With Platinum Rings, They Wed

More and more these days, couples are sealing their commitment to platinum as they seal their commitment to each other. The Platinum Guild International reports that one in four wedding sets is composed entirely or partially of platinum. Retailers are finding that platinum bridal sets are easier than ever to sell, and platinum’s higher price points are translating into higher dollar margins. This is especially good news because women whose bridal jewelry is platinum are likely to want other jewelry to match it. “They buy the engagement ring, and then they want the earrings and chain to go with it,” says Dave Rogoway of La Rog Jewelers in Portland, Ore. “We’re doing a lot of platinum business in other categories, as well.”

Consumers who have heard about music recordings “going platinum” and received applications for platinum credit cards associate the metal with the ultimate. “It’s easy to sell platinum when you’re talking about quality,” says Marc Green of Lux, Bond and Green, West Hartford, Conn.

Jerry Robbins, co-owner of Robbins Diamonds, Philadelphia, agrees. “Today—not just in jewelry—better quality is trendy,” Robbins says.

Current styles are further increasing platinum’s appeal, Green notes. “The trend in fashion makes it easier to sell certain items, and the fashion has been white.”

While the white-on-white combination of diamonds and platinum has been hot for several seasons, the metal—which was popular before World War II—likewise enables jewelry artists to create classic looks. “Traditional, timeless styling is like good furniture,” says Carle Place, N.Y., designer Jeff Cooper. “That type of quality, people just don’t outgrow.”

Platinum’s strength makes it a logical choice for couples who hope to pass their bridal sets on to children as future heirlooms, says Bruce Pucciarello, co-owner of Novell Design Studio, Roselle, N.J. “Platinum has a special quality to it; it’s a great metal, especially, for durable jewelry,” he says. “Gold tends to scratch. Platinum has a much longer life expectancy.”

Building demand. Retailers and designers credit PGI’s efforts to promote platinum to jewelers and consumers as a major factor driving demand. “I can’t say they haven’t been instrumental; they do a fabulous job,” says Judy Evans, designer of Frederick Goldman Inc.’s Diana Couture collection. “Their efforts are far-reaching,” encompassing educational programs, outreach to jewelers, technical and sourcing support, “and, of course, direct advertising to the consumer,” she says.

Because of the metal’s strategic importance during World War II, its use for nonmilitary purposes was prohibited during wartime. Thus, pl atinum disappeared from public view a generation ago, and today’s consumers needed to be reintroduced to it. “It was our grandmothers who wore platinum, not our mothers,” Evans notes.

Designers who run their own consumer ads also are helping to create desire for platinum bridal jewelry, says Laurie Harris, fine jewelry buyer at Tapper’s Jewelry, West Bloomfield, Mich. “More of them are using the bridal magazines,” she says. “That helps us, because [consumers] do read those ads.”

Designer Jane Taylor of South Hadley, Mass., says her company gets “a huge response in consumer calls” after its ads run. “The woman who is looking to get engaged is shopping,” Taylor observes. “She’s very site-specific.”

Today’s brides and grooms are older than those of years past, industry observers note. The average age for brides is 29.2 and for grooms, 31.7, according to the National Bridal Service. Couples also have more disposable income. Rogoway no longer sees parents cosigning credit applications, a phenomenon that was common just a few years ago. “Customers really want selection now; they’re more educated, a little bit older,” he says.

This maturity is contributing to a desire for superior products. “The more people spend, the more concerned they are [about the product] and the more emotionally invested they are,” says Jeff Levitt, vice president of merchandising for Keepsake Diamond Jewelry. They want to know that a product has lasting value and that someone will stand behind it, he adds.

What’s selling. Platinum—timeless and trendy at the same time—is making inroads into new markets even as its appeal expands among longtime fans. Here’s what’s hot in today’s bridal market.

Platinum for the budget-conscious. More “affordable platinum” bridal collections are being introduced, making the metal a viable option for an increasing percentage of consumers. “A customer can buy a platinum semimount for $550 instead of $5,000,” says Rogoway.

Novell, for example, offers selections “that bridge the gap between high-end and affordable,” Pucciarello says. “We’re attempting to capture the mass market; they deserve quality as much as anyone else.” The bulk of Novell’s sales fall in the $700 to $2,000 range. “As more people enter the platinum playing field, it’s going to become more consumer-friendly,” with consumers having a wider variety of popularly priced items to choose from, Pucciarello predicts.

Tapper’s has developed a marketing campaign to reach couples seeking affordable platinum. It runs ads on alternative rock stations and in alternative newspapers. In the store, affordable platinum bridal jewelry is grouped together in a special display. “Young people come in and ask for platinum,” Harris says.

