London Jewelers Goes All-Bridal, All-the-Time

The family-owned New York chain tests a brand-new, bridal-only concept at its Two by London spin-off

If the recession taught the jewelry industry one thing, it’s that people continue to get hitched even when times are tough. The wedding biz held its own during the worst of the downturn, and in an age when diversification reigns, retailers have responded by playing up bridal-only extensions, both on- and offline. Two by London is testing the bridal-only tactic in a big way.

A bridal-only business idea came to Scott and Jessica Udell—fourth-generation husband-and-wife owners of London Jewelers, an upscale five-store chain based on Long Island—when they learned many of their marriage-age friends assumed they couldn’t afford a diamond from their family’s fleet of boutiques. The situation called for rebranding: They wanted to create a modern venue for a younger clientele stocked only with engagement and wedding rings, many tagged at entry-level price points. After one year of planning, Two by London opened Nov. 25 at the Americana Manhasset in Long Island, N.Y. If business progresses as planned, the Udells plan to roll out the concept to major markets like New York City, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Deja Vu Studios
Two by London’s ultramodern Long Island, N.Y., flagship

The Udells worked with focus groups and found most people still like to buy engagement rings in a beautiful physical environment—as opposed to online. Another priority is trust. Finally, consumers demand recognizable bridal brands. A survey by the Wedding Report seems to back that: Brides and grooms spent $9.64 billion on engagement rings and wedding bands in 2010, with only $1 billion of that spent online; most bought from known retailers; and the ability to customize and purchase brand names ranked high. The average carat weight of the diamond engagement ring was 1.18, representing an entry-level ring.

Two by London’s engagement rings start at $800. “We always had rings in that price range,” Jessica Udell explained in late November, barely a week after the boutique opened, referring to the bridal selection at London Jewelers. “It was just that where they were showcased wasn’t conducive to this kind of customer. They felt like they couldn’t afford it. Even our customers’ children felt like they couldn’t afford London Jewelers. We wanted to break that barrier down and say, ‘We have rings at $1,500, so come in and get the London experience.’?”

The wedding planners themselves: Scott and Jessica Udell

Established in 1926, London Jewelers teems with luxury brands such as Rolex, Carl Bucherer, Van Cleef & Arpels, Chanel, and Cartier. The Manhasset, N.Y., location has a salon-like feel, with a winding staircase, an espresso bar, and a humidor where patrons can lock up their cigar collections.

By contrast, the adjacent Two by London space is sparse with industrial-looking metal signage, white walls, and gray and brown wooden floors inlaid with charcoal-colored carpet. Clear Lucite stools surround cases, which sit on slabs of white and gray marble. Open displays encourage shoppers to try on rings at their leisure. Scott credits five engagement-ring sales made in their first weekend to those open cases.

Bella’s Love platinum mounting with 1.03 cts. t.w. diamonds, matching pavé wedding band with 0.72 ct. t.w. diamonds; prices on request (sold separately); Katharine James, Los Angeles; 213-489-9700;

“Having a 1- or 2-carat stone next to a 10-carat or 15-carat stone doesn’t give that stone justice,” he says. “What we did is create an environment where a couple could come in and, within a budget, build the ring of her dreams and have a very interactive experience.” Inspired by modern-day retail successes like Apple and build-it concepts like NIKEiD, the Udells knew their store needed to feel nonintimidating and to empower the customer. Their salespeople don’t stand behind counters; they move casually amid customers. Large computer screens offer tutorials on diamond quality, how a ring is made, and materials like gold and platinum. “Most people are not totally educated in this process,” says Jessica. “It is the biggest purchase they’ve made thus far, probably,” Jessica says. “We just wanted to give them all the tools.”

Two by London’s brands include Norman Silverman, Ritani, Diamond in the Rough, Forevermark by De Beers, and Katharine James, but every piece can be tweaked. Sketchers are on hand to help customers visualize their ideas. In the store’s Diamond Lab, microscopes hooked up to flat-screen TVs project large-scale images of the rings and show the design process with the use of CAD software.

Norman Silverman pendant with 0.52 ct. yellow radiant-cut diamond surrounded by double-halo pavé, set in 18k white and yellow gold; $4,200

Once the design has been finalized, guests are invited to see the ring-building process in the store’s workshops. Eventually, the boutique will offer daily ring updates via video or photos on its website—the idea being that a bride can post those clips or images on her Facebook page. They will also take on concierge-like services: assisting grooms-to-be in proposal planning, offering brides coffee-table books that visually tell the story of how her ring was made. “We want to show you the value of what you’re getting,” says Scott.

There have been bumps along the way, admits Scott. Customization makes it difficult for salespeople to provide prices on the spot: “It’s been nerve-racking. They get a price within five minutes. But we’re getting better. After the first month, we’ll probably be able to do that in two or three minutes.”

Platinum drop earrings with 8.11 cts. t.w. cushion cuts with pavé diamonds; $440,000; Norman Silverman, Los Angeles; 877-687-3985;

The Udells were also caught between wanting to emphasize Two by London’s accessibility and placing its flagship at the Americana, one of the most upscale malls on Long Island’s Gold Coast. In the end, though, they’re betting the store will be a destination unto itself and bring a different customer to the London brand. Already, there are signs this is happening. While the Udells declined to reveal first-year projections, they expect Two by London to significantly boost London Jewelers’ bridal business. “Our goal is to set the new standard for the way people shop for engagement rings, to create an experience that is so above and beyond what’s out there now,” says Scott. “If people have to take a flight to one of our stores, they’ll want to do that.”

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