Change and Opportunity In the “I DO” Market

This year, just like last, about 2,400,000 couples will be married. For most, the wedding will follow an engagement (typically after a 13-month gap) and include the usual marriage traditions – an exchange of rings along with the vows, rehearsals, guests, gifts, flowers, parties and honeymoons.

But there’ll also be some changes, a few brand new and others reflecting shifts in tastes and demographics that have been a few years in the making.

Compare 1998’s weddings with, say, those of 1993 or 1994 and some changes stand out. Platinum’s new prominence for engagement and wedding rings is one of the more noticeable. There’s also a trend to more fancy cuts in the engagement diamond. Particularly for second marriages, there’s significant use of colored gemstones with or instead of the traditional diamond. There’s a move to the more “personalized” wedding, with an accompanying desire for more personalized wedding jewelry. Though most couples still favor a traditional wedding, the informality of the jeans-and-sweater set laps over into some marriage ceremonies. And 1998’s brides are likely to list such non-traditional items in their registries as lawn mowers and gas grills along with the time-honored china, crystal and flatware.

Perhaps the biggest changes of all are demographic. Today’s brides and grooms are older, both are likely to hold full-time jobs and they’re willing to spend more to make their wedding a stand-out affair. One sign of more open-handed spending: De Beers’ campaign to promote the two-months’ salary guideline on what to pay for an engagement ring appears to be paying off handsomely.

The move to platinum. Changes in attitudes and practices have a direct impact on jewelry manufacturers. “We’re producing more platinum rings than ever,” reports Cap D’Amato, vice president of sales for Frederick Goldman Inc. “Platinum pieces accented with 18k gold are an extremely popular category because they offer the couple the versatility of color that a one-tone piece does not.” D’Amato also notes a trend to better-quality diamonds in engagement and wedding rings and a new willingness among grooms to wear a diamond wedding band.

Columbia Diamond Ring, Mike Mendelson & Associates, Ambar Diamonds, Martin Flyer and Stuller Settings are among other suppliers who see a significant shift to platinum. Stuller has enjoyed much success with its three platinum “starter sets” – special price-package selections of platinum jewelry, including one for the bride.

It’s no surprise that credit for the platinum surge goes to the Platinum Guild International USA with its diverse and year-round promotions and advertising. In a recent report, the Guild says that:

  • In 1997, 30% of surveyed brides-to-be said they preferred platinum for wedding jewelry Ñ double the percentage of the year before Ñ and 15% received platinum engagement rings.

  • An additional 47% said they had considered platinum for wedding jewelry and 52% said their grooms wanted platinum wedding bands, a 41% increase.

  • Just over half of all brides who received platinum engagement rings chose all platinum, an 86% increase.

Gary Flyer of Martin Flyer sums up the change this way: “The biggest trend [in wedding jewelry], and it is huge, is the shift to platinum.”

The engagement diamond: The solitaire still rules the roost. “Traditional is still in,” says ArtCarved’s Barry Sullivan. “The round cut is the most popular but there’s an increase in baguettes, marquises and channel settings.” Eleanor Lipp of Stuller Settings also says the solitaire stays a clear number one, but she sees increasing popularity for fancy cuts, particularly the princess. Len Rosenkrantz at Columbia Diamond Ring reports “more and more requests for princess and trillion cuts,” although, once again, the round remains number one.

Diane Vunic of Suna Bros offers an interesting reason why consumers are favoring different-shaped diamonds. “The consumer is requesting an item that also can serve as a family heirloom, something to be handed down to [the bride’s] children and the children’s children,” she says. “This means that the styles they are opting for are more classic in design and more tailored. This has brought on a large demand for baguette and emerald cut stones and jewelry that is tailored to fit the long, clean lines of the gemstone’s shape.”

A bigger change is in color, not shape. Tony Deves at Kabana finds that older couples going into a second marriage don’t want to repeat the traditional diamond ring they had the first time around, so they go for unusual settings of diamonds and colored gemstones, particularly emerald, ruby and sapphire.

“There a definite change in the area of second marriages,” says Bob Chalson of William Chalson & Sons. “The couples tend to be more mature, more affluent and we see a shift to the Ôthree-stone ring.’ The ring may have a diamond in the center and a colored gem on either side or a large colored gem in the middle with diamonds on each side.” Eli Aviram of Spark Creations sees a similar trend, reflecting that people getting married today seem more open, less conservative.

Personalized vows Ñ and jewelry. A search on the Internet and a sifting of various bridal magazines underline this openness and willingness to accept change. Some examples:

  • Many couples are skipping the traditional bridal shower and bachelor party, opting instead for one large engagement party they can share.

  • Wedding programs are increasingly popular Ñ not simply to give guests a rundown on the ceremony but to thank friends and family, explain unusual aspects of the ceremony and even tell how the bride and groom met.

  • Brunches, buffets, afternoon teas or late-night champagne and dessert parties quite often replace the sit-down dinner reception.

  • Grooms are taking a much more active role in planning the event.

  • In second marriages, there’s a trend to suggest that donations to a favorite charity replace the wedding gift.

  • Personalized vows seem to be the way go these days.

Along with the personalized vow goes the personalized jewelry. Sherri Mulvahill with the George Sawyer company says more brides and grooms want a unique twist to the traditional ring, whether it’s an unusual cut or a mix of diamonds and colored gemstones. “As the ’90s wedding has become ultra-personalized,” reports the Silver Information Center, “individuality is key to selecting a wedding ring” – which means mixing of metals and stones. “Fashionable couples of all ages want a piece of jewelry that is current, reflective of the moment,” says New York designer Meryl Waitz. “They are more concerned with the aesthetic than tradition.”

Maria McBride-Mellinger, author of The Perfect Wedding, suggests special engravings on a custom-designed ring, one that might include “a poetic message.”

Taking that a step further, designer and store owner Eve Alfille reports seeing an interest in creating jewelry to thank and remember people who helped make the wedding ceremony important. This goes beyond bridesmaids and ushers. Alfille has even created a special “remembrance ring” for the priest involved in the ceremony.

The personal touch affects all sorts of so-called traditional gifts. Colibri’s Fred Levinger sees a trend in wedding gifts becoming more “life-style oriented.” He cites a line of men’s jewelry shaped like champagne bottles or the great variety of jewelry and gifts with a golfing theme. Levinger also sees a trend to more useful wedding gifts – such as clocks or writing instruments that can be engraved with the wedding date.

But, as in all matters related to the wedding, tradition still is much honored. Off-beat gifts may have their place but the hand-painted Limoges porcelain box is still a real bride pleaser. And, even though Home Depot may be a shopping place of choice for some bridal registries, a huge number of brides continue to register various china, crystal and flatware patterns.

Frederick Goldman’s Cap D’Amato offers some valuable philosophizing on the balance between change and tradition. “One of the most outstanding things in the [bridal] market is that though attitudes and trends change, a few things remain constant. The most important things to a consumer selecting an engagement or wedding ring are the style of the piece and the reputation of the retail jeweler.”