The decline of two-tone metal. In 1992, when PGI began its U.S. marketing effort, it focused on styles that combined platinum with yellow gold. While the two-tone look is still selling in some markets, it’s now on the wane. “After 15 years of domination by yellow gold, people became so accustomed to it that [combining it with platinum] was almost like a safety net. When platinum first was strong, before it became scarce, no one thought of doing that,” says Keepsake’s Levitt. “I’m not surprised that trend has gone away, and I don’t expect it to come back.”

Diamonds go upscale. Buoyed by the recent boom in the economy, couples are buying larger diamonds—both for center stones and for accents—retailers and manufacturers report. “Everyone’s asking for larger, larger, with more diamond showing and less metal,” says Phyllis Bergman of Mercury Ring Corp., Englewood, N.J. “The sizes are incredible. Ten points on each side used to be my big seller. Now, it’s quarters [.25-ct. stones] and up.”

As the Baby Boomers age, requests for new rings with larger centers are pouring in. “Let’s face it; the Baby Boomers are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversaries,” says designer Judith Conway of Windsor, Calif. “If they have made any money at this point, they’re moving up to larger stones.”

“With the upswing in the economy and the success of a lot of people businesswise, it’s been difficult to even get larger sizes because demand has been so high,” says Steffi Williams, marketing director at Rudolf Erdel Platinum, New York.

Rogoway recently began offering customers what he calls “the ultimate diamond anniversary band,” featuring 1.5 cts. or 2 cts. t.w. diamonds. In engagement rings, “we’re selling a lot of carat-plus stones,” he reports.

The Keepsake line is going upscale with the recent launch of its all-platinum, diamond-accented Signature collection tailored for larger center stones. “As the brand’s appeal is growing, storekeepers feel they need more styling from us that would fit with the larger stone,” Levitt says.

Three cheers for three stones. An ambitious marketing push by De Beers has fueled customer demand for three-stone rings. “Even if people are resetting their own diamond, or one that they’ve inherited, they’re putting it in a new setting with two other diamonds,” says Green.

Taylor received an award in the Diamond Information Center’s right-hand ring design competition last year for a three-stone ring featuring a modified princess cut. The corners of the stone are cut to achieve a rectangular shape. The diamond cut has become a best seller, she reports.

Back to the future. The retro look is hot. “A lot of it is driven by the manufacturers who are using reproduction work and hand-etching,” says Green. “No one will ever tire of that type of look,” says Cooper, who is one such manufacturer, specializing in clean, linear platinum styles.

Conway forecasts greater use of fancy-shape diamonds in bridal jewelry. “It’s a high-style traditional look, but with a more contemporary flair,” she says.

Sets decline in popularity. While some sources report that engagement and wedding ring sets are still in demand, others are seeing a decline in popularity of the bridal set. “With platinum, there’s a lot more room to create jewelry that works together but also stands on its own merit,” says Pucciarello. “It’s like you’re creating two nice pieces of jewelry rather than subtraction by addition—a hokey wedding ring that’s made to go with the engagement ring but doesn’t fit the design.”

Tapper’s doesn’t sell sets, although Harris says that at a customer’s request, she will ask a manufacturer to create a band that can fit up against the engagement ring. “Our customers prefer to put their money into the [engagement ring] stone—or they get an anniversary band for the left hand and move the engagement ring to the right hand,” she says.

“We’re selling no sets at all,” says Rogoway. “Customers just don’t want the older-fashioned, interlocking two-piece sets anymore.”

Evans of Diana Couture says that she has been asked to design a band that goes with her engagement rings. This has created a conundrum, she notes. “I’m not aggressively going after that. A lot of pieces I design as a singular statement, not a two-ring piece.” Her “Surprise” collection, for example, features a bezel-set colored stone next to the finger on the side of the ring. Her “Capture” collection is a small collar of pavé or channel-set diamonds placed as a small collar around the prongs, underneath the center stone.

Style for the men. Although the traditional men’s wedding band has not been thought of as a high-style item, men can be steered in a stylish direction, manufacturers and retailers say. Novell’s NQP (for “not quite plain”) collection features textured wedding bands that are designed to appeal to grooms-to-be who are newcomers to jewelry fashion. The women’s version of these bands works well with Novell’s engagement rings.

“The retailer has defined what plain is,” Pucciarello says. “A 5-mm domed 14k yellow gold ring is not much of a sale.”

“Men say they want the plain band, but you have to show them what’s available,” says Harris. “Most men have never worn a ring before; they don’t know what they want.”

When showing rings to a groom-to-be, “If you can get a beautiful platinum band on his finger, he’ll see how comfortable they are and how flexible they are,” she says.