The line “A diamond is forever” was written in 1948 by Frances Gerety, a New York copywriter, for De Beers Consolidated Mines. For over 70 years, De Beers has enriched and protected that promise, even creating desire for diamonds in cultures where no traditions existed, like Japan. Always inventing new ways of making a product which defies change seem fresh.
Part of De Beers’ brilliance has always been to sustain demand over time, protecting diamonds from the shock of economic collapse. Mines demand the long view. Producing countries require certainty, the security of reliable revenue across the electoral cycle.
In 1997, the Asian recession hit. Within months, the market vanished. In Indonesia, for example, elite jewellery stores which displayed five- or ten-carat gems soon only had photographs of jewels in their windows with the lights turned off. In order to protect consumer confidence, rough diamond sales and the prosperity of more than one sub-Saharan nation, De Beers needed to increase desire in the West to compensate for the disappearance of the East.
Which meant the USA (around 50% of the world’s polished diamonds are sold there) had to pick up the slack. Not by brides (not even the mighty De Beers could influence demographics to that extent) but by persuading married couples that now was the perfect time for the next, not the first diamond, despite the financial headlines. This brief, given to David as the Worldwide Director in Charge of De Beers $200 million account at J Walter Thompson, had an extra kicker. The urgency of the need combined with the nervousness of the jewellery trade to suggest that the answer, in product terms at least, had to lie in existing inventory. A brand new concept for the already familiar, delivered with impact.
Forensic research into the motivations of couples in the USA revealed one rather striking deficiency in the current product line-up; the “eternity band” was seen simply to reiterate the language of the engagement ring, presented more as a long-service award rather than a more subtle or emotional statement about your relationship and how it has grown.
“You look backwards as well as forwards. And then you look at each other.”
In the process of creative exploration following the research, David created a simple proposition. Three diamonds, three points in time. Expressed as “For your past, your present and your future.” Neatly retrofitted over any piece with three diamonds (the three stone ring had languished in inventory for decades), this seemed a powerful and particular re-articulation of foreverness, aimed squarely at the largest target and open enough to engage jewellers at any level of the trade, Winston and Walmart alike. It felt true. Indeed, in further consumer research, some women always claimed to have seen the thought before, useful proof of acceptance in a category where novelty can be dismissed as gimmickry.
The “three stone” concept and campaign raced across Western markets, a self-expanding idea which recruited manufacturers, jewellers, diamond-loving women and the men who love them into its simplicity. Asian weakness was offset by De Beers’ largest launch ever, a big new idea for an old product, creating the next classic. Later analysis showed that within 3 years, this category represented around 20% of the entire US market, with at least 50% of those sales deemed incremental.
David’s later successes with and for De Beers include the global campaign for the Millennium which included an audacious product placement at midnight in the Millennium Dome. Hundreds of millions of people around the world saw the first light of the new century filtered through the De Beers Millennium Star, a flawless 203 carat gem. His failures include not selling the De Beers Millennium Star to Michael Jackson. But he did try.