Welcome to another blog from Michael Gabriels.
Fashion trends come and go, and jewelry is no different. While there is a “natural” seasonal shift, and the cyclical desire for the new and unique and artistically innovative; the CoronaVirus pandemic, supply chain issues, various conflicts and societal changes over the last year have influenced trends drastically. Here’s what we’re seeing now.
Trend 1: Women are spending more on diamonds
Ok this first one might not sound shocking, but despite Marylin Monroe’s eternal expression all the way back in the 60’s, and though women have been buying diamonds since they were available to be bought, widespread spending on diamonds by women in the United States is a relatively new trend that was amplified in the last year.
Women are rising as major, or even primary spenders on diamonds in the US as women's wages and more non-traditional and independent lifestyles are on the rise. Women are also more and more likely to spend on a diamond for themselves, as the “Love & Forever” aspect of diamond attraction is increasingly being applied for personal gifting or other non-traditional recipients of diamond jewelry, and as women invest in stones as a symbol of financial independence.
“We’re seeing more diamonds as self-gifts for important career moves, birthdays and celebrations, and to friends and loved ones that aren’t romantic partners.” says Michael, here at Michael Gabriels. “We’re seeing a lot more women buying- for themselves or someone else, but we see more women footing the bill than we did before the pandemic.”
Women are also likely to spend more than men- up to 33% more on diamonds, favoring aesthetics and design over size. In 2022 the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s Wage Tracker reported wage growth for US women was up 4.4% as compared with 4.1% for men, in a continuing trend closing the median weekly earnings gap. Women in the US earn 83.1% compared to men, up from 62% in 1979 when tracking began. As that gap closes, more and more women are in a position of ability and motivation to buy diamonds for themselves and others.
It is a reflection of the changing market, and a societal redefinition of whether and how gender plays a role in purchase, taste and design. Buying diamonds for themselves is seen by many as a symbol of female empowerment. To a certain extent, modern society is asking the question: why does a man need to get on one knee for a woman to deserve fine pieces of jewelry, and is that essentially the ‘end all be all’ of diamonds for the average American?
Trend 2: Lab Grown Diamonds
Both men and women are gravitating towards Lab grown diamonds, which offer more carats per dollar, and have more social popularity for their perceived ethical and environmental superiority to mined diamonds.
LGD production reached up to 7 million carats in 2020 compared with 53 million carats of earth-grown diamonds. That's even more impressive when you consider many more carats of polished diamond come from lab grown gems as opposed to mined diamonds, which tend to lose more carat waste in polishing than their lab grown counterparts. And recently one of the largest mining operations- Argyl in Australia- was closed, along with dozens of other mines across the world this year and scheduled to close soon, reducing mined diamond supply.
The continuing advances in laboratory production of diamonds are allowing more market access to larger stones of higher qualities, giving Gen Z and Millennial buyers a chance to outdo their parents in at least one thing in life aside from the number of music festivals they attend. A 2019 Bain report gave the Lab grown diamond industry a growth rate between 15-20% for 2019, following a similar trend from the year before. Demand and production have since grown still more. The report noted, “the widening price differential of lab-grown diamonds versus natural ones and campaigns that leveraged the ‘green’ benefits of manufactured stones,” has contributed directly to this shift and that “select jewelry designers and retailers are beginning to use lab-grown diamonds, signaling their acceptance and driving lab-grown jewelry sales.”
This comes as two major shifts in the diamond industry propel it further towards lab-grown dominance. The first is the availability of rough natural diamonds. While diamond scarcity was manipulated and inflated during the 20th century, it is now becoming a reality as mines across the world close due to lack of pay-dirt, or due to the rising cost per carat of extraction. Many believe that peak mining production was reached years ago, and while new kimberlites are being found across the world, rising costs of extraction as well as the second shift (discussed below) in the diamond industry are making them largely unworthy investments. The first commercial diamond mine in the US in a century didn't last a decade, despite high quality ore, and no other commercial enterprises are currently active.
That second shift is in consumer practices. The United States accounts for almost 50% of global diamond sales annually, and while international diamond purchases are on the rise - for example over 50% of chinese brides today have a diamond ring as opposed to 3% at the end of the 20th century- US consumers are increasingly using their purchase power as a social, cultural and even political vote, a vote often against mined diamonds. Lab grown diamonds have been marketed against mined diamonds by emphasizing the environmental and social benefits they allow. No mined diamond could ever be carbon negative, and in addition to many companies already going carbon neutral, diamond producers today are working on extracting carbon out of the atmosphere to make their gems, using only renewable energy in the process- a completely carbon negative footprint. There will be more on this in future blogs.
In addition, consumers are largely ignoring or even insulted by the notion put forward by major diamond miners like Debeers that LGD are for “the masses” while the admittedly rarer and more exploitive mined diamonds are for the “classes.” The question on many minds today is: who cares to be proud of that? They’ve all got the same sparkle, after all.
Lab grown diamonds have gained popularity not for publicity stunts and thrills, but because they adhere to a societal values shift in a reasonably affordable way. It's hard to argue against the feelings of satisfaction, altruism and frugality simultaneously derived from a single product.
Trend 3: Commitment
We aren’t ready to call this post-pandemic, but certainly many people are glad to be through the nightmarish experience of wuhan, delta and omicron variants, and ready to put life on track again; towards a new reality, but at least a familiar one, and one that isn't alone. People are going back to the office, entertainment and dining venues in droves, and there will be more people committing to each other this year than any since 1984. That's right! Weddings, Weddings and more Weddings! According to The Wedding Report, a market research firm, 2022 will host an estimated 2.5 million weddings in the US! This is up from the 2.1 million average we saw for the past decade, and the massive pandemic-caused dip last year.
The New York Times even has a special series in its fashion section called “Year of the Wedding.”
Trend 4: Radiant Cuts
The last trend we will be discussing in this article ( more to follow) is the rise in popularity of the Radiant Cut. Along with Oval cuts that began rising in popularity a few years ago, Radiant cuts bring multiple attributes of various other cuts together.
Again Michael at Michael Gabriels: “We love the brilliance and fire in a Radiant cut, and how it still has that edgy feel. It's the best of so many cuts all together in one, but it doesn’t always receive as much attention as Round or Oval cuts- until it’s on your finger, then it grabs all the attention in the room.”
Unlike the popular Emerald cut, which is now over a century old and whose geometric design accentuates the clarity and luster of the gem, Radiant cuts are more angular, developed in the last 50 years to maximize the scintillation and brilliance properties of the diamond. If Emerald cuts are moonlight on a clear stream, Radiant cuts are sunlight on crushed ice. They both play with hot and cold expressions, but end up delivering almost polar experiences.