Same-Sex Marriage and Our Industry

Last week the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are now legal in all 50 states—possibly providing a welcome boost for an industry starved for good news.

Certainly Wall Street thinks it will help, considering the stock prices of Tiffany, Signet, and Blue Nile all rose following the news. Which makes sense: This business is based on bridal. The declining marriage rate poses an ongoing problem for our industry, but the landmark ruling could likely mean a stream of new bridal buyers.

The SCOTUS decision could lead to as many as 75,000 new weddings in the next few years, analysts say, and one study predicts it will spark an additional $2.5 billion in spending.

Many jewelers seemed eager to jump on the bandwagon, particularly dot-coms, the base of which is younger consumers. James Allen, Blue Nile, and Gemvara all issued supportive statements about the ruling on social media.

So did Tiffany, which has already featured a same-sex couple in its ads. On Facebook, it reprinted the ad with the LoveWins hashtag. It’s received more than 11,000 likes.

Other big chains have been more guarded, with most not joining in the social media celebration. Signet sent JCK a statement that it “has been serving couples in love for more than a hundred years and will continue to do so. We believe that jewelry is an emotional purchase and the quintessential item for people to celebrate life and express love.”

Of course, same-sex marriage is still new, both for the industry and for the shoppers, and there can be dicey moments. A Wall Street Journal article from last year says couples sometimes find the ring-shopping experience “awkward”:

Some male couples say salespeople assume the two are a man ring-shopping with a buddy. And some female couples say jewelers think they are just friends who are browsing for fun.

[Jeffrey] Bennett of Tiffany & Co. says he tells staff to avoid blunders with same-sex customers by aiming to have “consultative dialogues.” He adds, “You really need to listen and understand your customers’ needs before you start making recommendations.”

That’s in part because there is no prescribed jewelry etiquette for same-sex marriages. “When it comes to a gay or lesbian couples, it’s not obvious who proposes or who gets the ring,” wrote one shopper. Engagement rings aren’t as prevalent as they are in heterosexual couples: A survey of same-sex couples found that 66 percent of female and 19 percent of male same-sex couples purchased engagement rings, compared to 85 percent of heterosexual brides.

New York City designer Rony Tennenbaum believes this will change, noting that concepts like engagements are still novel to a community that just recently won the right to wed.

“This is all brand-new stuff,” he says. “We are making these traditions. We are writing the book on this. That’s what makes this exciting.”

As a pioneer in the market who frequently speaks on the topic, Tennenbaum is often asked if the rings have to match. “My philosophy is: People in a couple have to express their individuality. If you don’t want matching rings, that is perfectly okay.”

The president of Gayweddings.com told the Huffington Post that “most couples…focus on creating meaningful rings and true symbols of their relationship.” Tennenbaum finds most of his gay clients look for different, unique, and sometimes edgy styles. (His straight millennial consumers lean much the same way, he adds.)

And while many retailers spotlighted rainbow jewelry in their reaction to the ruling, they shouldn’t assume same-sex couples want that in a wedding ring, advises Matthew Perosi, founder of the Jeweler Website Advisory Group.

“While it’s not a bad idea to carry a rainbow line of jewelry in your store, please don’t lead your same-sex couples over to it as their first choice,” he says in a blog post. “Just treat them like you would any other couple when probing them for the styles of jewelry they like to wear.”

Adds Tennenbaum: “When I started seven years ago, I would Google gay and jewelry, and I would get a lot of pieces with rainbows and triangles. And I found that offensive. Talking to friends, I don’t know anyone who would want to get married with a ring with triangle or rainbows on it.

“The rainbow and the triangle are symbols. And this is not about symbols. This is about love.”

JCK News Director