Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, and that’s especially true of female millennials in China.
According to diamond-producing giant De Beers SA, 68 percent of diamond jewelry sales in China ($6.78 billion in 2015) are driven by millennial women, many of whom are college-educated, not married and quickly cultivating a collection of the gems. Bloomberg spoke with one 27-year-old Chinese woman who, like many of her peers, has a 15-plus-piece diamond collection including a 2.5-carat solitaire given to her by her parents.
The fact that she’s not married is part of the trend to — as she said — not wait passively for a diamond gift from a man. For Chinese millennial women, independence is the top trait they aspire to: More than 40 percent of them say financial independence is more important than marriage, with 32 percent saying that independence is what personal success looks like to them. That’s according to research by J. Walter Thompson surveying 4,300 women across nine countries in 2015. Some jewelry companies have made a conscious decision to not even show any couples at all in their advertisements.
In the top four diamond markets in the world, there are more than 220 million millennial women who spent $26 billion on diamond jewelry last year. Behind China is India but after a significant drop, followed by the U.S and then Japan. Within this four-country demographic, more diamonds have been acquired than any other generation, and yet the demographic hasn’t even come into their most affluent years.
The diamond industry knows this and sees it at a sparkling opportunity.
Compared to their Chinese mothers who historically bought jade and gold, these millennial women are struck by the western lifestyle that includes the glamour of Harry Winston and Tiffany gems. Having those diamonds is a status signal of wealth and accomplishment, rather than love. As a result, more jewelry companies have popped up in China trying to get their share of the desire. Boston-based Hearts on Fire was usurped in 2014 by Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook, grabbing nearly 6 percent market share.
But it’s not just about status, as the gems are seen as assets that will not depreciate in the way that other high-end items like bags and shoes can due to wear and seasonality.
Chow Tai Fook has noticed this by rolling out lines of jewelry that mix gold with diamonds to make sure their female millennials — half the business — stay engaged, and it has also pulled in celebrities like hunky actor Li Min-ho and rapper G-Dragon — both millennials — to appeal to these women.
But even with diamond jewelry being a sign of independence, the divorce rate in China is more than triple what it was back in 2002 — currently 2.8 per 1,000 people, back just 14 years ago it was 0.9 per that same thousand. More than 3.84 couples went their separate ways in 2015, which is 5.6 percent more than 2014.
But those diamonds are still forever, even if marriage isn’t or has never even happened yet. And diamond companies know this. De Beers research cites the American trend of couples spending more on their second marriage than on their first. Experts say those Chinese millennials may follow suit as well.