Branded Love

Thirty years ago, most couples could probably name at least two brands associated with fine jewelry:

De Beers, who supplied diamonds to the world and made famous its slogan “A Diamond is Forever,” and Tiffany, whose simple, four-prong setting became the standard bearer for classic diamond solitaire engagement rings.

Those two brands, along with three others-ArtCarved, Keepsake, and Orange Blossom-pretty well defined the bridal jewelry market of the 1970s and early 1980s. But considering that De Beers doesn’t sell finished jewelry, and that 30 years ago Tiffany did not have a presence in most major upscale shopping malls the way it does today, couples who wanted a nationally branded engagement or wedding ring usually chose one of the other three.

Branding of jewelry in general was not very common at the time. Other than Tiffany, some people may have been familiar with names like Cartier or Harry Winston, but for the most part, consumers simply associated fine jewelry with their local jeweler-who may have been a Keepsake, ArtCarved, or Orange Blossom dealer.

Oddly, though, just as the high-end fine jewelry market began to flirt with designer and brand names, the Big Three bridal brands-which had seemed stable-came dangerously close to extinction. The first to drop out of the picture was Orange Blossom, which, according to one-time president Robert Wueste (now CEO of Samuel Aaron Inc.) was known for its innovative design. Instead of filling the void, however, both the Keepsake and ArtCarved names also soon faded into relative obscurity.

But now the picture may be changing. Thanks to education and advertising from De Beers, Platinum Guild International, Web sites such as weddingchannel.com, and consumer bridal publications such as Bride’s, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Modern Bride, today’s brides understand diamond and precious metal qualities and recognize fashion-minded bridal jewelry designers. And branding is once again a hot topic.

That’s especially true at Frederick Goldman. The New York City-based company is rejuvenating two of the original Big Three: it revived the 70-year-old Keepsake name several years ago and recently acquired 110-year-old ArtCarved. Given the popularity of its Diana Classic line, whose sales have shot up dramatically in the past six months, Goldman may have created a new bridal jewelry triumvirate of its own.

Goldman’s bridal lines cater to all pocketbooks: Diana Classic for high-end shoppers, ArtCarved and Keepsake for middle-range prices, and the Goldman line at the lower end. But the company says it just wants couples to be comfortable when buying bridal jewelry. “Buying jewelry shouldn’t be scary,” says Jeff Levitt, the firm’s vice president of merchandising. “Jewelry is one of the last industries to implement branding. And if people want branded underwear, why not branded jewelry?” Diane Vunic, director of sales and marketing for Suna Bros. in New York, agrees. Brands confer an identity of quality, and sentimental value will ultimately determine whether or not consumers remember the store rather than the brand, she says.

A few years ago, Goldman anticipated an opportunity in bridal jewelry and brought mounted engagement rings back through the Keepsake line. Through consumer focus groups, the company learned that people wanted rings “the way they used to be sold,” says Rebecca Forrester, vice president of marketing for Goldman. Marketing in consumer bridal magazines also has been important for keeping the brands strong.

Several of Goldman’s lines cater to consumers’ newly found passion for platinum, including the Diana Classic line and pieces from Keepsake. New engagement settings from both collections can now accommodate larger diamonds-.75 cts. and larger in Diana Classic and .5 ct. or 1 ct. in Keepsake.

Another new development for the Goldman, Diana Classic, and ArtCarved divisions are titanium wedding bands. “We think this gunmetal-colored product will appeal to men,” says Levitt. “We’re seeing a lot of it in golf clubs and in watches, so we think titanium gives the impression of being luxurious, high-tech, and the metal of the new millennium.”

For now, Goldman will keep titanium out of the Keepsake line. Keepsake mounted engagement rings are traditional in style, says the company, which doesn’t think titanium will appeal to middle America, its primary customer base. But ArtCarved’s engraved wedding bands appeal to couples who stray from the norm, ones who might exchange vows on a beach instead of in a church.

Branding not for all. Some suppliers avoid the brandwagon. One is Stuller, Lafayette, La., which, according to JCK‘s retail panel, is the most widely used bridal jewelry supplier. Stuller hopes the public will embrace its new Solstice engagement semimount, now made in platinum and 18k gold, but the company doesn’t want consumers to link bridal jewelry with the Stuller name. “Our product lines are so diverse that branding at the consumer level wouldn’t be meaningful,” says bridal product manager Eleanor Lipps. Be product-wise first, she says, and those efforts will provide a strong hook for the consumer. Narrower markets are better for branding.

What about the consumer? “Consumers are crying out for trust,” says Scott Kay, owner of Scott Kay, Hackensack, N.J., who believes that advertising alone doesn’t make a brand. Kay feels that true brands develop through educating consumers and the trade, and by “owning” a category. Kay knows whereof he speaks. According to the results of a recent JCK retail panel, Scott Kay is the No. 1 consumer-requested bridal jewelry brand.

But those same retail panel results reveal that a majority of jewelry customers are not yet interested in branded bridal jewelry. In fact, 70.8% of the panel said their customers “rarely” ask for bridal jewelry by brand or designer name, 18.4% said customers “occasionally” ask for it, and only 10.8% said customers “frequently” ask for it. Moreover, nearly half of all people surveyed in JCK‘s 1999 Consumer Study couldn’t associate any brand with any type of jewelry.

Take advantage of benefits. Jewelers have been slow to embrace the benefits of suppliers’ nationwide ads. Of the top 10 brands listed as jewelers’ favorite resources, only two-Scott Kay and A. Jaffe-have significant consumer recognition.

The top five consumer-requested jewelry brands listed by JCK‘s retail panel are Scott Kay, Jeff Cooper, Steven Kretchmer, Tacori, and Michael Beaudry. Also mentioned were Whitney Boin, Hearts on Fire, Varna, Verggio, and Ambar.

The top 10 suppliers used by respondents are Stuller, Goldman, Wright & Lato, Scott Kay, Lieberfarb, Label, Gottlieb & Sons, ArtCarved, Jaffe, and Benchmark. The next five are Camelot, Diana, Rego, Allison-Kaufman Co., and Jeff Cooper.

Marketing experts such as Judy Lince, vice president and program director of the jewelry and gift division of the National Bridal Service, advise jewelers to ride these firms’ coattails and take advantage of the dollars they spend on national consumer advertising. One service of the Richmond, Va.-based NBS is producing custom catalogs for its members. More than 100 independent jewelers annually participate in the catalog program, with some featuring branded bridal jewelry lines on 75% of their pages.

For those jewelers, branded bridal jewelry is an idea whose time has come-again.