Millennials Get Married

A new breed of young adults is emerging on the demographic front, less rebellious than their parents, tradition-bound though adding their own unique spin, and changing the old way of buying diamond engagement rings:

  • A 20-something woman was recently married in a wedding chapel in Clearwater, Fla. Weddings On Water marries couples in a chapel with stained glass windows and room for 100 guests—fairly standard wedding accommodations. But what’s unusual about this chapel is that it’s stationed on a large pontoon boat with glass floors for viewing the gorgeous ocean waters of the Intercoastal Waterway beneath.

  • For spiritual reasons, Lindsay Jordan, 25, Chicago, moved the date of her wedding by a year and a half so she’d be married when she and her new husband moved into the condominium they were purchasing before their wedding. “We didn’t expect to find a place so soon,” she says about their new home. “We decided that it would feel better in both of our hearts to do it this way,” Jordan explains about the couple’s decision to marry before living together.

  • Adam Stampfel, a 27-year-old computer support analyst from New York City, recently bought his fiancée a diamond through, which works in partnership with a local jeweler. “It was easier than going to 10 different stores looking at stock or spending all day looking at stones on 47th Street,” says Stampfel. The local jeweler showed Stampfel a selection of loose diamonds that had been shipped by the online dealer. Stampfel chose a .76-ct. round brilliant-cut stone and purchased a mounting from the jeweler, who then set Stampfel’s rock of choice in the semimount.

Before making his purchase, the groom-to-be had already done his homework: He knew what qualities to look for in a diamond—including color, clarity and cut—and the stone came with a laboratory grading report and an inscription on the girdle. “[] prices and quality were far above what I could get in a store,” he says. “Plus, I love to buy things online.”

The couples changing the old rules are “Millennials”—children of Baby Boomers, born in 1982 and later, with the oldest of them having graduated college in 2000. They number nearly 79 million—vs. 45 million of their predecessors, Generation X—and thanks to immigration and widespread fertility treatments, their numbers could exceed 100 million, a third more than the size of the Boomer generation and double the size of Gen X.

What’s more, the oldest Millennials turn 28 this year—the median age at which Americans marry. In 2005, there will be 3.8 million 28-year-old Millennials, and those numbers will only increase. Every year until 2009, the number ticks upward by 100,000 until 2014, when it stabilizes at 4.3 million “and stays there until 2014 when the number is 4.4 million,” says demographer Susan Mitchell, Jackson, Miss.

The implications for bridal jewelry are huge. “We’re predicting a 22% growth in bridal in the next 15 years,” says Nina Lawrence, publisher of Modern Bride.

Who are these people?

“Echo-Boomers,” also known as Generation Y, or Millennials (as an ABC News poll found they like to be called) were born after the early 1980s media fuss surrounding children: Tylenol aspirin had been tampered with, resulting in more child-safe products being developed, and Baby Boomers—including many celebrities—were ready to have children of their own. In a short period of time, the United States had grown extremely child-centric and kicked off a Millennial baby boom.

Now these children are grown—with generational traits in full bloom. Millennials Rising, by Neil Howe & William Strauss, examines the group as adults. According to the authors, Millennials:

  • grew up showered in love, so they’re confident;

  • know only good economies, so they’re upbeat;

  • have great relationships with their parents, so they respect authority and are civic minded;

  • have money, because in many households, during their childhood, both parents worked;

  • are technologically savvy because they’ve grown up in the computer age;

  • are ethnically diverse. One in five has at least one immigrant parent and one in 10 has one non-citizen parent. In fact, say the authors, they “embody the irreversible browning of America.”

Millennials also have grown up with good shopping. They know good design—it’s been available everywhere, from Target to Neiman Marcus—so they expect more of it. “Crate & Barrel, Tiffany’s … they do a great job of engaging young consumers,” says Lawrence. “[Those stores] feel like an extension of you.”

