‘Welcome to the ’90s, Mr. Banks’

Over the Christmas season our daughter, Sheila, became engaged. She joined our son, Kevin, who proposed to his fiancée a few weeks prior, and thus we began our first foray into the world of wedding preparations. We were immediately immersed in a variety of activities including securing a date for the church and reception and hiring a band, a photographer, a florist, and a videographer.

Every father who has the opportunity to participate in a daughter’s wedding preparations should see Steve Martin as George Banks in Father of the Bride. It is hilarious and great fun for everyone involved in wedding planning.

In the film, Banks accompanies his wife (Diane Keaton) and daughter (Kimberly Williams) to meet a wedding planner. When Banks learns the cost of the cake is $1,200 he yells, “Twelve-hundred dollars! It’s just flour and water!” The wedding planner responds, “Welcome to the ’90s, Mr. Banks!”

As I assumed the George Banks role in our family, I saw that not much has changed in the intervening years. Everything associated with weddings has gotten significantly more expensive—everything, that is, except the price of engagement and wedding rings.

When I worked at both ArtCarved and Krementz Bridal Jewelry, we compiled lists of wedding costs. Our purpose was to compare the cost of engagement and wedding rings with the other costs of the wedding.

The interesting fact was that while the costs of all of the things associated with the one-day event grew dramatically over time, the amount spent on the engagement ring and the wedding ring, lifetime symbols of commitment, increased only marginally, perhaps 1 to 2 percent annually.

At the same time, De Beers, in its annual consumer research project on the diamond business, routinely pointed out that jewelry was perhaps the only product that consumers spent less on than they anticipated! The average price of a diamond engagement ring then was approximately $1,500 and the average price of the wedding ring was $500.

From the late ’80s to 2004, prices of wedding-related products have continued to climb dramatically, as I can personally attest. The exception, however, continues to be the average prices of engagement and wedding rings. As reported in JCK‘s 2005 Bridal Market report (see “Millennials Get Married,” JCK, January 2005, p. 70), the average prices of engagement and wedding rings were $1,881 and $964 respectively. It would appear that retail jewelers continue to “sell down” in order to give a good deal instead of selling up based on quality and/or size of the diamond. It also appears that wedding rings are doing much better, having risen to a $964 average from $500. No doubt this is due to more diamond wedding rings and the addition of platinum to the category.

Today’s brides and grooms are demographically different from their counterparts of 20 years ago, and if you’re not selling up, you’re losing out. The example of Kevin’s discussing the cost of the photographer is apropos. He exceeded his budget for the engagement ring and posed the rhetorical question, “Should I have saved money on the engagement ring to be able to spend more for the photographer?” He answered his own question with: “I don’t think so!” And neither do I.

fdallahan@reedbusiness.com