwardian jewelry are usually synthetic.

  • MacK

    So the De Beers – one, two, three month’s pay for an engagement ring diamond. The history of this is quite interesting. A bit of the history is here


    An interesting detail you pick up if you travel. Originally in the US it was one Month’s salary – no one mentions whether net or gross. But I learned as a graduate student and young lawyers in DC that there are women whoo seem to able to praise a stone at 20 paces, and are they mean! The immediately launch into a discussion of the fiancée’s merits based on the ring. But slowly this was not enough for de Beers – so they moved the US line to two months, but in the UK and elsewhere in Europe it stayed as 1 month, but In Japan, wow – 3 months was the standard they pushed (and it really works in Asia, face is big.)

    Another article, I’m not sure where I saw it addressed the “diamond is forever” meme, which is to do with de Beers fear that if people started to sell their stones – either personally or in estate sales – the extant diamonds would cause the market price for new ones to crash. Someone recently did an article on what happens when you try to sell your diamond – and I seem to recall you’d be lucky to get 10¢ on the dollar.

    • MacK

      This is the other article worth reading – what happens when you try to sell that diamond. It’s not pretty.


      • so-in-so

        “A diamond is forever – no resale value, so you are just gonna be stuck with it.”

      • It’s nice to see the old Atlantics are online, but this

        The advertising campaign was based on the theme of recaptured love. Again, sentiments were born out of necessity: older American women received a ring of miniature diamonds because of the needs of a South African corporation to accommodate the Soviet Union.

        Is why these glossy magazines are so often silly. Say “they had a new mine and a lot of tiny diamonds they had to get rid of quick,” and it doesn’t sound nearly so deep, or geopolitical.

        • MacK

          Well the geopolitics was kind of interesting – apartheid and the evil empire in bed together

          • Thom

            Reminiscent of the Cuban military guarding American oil facilities in Angola against UNITA rebels allied with the US and South Africa in the same era.

    • MacK

      Apraise a stone.

  • Denverite

    My spouse accidentally threw out her engagement ring several years ago. (She had taken it off while pregnant because her hands swelled up, then got sick and buried under a mound of tissues, then threw it out with the tissues.) She wanted to replace it with something that looked diamond-y mostly for appearance reasons*, so we got her a replacement ring with three smallish synthetic diamonds. It was like a third of the cost of her original engagement ring (ten years later).

    * Mostly professional.

  • Alan Tomlinson

    Ignoring the topic at hand and going for the meta, I’m interested in (informed) opinions about when the Economist turned into a steaming pile of excrement. I recall in the early 90s-when the NY Times was still a good newspaper-that the Economist had genuinely well-written and reasoned articles. When did that change? I’m assuming that the reason why it changed was a decision by the owner(s) to extract money from it rather than continuing to pay for good journalism.


    Alan Tomlinson

    • Pat

      I can’t tell you, Alan. I also read the Economist a lot in the 90’s, because they were well-written articles and a lot of them were about parts of the world I knew little about. When they wrote about the US economy or politics, they seemed a little off to me – they really trusted members of the Bush family to do the right thing, for example, and made predictions about the economy that didn’t seem quite right (like that lowering taxes on the rich would stimulate the economy).

      Then I realized that if they had that poor a grasp on the US, they probably had an equally poor understanding of the rest of the world. It was just well-written bullshit, is all.

      So maybe you and I are just better at recognizing steaming piles as we get older and more experienced.

    • NewishLawyer

      The NY Times is still a good newspaper and does valuable front-page reporting. Front-page reporting that often gets described on LGM as a must read.

      The NY Times of 1990s still had fancy Sunday Styles and expensive Real Estate sections. My guess is that you ignored them and also did not have LGM or Gawker to go on hate-reading rants of the NY Times Sunday Styles sections.

      I don’t really get the hate reading aspect. Are there silly articles in those sections? Yes. Wanna know what I do? I don’t read those sections. I just read the front section, the Magazine, the Sunday Review, the Book Review, and Arts and Leisure. I skip sports, Sunday Styles, and business because those sections do not interest me.

      Newspapers need to make money to cover reporting or they need to become Tronc. I find that the investigative reporting done by the Times is still valuable and if the choices are between tronc and the silly Sunday Styles section. I will pick Sunday Styles.

      • Origami Isopod

        I know, right? I can’t imagine why people would love to hate reading about overprivileged fucknozzles. Truly, it is a mystery for the ages.

      • los

        I look over the business section for at least, “facebook spreads tentacles up your whatsapp…”
        If there wasn’t so much money in ‘tech’, that news would be in the main section.
        Even the “corporate” scandals are in the main section, though followup (fines) may be in business.

    • MacK

      It started with John Micklethwait I think. I remember that he quality of its coverage of the US and its accuracy went downhill when he was put in charge in the US in the early-mid 2000s and the it fell overall when he took over as editor in chief. He actually recruited Megan McArdle at one point!

      John Micklethwait has put a lot more of an ideological free market and right wing spin on the Economist. It depends very much on a network of correspondents and my impression is that Micklethwait tended to recruit them through a conservative network such that they tend to have the same views and to be sloppy about facts, and the editorial team imparted further spin that way.

      What I have come to notice is in areas where I have personal knowledge, where the Economist does do a piece, it tends to have a lot of hard factual errors, and I get the definite impression that it’s correspondents and editors tend to accept corporate and publicist spin uncritically and gullibly, in a way they used not to.

