08 July 2016

Why aren't millennials buying diamonds?

link to original tweet @TheEconomist
Earlier this week, The Economist magazine asked the Twittersphere a question: Why aren't millennials buying diamonds?

Unsurprisingly, this question generated a lot of (angry) feedback.

If you actually follow the links to the different articles that The Economist has published, it becomes clear that the authors have a few answers to why "the diamond industry is being upended," as a later tweet explained. In one link, the threat to the diamond industry comes from the production of new synthetic and conflict-free diamonds. According to a similar story,
In 2003 the diamond industry responded to concerns that sales of illicit stones were being used to finance warfare in Africa by launching the Kimberley Process certification scheme. This was designed to make diamonds traceable, but focuses only on the ones that pay for rebel armies. Man-made diamonds spare millennials and others the headache of worrying that they are supporting human-rights abuses under repressive regimes such as Zimbabwe’s. Adding Hollywood glamour to the moral appeal is Leonardo DiCaprio, an investor in a synthetic-diamonds startup.
Yes, ethical consumption practices do play an important role in why millennials aren't buying diamonds. But, to think that ethical consumerism (and the new choice to purchase ethical synthetic stones) is the only reason, certainly does not provide a holistic answer. It also completely bypasses the question of 'value' that anthropologist Andrew Walsh has written about in relation to 'authentic' versus 'synthetic' sapphires...

What is interesting is that neither of The Economist's stories pick up on the threads that irate millennial tweeters rightly drew into the conversation. Such threads are picked up by an article for The Daily Beast (Lacking Sparkle: Why Have Millennials Fallen Out of Love With Diamonds?): Russell Shor, senior industry analyst at the Gemological Institute of America, said that the decline of diamond sales in the US
"is because of the different priorities of twentysomethings. “People in the millennial generation need to save more. If you’re a young person trying to buy a house in this market where housing prices have risen and wages still haven’t caught up, obviously you aren’t thinking about buying really expensive diamonds.”"
In the classroom, posing The Economist's question: "why aren't millennials buying diamonds?" might be a useful discussion question to open broader conversation about a number of important topics, such as: ethical consumerism, the idea of authenticity and value, or how the relative poverty of millennials compared to their parents is actually part of the same global economic system that has lead to the production of conflict diamonds.

Quick links and further reading: