The Ring Cycles



According to The Knot, the average engagement ring, which took about 3.4 months to find at 4 retailers, runs $7,129. Meet a few of the brides and grooms who make up the modern wedding jewelry market.

Last year, JCK featured the results of The Knot’s 2013 bridal survey, which asked 14,000 brides and 1,750 grooms to answer key questions concerning the bridal jewelry-buying process. ­Couples were asked about myriad details ranging from how long grooms researched rings before making the final purchase to what retail establishments were consulted and whether or not rings were new or made-to-order. This year, we caught up with more brides and grooms, most of them recently married or about to be married. Some of their stories dovetailed with the survey’s conclusions. Others, intriguingly, did not. Here’s what we learned.

The Research

Elisabeth Piscitelli’s 14k white gold Blue Nile–built halo-set ring

The Knot’s survey showed that before the engagement, a groom spends, on average, 3.4 months researching an engagement ring. He will visit about four retailers and see an average of 24 rings. About 20 percent of brides will help their grooms along, sharing ideas and hints on styles they like.

This was certainly true for Elisabeth Piscitelli,* a high school teacher in Boston, who said she coached her now-husband of one month, Joe. The newlywed admits she had been researching rings since she was young. In the last few years, she started playing with Blue Nile’s Build Your Own Ring feature.

“I showed it to Joe and told him what I wanted,” Piscitelli says. “I wanted a halo setting, I wanted a cushion cut.”

The groom ended up ordering a version slightly different than the one the bride wanted due to the availability of delivery dates—his goal was to propose before the end of the school year so her students could be part of the celebration.

Alison Martin’s ring was crafted from a sapphire and diamonds that once belonged to her grandmother.

“They did go completely, insanely nuts when I got the ring,” she says. The couple eventually returned the ring to Blue Nile for resizing and took the opportunity to reset the diamond in a halo setting on a 14k white gold diamond-studded band—exactly what the bride wanted.

The survey also found that grooms are more comfortable evaluating, discussing, and shopping for diamonds than brides (59 percent versus 42 percent). Anecdotally, this has been the case at McIntosh Jewelry in O’Neill, Neb. Richard McIntosh, the store’s owner, says he spends a lot of time educating grooms; they want to feel like they are making the best purchase possible. Millennials, he’s found, can easily be swayed by information online.

“I tell them, ‘Just because it says it’s something, doesn’t mean it is something,’?” he says.

18k white gold ring with 7.25 ct. emerald-cut and 3.28 cts. t.w. round brilliant diamonds; price on request; La Reina by Bhansali, Los Angeles; 213-623-8482; lareinacollection.com

McIntosh also invests time in building trust. “You have to have trust to buy,” he says, adding that customer service plays a critical role in the sale, particularly in small communities: “Word of mouth goes like wildfire throughout your community.”

Having a website that’s mobile-friendly is paramount these days; products must look as attractive on smaller devices as they do on larger computers. Some are calling it the compression effect. Brides and grooms do much of the research online and on their mobile phones: Nine of 10 brides have smartphones and more than half have tablets, according to The Knot’s survey. And a majority of brides—63 percent, to be precise—use their mobile phones to browse rings.

The Retailer

David M. Barron
Eric and Chesley walk down the aisle, their rings tucked in a pouch on their bulldog Clementine’s back.

Most of the brides JCK interviewed said they wear engagement rings that range in price from $5,000 to $12,000, suggesting the survey’s $7,129 average purchase is holding steady.

This is welcome news for brick-and-mortar stores: The survey revealed three people in 10 considered buying at least part of the ring online, but the majority—42 percent—bought the ring at a local or independent jewelry retailer. A scant 9 percent purchased rings from an online retailer. Of those who didn’t purchase the ring online, 69 percent said they wanted to see the ring in person, 35 percent were concerned about customer service if something went wrong, and 33 percent felt the need for personal attention.

Chesley Muniz’s Irish claddagh ring, which belonged to her late mother-in-law

Last December, Ann Steward had a local shopping experience she won’t soon forget. Her mom suggested a lunchtime trip to try on rings at a small local store in Acton, Mass. Steward didn’t think the request was strange. Her mother had been ill, in and out of hospitals, and wanted to take part in milestones—no matter that a proposal was not yet on the table. Steward’s boyfriend, Brendan, thought it was a great idea to try on rings and suggested another trip to the store the following day, where his girlfriend gravitated to a ring in an antique style with filigree and three stones in the center. Brendan called the store a few days later for more details on the ring, but it was too late, he told her. The ring had been sold.

A few months later, in March, Brendan was ready to propose, which he did while the couple vacationed in the British Virgin Islands.