Millennial Brides

Because this group has been told it’s special, its brides-to-be are asking for special items. Research shows that customized and personalized rings are hugely popular among Millennials. So is customization in general, which can mean a twist on “traditional” weddings—i.e., a white dress, a religious ceremony, and a reception. For example, vows may be exchanged on a beach instead of in a church.

Recent research from Modern Bride and Wedding Bells magazines reveals psychographic details about these brides. For example:

  • The average bride knows about her engagement five months before it happens, while the groom knows about it only two months beforehand.

  • She uses magazines and the Internet in equal amounts to plan the wedding.

  • She knows what she wants to wear on her finger (more than 50% help select the ring), while he’s allowed to surprise her with how the question is popped.

  • Most want a traditional wedding.

  • Brand favoritism is another trend, and consolidation may occur as Millennials pledge their loyalties. Designers and names represent quality, fashion, and comfort, plus, says Wedding Bells publisher Tracy Day, “they have a value attached to them.”

But Lawrence questions whether these brides are even “sleeping at night” considering how much they’re chatting about their ring purchases. Millennial brides tell nearly eight people about their buying experience four months before the wedding happens. “That’s before a lifetime of marriage,” says Lawrence. “She’ll tell her mother, co-workers, and friends, making her even more valuable than her purchase.”

Courting Millennials

While this influx of potential bridal shoppers should be a boon to jewelers, Millennials still lack the cash that their parents have. So while engagement ring sales will rise over the next decade or so, every rock sold may not be as pricey as you’d like. Consider the average price of engagement rings for those surveyed by Wedding Bells: $5,105. And for those surveyed by Modern Bride, the price is an even more economical $3,700.

Plus, this group has grown up with technology, giving them a “different comfort and familiarity with it,” according to Mitchell. This will translate into competition from online diamond vendors, with their low margins. To compete, offer brands the online retailers don’t carry, as well as a better selection and custom looks—something Millennials love, and something that’s tough to do over the Internet.

However, jewelry gift-buying for attendants and for fiancés is another opportunity for jewelers. Brides often have as many as five attendants, and jewelry is one of the top gifts considered for purchase as a thank-you gift. She’ll also give a spousal gift of jewelry to her fiancé, says Lawrence, and watches are among the most popular items for such gifts. Research from Wedding Bells confirms these opportunities: 84% will buy jewelry as a thank-you gift for bridesmaids, and nearly 40% will give jewelry to their fiancé as a wedding present.

Then there are the wedding bands. While young couples wait anywhere from three months (47%) to six months (27%) before the wedding to buy to them, 60% will purchase them at the same place they bought the engagement ring. Wedding Bells got even more details from couples who were interviewed for the magazine’s survey: “They like stacked wedding rings—ones you can buy and add to at birthdays, more decorative bands, and more customized looks in general,” says Day.

To attract—and retain—Millennials as loyal customers:

  • Drop your cultural inhibitions. For example, Millennials Rising points out that nearly 35% of Millennials are Latinos. Also, “If a child was born to a single parent in the 1960s, there was a stigma, but that’s not true anymore,” says Mitchell. “Younger adults are more accepting of different people … there’s just a matter-of-factness about it.”

  • Get with the times—get online. If you haven’t done so already, beef up your Internet site, at least as a research tool. Millennials are comparison-shopping online as well as looking at magazines for engagement rings they like. How can you compete with Internet vendors if your Web site isn’t loaded with product?

  • Be prepared to personalize and offer unique jewelry. “Today’s generation is completely obsessed with planning the wedding that is perfect and unique just for [the bride],” notes Lawrence. This includes the ring, which has to feel like it was made “exclusively for her,” she adds. Educate this group on the different types of metals available, the choices available to them, and the time it takes to make a custom piece, and be prepared for a little work.

“Millennials have a lot to say and they want to do things their way, but they’ll tell their friends about you and they’ll stick to the brands they like,” says Day.