Diamonds, regarded by many as a girl’s best friend, are somehow losing their glamour, although in the words of one of world’s most famous marketing slogans, they are supposed to be forever. The reason, I reckon, is that commercial diamonds are not a good investment should you need to recover their original purchase value. Only ones that retain their worth are exceptional diamonds which are normally beyond the means of ordinary people. No wonder a growing fashion for engagement rings with coloured stones such as rubies and emeralds are threatening their pre-eminence.
When Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter, coined the ‘forever’ slogan in 1947, she helped establish diamonds as a must-have accessory. That, coupled with the De Beers Diamond Company’s marketing campaign which invented the rule that ‘a man ought to spend at least two month’s pay on his fiancé’s engagement ring’, reinforced the cache that diamonds as a gift of rare and eternal beauty.
But experts say that the rise of the millennials with their most cost-conscious and individualistic shopping habits, and their demands for ethical products, has led to diamonds losing their sparkle. Research by insurance company Allianz shows that most men now fork out far less than two to three months’ pay on a stone, the average spend being now £573.
With cheaper emeralds and rubies growing in popularity, the study found that just one in five women can expect to receive a ring costing between £750 and £3,000. Anusha Couttigane, a senior analyst at Kantar Retail said: ‘A generation of marital age people are now prioritising other things such as weddings, housing and the cost of having children, rather than splashing out on a really expensive ring… There is still a lot of demand for solitaire diamond rings but there has been growth in non-traditional designs which use a range of cheaper coloured stones.’
At the same time, tastes have changed and coloured stones are seen as a more individualistic and distinctive alternative. Joanna Hardy, a jewellery expert for the BBC’s Antiques Road Show said: ‘The great thing about coloured stones is that you can buy something fabulously looking and most people will have no idea how much that it cost. This is a big selling point for people who perhaps don’t have much to spend…Young people have a tendency to choose unique or unusual rings, which they see as reflecting their personality.’
Ethical shopping has also dented the market for the traditional rock with Leonard de Caprio’s film Blood Diamond alerting consumers to the human cost of diamond mining and the conflicts that the trade fuels.
Jewellers, including the high-end designer Chopard, are now promoting ‘traceable’ emeralds. In 2013 Chopard launched its ‘green carpet collection’, the first high-end jewellery range made with fair mined gold and ethically sourced diamonds. More recently it has partnered with Gemfields, whose Zambian emeralds were worn by Julianne Moore at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Meanwhile, the growing number of second marriages has led to a boom in second-hand and antique rings which tend to be around half the price of new ones. The number of marriages has been rising since 2013, partly due to a growing number of couples in their late 50s and 60s getting hitched for a second or third time. A spokesman for John Lewis said: ‘Second-hand engagement rings are increasing in popularity particularly with people getting married later in life or for the second time. They are often looking for a simple design having chosen a large stone or statement ring for the first time.’ Sloane Square based jewellery designer Kiki McDonough added: ‘There is a huge trend to choose coloured stones for an engagement particularly for second time marriages as people are looking for something totally different.’
Perhaps it’s just as well. The supply of new diamonds, formed more than a billion years ago by huge geological forces beneath the earth’s surface, is expected to peak in the next few years before it starts to decline. Diamonds, it seems, really aren’t for ever.
Apart from anything else, I find coloured stones more exotic than diamonds, with life-enhancing glow to give you a feeling of joie de vivre when the darker side of life invades your all-embracing protective environment.