Chinese brides choose diamonds over gold

Chinese brides choose diamonds over gold
A couple selects diamond rings at a Tiffany store in Shanghai, September 16, 2013.

SHANGHAI - Under a black-and-white framed photo of the New York skyline, in the private bridal salon at Tiffany & Co's flagship Shanghai store, while white roses and love poems set the mood for China's Romeo to pop the question to his Juliet.

The room, dotted with splashes of the jeweler's iconic eggshell blue, has been busy of late, as young Chinese, drawn by the allure of diamonds, increasingly choose the sparkling gems over traditional gold baubles to mark their marriage vows.

China's diamond market, now the world's second largest after the United States, has more than tripled to US$22.8 billion (S$29 million) over the last five years, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor, steadily gobbling up market share from gold and far outstripping the growth rate in China's 465 billion yuan (S$96 million) jewellery sector.

"(In China) we now have more and more young people making their declarations and proposal ceremonies within our bridal rooms," said Stephane Lafay, Tiffany's head of Asia Pacific and Japan, who said couples were attracted to the romantic image of the jeweler's well-known "little blue box".

At the centre of the trend are China's 13 million brides each year, who are increasingly demanding diamonds.

"All along, my husband and I always thought that we would buy a diamond ring, so it never crossed my mind he might not. I think I'd have been pretty cross if he hadn't," said Zhou Lijuan, 27, an accountant in a state-owned company in Shanghai, with a 50,000 yuan (US$8,200) diamond ring.

To be sure, gold is still hugely popular in China, both as jewellery and as an investment. The World Gold Council said earlier this year that China was set to challenge India's position as the world's top gold consumer, with 2013 demand soaring more than 20 per cent to 1,000 tonnes.

But diamonds have steadily increased as a share of China's overall jewellery market, accounting for just under one third now from one quarter five years ago, according to Euromonitor. This has propelled Greater China, including Hong Kong, to the second largest diamond jewellery market after the United States, according to Bain & Co, and along with India, it is expected to be the main driver of growth for the $72 billion global market.

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