      John Micklethwait Is gone now, but his damage has not been fixed and I don’t bother reading the Economist anymore, whereas in the 70-90s I really looked for it to read.

      • Linnaeus

        I’ve thought for a long time – perhaps unfairly so – the The Economist was a nominally British magazine read mostly by Americans to make themselves feel informed and erudite.

        • N__B

          I used to read it as a “know your enemy” strategy.

          • Linnaeus

            Well, there is that.

        • Woodrowfan

          compared to Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report the Economist was freakin brilliant. Low hurdle but still.

          • Linnaeus

            That’s a fair point.

          • Hogan

            That’s how I thought of it when I read it. Newsweek written at a twelfth-grade reading level.

        • los

          A monocle-wearing Mississippi conman once told me that he read The Economist to perfect his upper-crust English accent.

          the funny thing is that…

      • Woodrowfan

        that’s too bad. it’s the only weekly where I can get a lot of world news….

  • xq

    Why would an increase in inequality result in a reduction in demand for high-priced luxury items? I would generally expect the opposite.

    • so-in-so

      The smaller number of people who have money will only buy so much of an item. How many diamonds does one person need? Could be quite a few, but still there’s a limit. A broader base of moderately well off folks won’t be buying huge diamonds, but may buy more smaller ones.

      • bender

        Not really a limit if you have sufficient occasions to wear them (see: designer evening gowns), but I agree with your point.

  • NewishLawyer

    I think it is partially about income but also changing fashions. Typical diamond rings might be seen as too traditional and conservatives by many millennials who might be into more funky forms of fashion and items.

    Plus talking about brokeness and not buying something is relative and hard. There are plenty of seemingly broke millennials (no car, roommates, student loans) who spend big money on tattoos. Tattoos that cost hundreds of dollars and they have multiple ones. This is not bad or wrong but it does show a change of fashion and purchasing priorities over “Millennials can’t afford diamonds because they are broke and the economy is horrible.”

    Plus millennials are a large group. My girlfriend is a millennial and has pretty traditional/conservatives tastes in jewelry. My mom is a boomer and likes things that are more funky (but still expensive) like Comme de Garcons or Guidi or Marsell or Maison Martin Margiella.

    My GF makes a very good income but does not generally have expensive clothing tastes (she like to spend money on travel/restaurants). Most of her friends are in the same category. I was once at a party at one of her friend’s apartments and all the guests were marveling at a roommates Heath plates and why anyone would pay that much instead of going to Ikea for furniture and plates. I got them to concede that the Heath plates were better made and had a more unique glaze than anything you can get at IKEA.

    • Linnaeus

      Sometimes you really do get what you pay for. There’s a difference between price and value.

      • skate

        A lesson D. Trump has yet to learn.

  • TribalistMeathead

    Yes, but this is one of those rare consumer goods where the production practices are exploitative AND it’s really easy to simply not purchase the good.

    I’d also add the fact that it’s far less likely to be viewed as an investment now than it was before to the list of potential reasons.

  • JR in WV

    Diamonds are the least unique stones when cut and graded. Except for the “fancy” colors they are at best identical.

    Sapphires, emeralds and rubies are far more rare, unique and valuable.

    I got Mrs J her engagement ring when we had been married for some 20-25 years. I did it by buying a loose cut emerald from a dealer in cut stones (not diamonds) who seemed trustworthy. I spent hours looking at a small group of stones with a 10x loupe.

    Then we used a pair of diamond earrings to go on each side of the emerald, and had them mounted in platinum. This was because emeralds are more fragile than any other precious stone, and platinum is far stronger than gold.

    She wears it a lot, not all the time, but certainly when we are away from home.

    • farin

      That’s what’s always gotten me about diamonds: Gems are fun. There’s this whole world of sparkly pretty things, so why would you settle on something most valued for being clear and colorless?

      What I mean is that diamonds are vodka.

      • bender

        Once upon a time, when ladies were required to have multiple pairs of gloves in different lengths for different occasions and times of the day, there were also rules about wearing colored stones.

  • rachelmap

    Pfft, diamonds. I remember shopping for a ring with my fiance back in ’95. He kept pointing out diamond engagement rings even thought I kept telling him, ‘No, besides being a source of funds for horrible people, they’re boring and I don’t care for them.” It was like he’d been brainwashed. I finally persuaded him to go with a nice solitaire peridot.

  • AB

    “It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re forty.” — Breakfast at Tiffany’s

  • mikeSchilling

    Is it safe?

    • Hogan


  • LosGatosCA

    My guess is that the jewelry stores selling the diamonds are not disruptive enough.

    I’ve applied for a patent on an app that allows prospective diamond purchasers to specify their specific diamond needs and within 30 minutes an Uber driver with a Sprinter with a mobile showroom will show up to take care of their needs.

    The jewelry will be 75% off, the driver only gets paid a commission if the customer buys a piece. All sales are tax free because we don’t pay any tax unless the cops hjack the sprinter.

    And as a final clincher all jewelry is certified to be 24 carat gold or pure platinum designed by Harry Winston.

    I’m entertaining immediate angel funding at a valuation of $5B. Send me your offshore account info and we can get you in on the deal at a lower valuation ($4B) – but act fast, the ginzu knifes this once in a lifetime investment opportunity won’t last.

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