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02 october 2017

By Abraham Dayan

De Beers may have arrived at the party a little late, but nonetheless new research that it published in its latest Diamond Insight Report provides detailed evidence about the rapidly changing role of women as diamond jewelry buyers. The research talks about "shifting relationship dynamics, women’s expanding roles in society and changing perceptions of femininity" which are creating "new motivations for diamond jewelry acquisitions".

The language might sound somewhat high level, but the bottom line is that women have, for some years, been buying their own jewelry rather than waiting for a man to acquire it for them – and that trend is continuing apace.

Women accounted for around 25 percent of all diamond purchases in 2016, or around $20 billion of purchases in the four main markets of the US, China, Japan and India, according to the De Beers report. In the US and Japan, it is largely married women who are buying diamonds for themselves, whereas in the greater China region it's single and mature women who are the main buyers. There is one common feature among the self buying females from these three markets, however, and that is that they are, for the most part, aged over 35, De Beers said.

The percentage of women who buy diamonds for themselves is particularly high in Hong Kong – at 55 percent – as the city has a high non-marriage rate. “Hong Kong women are more economically independent than men,” said Tang Xiaotang, founder of luxury retail consultancy Nofashion. “The reason for women to shop for diamonds has changed,” he said. “Now it is more like ‘I love myself’ rather than ‘a man loves me’.” More than half of all diamonds sold in Hong Kong last year were bought by women for themselves, the highest proportion among the top four diamond markets, according to the study by De Beers.

When it comes to buying motivations, Chinese women are more easily influenced by their emotions, with celebration of relationships and personal milestones topping the list of reasons behind their self purchases, while Japanese women buy more on impulse, the study found. Meanwhile, De Beers Group CEO Bruce Cleaver comments: “As marriage comes later, women are buying or receiving diamonds for other occasions before marriage.”

The Diamond Insight Report 2017 highlights the emergence of three key trends that De Beers has identified as having a direct impact on how and why people buy diamond jewelry:

1. Changes to family and personal relationships are leading to diamond jewelry being purchased and given to symbolize a wider range of ‘moments’ in a life beyond those directly connected to relationship milestones. As marriage generally comes later in life, and as it is seen as a union between two equal individuals, women are receiving diamonds for multiple occasions both before and after marriage. Alongside traditional relationship milestones, diamond jewelry is increasingly being bought to celebrate occasions such as a new job, a promotion and personal achievements more broadly.

2. Women’s increased economic participation and higher earnings are supporting growth in women buying diamond jewelry for themselves. More than a quarter of women’s diamond jewelry bought in 2016 in each of the four main consumer nations (the US, China, Japan and India), representing more than $18 billion in value, was acquired through the self-purchase route. In Hong Kong, female self-purchase accounts for the majority of diamond jewelry sales.

3. A new perception of femininity is emerging that is more closely associated with strength and confidence, alongside more traditional attributes such as caring and nurturing. This is leading to diamonds being purchased to symbolize a wider range of emotions, such as joy, optimism and pride, and to the emergence of a new class of consumer: the mature single woman. Meanwhile, feminine success is increasingly being defined through qualities such as uniqueness and personal meaningfulness, and there is an enhanced focus on the importance of experiences, leading to greater interest in purchases that can reflect these characteristics.

De Beers' Cleaver said: “These societal and economic changes will have direct consequences for a wide range of industries, but they are especially exciting for the diamond sector. As diamonds are among the most powerfully symbolic purchases, as they lend themselves to individual design, and as they are effectively a hybrid of product and experience, the new trends present a major opportunity to build on the existing base of demand.

“While the giving of diamond jewelry as a token of love and commitment continues to constitute the majority of purchases, it’s encouraging to see these additional sources of demand emerge. It’s also great to see women buying more diamond jewelry for themselves in recognition of their achievements, or simply because they want to and they can. The diamond industry now needs to focus on what female consumers are telling us about how they feel about diamonds and make sure that products and buying experiences match their expectations.”

The publication of the De Beers research followed soon after a new study by the Diamond Producers Association which found that millennial women are looking for ‘the real deal,’ with nearly 9 in 10 (89 percent) identifying the need for authenticity when buying luxury items such as diamonds. This provides more encouraging evidence that the millennial market is open to acquiring diamond jewelry. "Despite living in a world of fast-fashion and unlimited choices, they crave the opposite," the DPA said. "This sentiment is apparent in the 'buy less, buy better' mentality prevalent today."

The survey of almost 1,000 millennial women was commissioned to understand the relationship between women and luxury goods. Not only do millennial women express a preference for authenticity in luxury goods, the survey also found they prefer fewer and finer items – with 94 percent of the highest earning millennials expressing a preference for one more expensive item that is genuine, over lots of cheaper ones – again evidence that jewelry could certainly be an option for them.

“Millennial consumers in particular are defining luxury beyond price,” said Deborah Marquardt, Chief Marketing Officer of the Diamond Producers Association. “When evaluating luxury purchases, they seek items that are genuine, unique and not mass-produced, and have inherent meaning and value. This preference speaks directly to the diamond promise - in an increasingly artificial world diamonds remain authentic, rare and precious.”

The survey also contained other important findings regarding modern women and luxury goods, such as diamonds:

• Long term value – emotionally and financially. 75 percent of millennial women see diamond jewelry as an investment in themselves and 82 percent see diamond jewelry as a long-term investment; among the highest earning millennials ($150,000+) these numbers jump to 94 percent and 91 percent, respectively. These stats help explain why millennial self-purchase of diamonds continues to grow, with a recent De Beers report showing self-purchase by U.S. millennials accounted for 31 percent of all non-bridal diamond sales in 2015, compared with 25 percent in 2013.

• Pride in the legitimacy of goods purchased. Nearly 9 in 10 (89 percent) millennial women look for authenticity when purchasing diamonds and luxury items, and this desire for authenticity is even greater among high-earning millennials, with 85 percent saying they would be embarrassed knowing that they own a knock-off, especially for luxury items.

• Expression of self-confidence. Luxury goods offer modern women a way to visually express their self-confidence – with 2 in 3 (66 percent) millennial women saying they feel more confident in themselves when wearing diamond jewelry.

As De Beers points out, the trend of female self-purchasing will continue to grow. Rising female jewelry self-purchasing is coinciding with historic numbers of financially independent women who have more disposable cash available than ever before. They are proud of their independence and want firm evidence for their own self-satisfaction. Women today are more financially independent than ever before, and they also trust their own taste rather than that of their partner or spouse. And they also want jewelry that suits their business attire. In addition, they are buying themselves jewelry as tangible evidence of their career success.

“Women make better purchases for themselves than men do,” said one jewelry designer. “You don't send your boyfriend or husband to buy you a dress because you don't know what he might come back with. The same principle applies to jewelry.”

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