LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Diamonds have been sold to us for years as the ultimate aspirational item, from Marilyn...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND")
MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) But square cut or pear shaped, these rocks don't lose their shape. Diamonds are a girl's best friend.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To James Bond himself...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER")
SHIRLEY BASSEY: (Singing) Diamonds are forever. Hold one up and then caress it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...To the company that has the global monopoly on diamonds.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) The diamond engagement ring - how else could two months' salary last forever? A diamond is forever.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's often the biggest purchase someone will make after a car and a home. But these days, people ain't buying it - for real. There is a crisis in the diamond industry with sales nosediving. And here to explain why is Lara Ewen. She's covered the diamond industry for a long time. Welcome.
LARA EWEN: Hi. Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Remind us why we have loved diamonds for so long.
EWEN: Well, humans are drawn to things that are pretty and shiny. And we also love things that give us this idea of permanence. And we also love to commemorate things. We love this idea of having a token of an occasion. So we love the symbolism of it. But people are not as enthusiastic about diamonds as they used to be. And it is showing in the marketplace.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess now comes the question why? In my head because, that is, I think what's been put in there, I imagine the person buying a diamond is a older, white man, but that's not the case anymore. So who is buying diamonds now?
EWEN: Well, you are imagining what many retailers are still imagining, that the general diamond consumer is an older white man who has an income in, say, over a hundred thousand dollars who is buying it for a woman. And that is still where a lot of the marketing is, you know, being targeted. The current consumer, especially the bridal consumer, is a lot younger, and we're talking about millennials and now Gen Z.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And you write part of the problem is that this is an industry steeped in tradition. It's very opaque, and it relies on word of mouth. It's basically a male-dominated industry selling something to women.
EWEN: And there's a distance built in traditional diamond sales where you walk into a store, there is often a very thick, big counter between you and the salesperson, the salesperson possibly stares you down and says, how can we help you? And you're expected to know the answer to that question, even though diamonds are very complicated. It's a very different relationship from a lot of stores and a lot of retail interactions.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How seriously is the industry then looking at this and saying, OK, we need to change?
EWEN: I do know that many stores, many retailers, are blaming the customer instead of looking inwardly and saying, what's wrong? So when I talk to retailers, I hear them say, well, the customer does this or the customer is coming in with a lot of wrong information or I just don't understand the customer or they're always buying online. And I think it would be retail 101 to say don't get angry at your customer if they're not shopping in your store. Maybe look at yourself.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so what do you think will happen next? I mean, De Beers isn't doing very well. And, you know, a lot of retail stores are closing.
EWEN: There are several things that have to happen. I can't tell you what will happen. But in order for the diamond industry to find some sense of balance, it's going to need to understand that its customer today is not the same as its customer 20 years ago and that it's going to need to start meeting its customer where the customer is. That means online. And it also means saying, we understand that this is what you're looking for and not we're going to force you to look at the things we have available.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have a diamond ring?
EWEN: I do not.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) That answer surprised me. That was Lara Ewen. Her article on diamonds is called "Rock Bottom: Tracing The Decline In Diamond Retail." Thank you very much.
EWEN: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.