In 1947, copywriter Frances Gerety invented the tagline “A diamond is forever” on behalf of South Africa’s De Beers Group. Dubbed the “slogan of the century”, the strapline has been in use ever since, tapping consumers’ desire to own a timeless, precious symbol of love.
“It has survived because ‘a diamond is forever’ summarises that sense of commitment and bond,” says Stephen Lussier, De Beers’ executive in charge of marketing. The marketing prowess of De Beers, which at one point controlled 90pc of the diamond market, cemented the ritual of buying a diamond engagement ring in people’s minds. But since 2000, the industry has undergone profound change.
In a bid to operate freely in the US, De Beers bowed to antitrust pressure and surrendered its monopoly on diamond sales. It now oversees around 34pc of rough diamond sales worldwide and a new set of players such as Petra, Gem and Lucara have emerged.
At the same time, the Kimberley Process is working to stamp out sales of “blood diamonds” from conflict zones, while producers and retailers are grappling with changing attitudes. A diamond may be forever, but consumers are not. Can the industry win over a generation of “millennials” with very different demands and expectations?
Despite wobbles in the last few years, the diamond business has retained its lustre. Global revenue slipped 2pc to $79bn (£59bn) in 2015; slumping demand from China, previously one of the world’s fastest growing markets, resulted in an oversupply of demands and a crunch in prices. De Beers, now 85pc owned by Anglo American, took the unusual step of holding back supply to support prices.
It sold 39pc fewer diamonds last year, but could not escape a 58pc drop in earnings. Nonetheless De Beers remains the largest producer of diamonds by value, followed by Russian giant Alrosa; Rio Tinto, Dominion and Petra follow some way behind the big two.
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