Behold! Singer Nicki Minaj’s three-month-old son wearing one of her diamond watches: a $400k Patek. Facing internet outrage, Ms. Minaj removed the image from Instagram, replacing it with a snap of an unadorned sprog (below). The shout out to her 126m followers displayed a callous disregard for hardships suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Does it also signal the end of the diamond watch trend? . . .
In my pre-pandemic post Class Warfare: The Hidden Threat to the Luxury Watch Business, I explored the possibility that economic resentment could kill the sales of ostentatious watches. I suggested that social justice warriors might make flashy watches a symbol of economic injustice.
With some social scientists predicting a post-pandemic “roaring twenties” – a new age of consumer/lifestyle excess – that prediction may miss the mark. Then again, a drastic economic downturn caused by unbridled government spending, pestilence or plague could fan those class-warfare flames.
But there’s another factor in play, one that protects the diamond watch industry against becoming a symbol of income inequality: race. Diamond watch bling is politically correct – on the right person.
Imagine the outrage that would have greeted the offending Instagram image if the child in the Fendi onesie was a white baby belonging to, say, Melissa Benoist (a.k.a., Supergirl), a wholesome, blond-haired, green-and-blue-eyed white woman from a relatively “normal” background?
The words WHITE PRIVILEGE and CULTURAL APPROPRIATION would have erupted on social media. Which is one reason why you don’t see that sort of image on Ms. Benoist’s Instagram account. And why Patek Philippe’s whiter-than-white, wealth-is-inherited advertising campaign – which once lured the captains of industry and trustafarians– is as likely to make a comeback as pet rocks.
Meanwhile, it’s entirely socially acceptable for people of color to flaunt extreme wealth: exotic cars, mansions, yachts, private jets, designer clothes, expensive champagne and fabulously expensive jewelry, including diamond watches.
Their wealth is accepted as a triumph over racism. An inspiration to the tens of millions of average people – of all races – who aspire to a similarly exalted level of wealth. Which, in modern society, equals success.
The free pass given POC to revel in the expensive goodies enabled by their success is also tied to the cult of celebrity – which enables white pop stars and athletes to share in the practice of self-promotion by consumer consumption.
Justin Beiber’s diamond watch collection may not be over-the-top (he is Canadian), but it earns him no social media brickbats. The question here: why should any of this change? Well-heeled POC are the best thing that ever happened to diamond watches, widening their appeal from ladies’ timepieces to baller-wear.
Again, a severe economic downturn would make obvious displays of wealth – like the one on Nicki Minaj’s Instagram account – seem callous, insensitive, obnoxious, odious and offensive.
And now that fur coats are considered an abomination – except on rappers – attention could turn to celebrities who wear a diamond watch. Yes, the shame would “even” fall on POC. Yeah, about those fur coats . . .
The campaign to ostracize fur wearers was not linked to the economy. PETA and others attacked fur coats on the grounds of animal cruelty. The fact that they were worn by wealthy woman was a bonus. By the same token, buying and wearing diamonds is attacked on the basis of “third world” exploitation. The fact that wealthy people wear a diamond watch is a bonus.
Just as there are companies claiming “humanely harvested” fur, there are “ethically sourced” and “conflict-free” diamonds. Patek Philippe and their peers make no mention of their sparklers’ source – indicating that there’s no appreciable “blood diamond watch” backlash. Yet. If there was the watchmakers would adopt and advertise those “ethical” practices. But by then, the social acceptability of diamond watches would be on its way out (especially in Hollywood and the LA music scene).
There are dark clouds on the diamond watch horizon. I reckon they’ll pass by harmlessly; conspicuous consumption may hide itself a way for a while, but it always comes back.
The diamond watch will remain the “ultimate horological status symbol.” Unless the diamond cartel finally losing its grip, sending prices into the basement, making diamonds widely available, removing their cachet. Diamond-encrusted baby wear could the next big thing – at Kmart! How great is that?