“When I looked down and really saw the ring, I realized it was the original ring I loved!” she recalls. “It was Brendan who had bought it, at a place called Boston Bijoux.” (The store where she first glimpsed the ring had changed hands and became Boston Bijoux the day after Brendan followed up and surreptitiously purchased the piece.)

Gabriel & Co.’s customizable Perfect Match collection boasts 12 different heads and 49 bands, yielding hundreds of potential bridal looks.

“It was a great experience going through them,” she says. “Both Brendan and I loved the local shop, rather than a huge retailer. I’m sure I could have ordered a matching band anywhere, but the personal touch and offering to clean our rings whenever we drive by sealed the deal.”

National chains, however, still earn a lot of trust from prospective ring buyers. The top national chains, according to The Knot’s survey, are Kay ­Jewelers (27 percent), Zales (20 percent), and Jared (13 percent).

Janica Peppard and Darrin Caster, who, at the time they were interviewed in July were two weeks away from getting married in upstate New York, found the bride’s princess-cut triple diamond engagement ring at Kohl’s. “I took pictures of four or five rings and was a little hesitant,” Peppard says. “[Darrin] told me to wear what I liked the most, wear the jewelry I want to wear and be comfortable.” The Kohl’s ring was simply the one she liked best.

The Engagement Ring

Judy Tseng and her husband, Mike, enjoying their wedding cake

The Knot’s survey concluded that more than four in 10 people customize the engagement ring: 27 percent take an existing ring and make custom changes, while 15 percent completely overhaul it. The study also showed that the majority of engagement rings—85 percent—are purchased new, while 11 percent are heirloom and 4 percent are vintage.

Alison Martin, from Seattle, repurposed an existing ring to suit her style. Her fiancé, Mark, presented her a fake ring last November with the idea that they would design her ring together using heirloom diamonds and sapphires from her grandmother’s ring. Joseph Jewelry in Bellevue, Wash., took the stones and created a ring with five diamonds on either side of a sapphire in a platinum setting. Martin preferred the collaboration to a surprise from her husband-to-be. “I love him, but would I have trusted him to pick out something I like? I don’t know.”

Mike’s wedding band, which Judy found on eBay (then had engraved)

Diana Greenroad of San Jose, Calif., had faith in her fiancé. “I’m very lazy,” she says, adding that her ­husband, Nathan, is a game art design student and has an eye for detail. “I said, ‘Why don’t you surprise me?’?” Nathan went online to the Shane Co. website and created a ring with filigree leading up to the diamond. “He refuses to let me know the price,” she says. “I made him pick out his ring, too.” He chose a wedding band made of copper edged with silver that he ­discovered on Etsy.

White gold represents 72 percent of the bridal ring market, followed by platinum (15 percent) and yellow gold (6 percent). Colorless diamond centers with side stones seem to be the most popular, followed by colorless diamond solitaires (preferred by 23 percent of survey takers). Halos, pavé detailing, and channel settings are the leading styles for mountings, but nearly one in three brides isn’t ­familiar with these terms. And the average carat weight of all stones in the ring is 1.6 carats.

Black and white tungsten carbide band; $280; Triton, NYC; 212-924-6767; tritonjewelry.com

Chesley Wendth Muniz—who married her husband, Eric, in September 2012—fits into none of the above statistics. She wears an Irish claddagh ring made of “high-quality silver,” according to an appraiser. In 2009, Eric’s mother passed away and he discovered the ring in her collection. With the help of Bostonian Jewelers in Boston’s diamond district, he replaced the rhinestones with diamonds and added sapphires. “It’s very much in line with my aesthetic,” she says.

After the Engagement

Like the engagement ring, a bride’s top metal of choice for the wedding band is white gold, followed by platinum (13 percent) and yellow gold (7 percent). Many people customize the ring, with either small tweaks or a complete redesign. The most popular feature on a wedding band is a sprinkling of diamonds, which sent the average cost of a bride’s band to $1,369 in 2013. Grooms, who tend to prefer materials like tungsten, white gold, and titanium, spend an average of $558 on bands.

Judy Tseng, of Cary, N.C., spent even less than the average—$300—for her husband Mike’s wedding band. “He wasn’t that picky,” she says. She found the ring on eBay, courtesy of a New York City–based retailer. “I saved $150,” she says. The couple got engaged on Martin Luther King Day weekend in Washington, D.C., earlier this year and then married in June.

Almost half of grooms surveyed—45 percent—said they would “definitely” return to the retailer who sold them their rings compared with 30 percent of brides.

According to JCK’s anecdotal research, one sobering statistic from The Knot’s survey rings true: Only half the brides surveyed heard from the retailer post ring purchase.

*Ed. note: Some names have been changed at the request of those interviewed for the story.