With This Ring…

Get engaged! Track the trends, the traditions, and the tastes of the ever-changing bridal business.

The so-called Great Recession touched all facets of the industry, and the bridal category was no exception. Now, retailers and designers are taking stock of the new economic realities and the shift in style ushered in by a prolonged economic downturn. “The biggest problem today is engaging the consumer to come into the store,” says Phyllis Bergman, president of Englewood, N.J.–based Mercury Ring Corp.

Along with keeping track of evolving trends, retailers are searching for the sweet spot between traditional advertising, in-person events, and new media to get people in the door—and hopefully make them customers for life. “Today’s millennial consumers want something different,” says Ken Gassman, president and founder of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute (JIRI) in Glen Allen, Va. “We’re seeing a cultural shift, and that’s the challenge for jewelers.”




Something New

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY (clockwise from above left) Indian Diamond Cluster ring with .82 ct. t.w. rose-cut diamonds in 18k gold, $4,555, Me&Ro, NYC, 917-237-9215, meandrojewelry.com; enamel and 18k gold mounting with diamonds, $5,400, Masriera, Scottsdale, Ariz., 800-472-9872, www.masriera.com; Rebecca ring in 18k gold with diamonds, $2,760, Marian Mauer, Brooklyn, N.Y., 718-840-0596, marianmauer.com; 18k gold Byzantine Brioche mounting with diamonds, $2,190, Jessica Fields, Peapack, N.J., 212-380-1092, jessicafields.com; Calla ring in 14k gold with .33 ct. t.w. diamonds, $3,190, Shaesby, Austin, Texas, 512-453-7671, shaesby.com; Wood Nymph ring in 18K gold with .15 ct. t.w. rose-cut diamond and diamond accents, $900, Megan Thorne, Fort Worth, Texas, 817-731-4374, meganthorne.com

Today’s bridal customer is becoming “a lot more frugal and a lot more information-driven,” says Brad Huisken, president of IAS Training, a retail sales management training firm in Lakewood, Colo. “They’re doing preliminary shopping on the Internet to get education, then going into the store to see the diamonds in person.” The result, he says, is a much more price-savvy shopper.

The biggest impact of the recession on bridal jewelry is that center stones have shrunk. Pre-recession diamond sizes hovered just above 1 ct.; now, they’ve dropped to 0.9 ct., while the average ticket has dropped around $400 since the flush years of the middle of the decade, according to JIRI. What’s more, today’s brick-and-mortar retailers must compete with online sellers to a greater degree than ever before. Up to 83 percent of buyers browse online before setting foot in a store, according to Sally Furrer of Sally Furrer Consulting in Libby, Mont. This trend has implications for how retailers educate customers as well as how they price their merchandise.

Something Old

A TWIST ON TRADITION (clockwise from above) 18k gold mounting with colorless and black diamonds, $4,290, Simon G., Glendale, Calif., 818-500-8595, simongjewelry.com; 3.30 cts. t.w. black diamond in 14k gold with colorless accents, $8,500, Catherine Angiel, NYC, 800-726-8515, catherineangiel.com; pavé Twist ring with .72 ct. t.w. diamonds in platinum, $9,750, Lazare Kaplan, NYC, 800-554-3325, lazarediamonds.com; Wildflower mounting with diamonds in 18k gold, $2,235, Maevona, NYC, 212-557-7300, maevona.com; 3.44 cts. tw. rough black diamond with 1 ct. tw. colorless melee in 18k gold, $6,995, Diamonds for a Cure, NYC, 516-466-1826, diamondsforacure.com; 2.19 cts. t.w. green sapphire with diamonds in platinum, $8,500, McTeigue & McClelland, NYC, 800-956-2826, mc2jewels.com

When it comes to ring styles, today’s young-adult “millennial” shoppers demonstrate a surprising preference for the traditional. Although some retailers say they are seeing some experimentation with colored gemstones and alternative metals like titanium and even stainless steel, the default choice is still a center-mounted diamond, with up to 90 percent of buyers opting for white gold settings. Growing demand from same-sex couples has generated greater interest in nontraditional offerings such as the ornately carved bands by Lithuanian designer Alex Sepkus (p. 80), says Matthew Rosenheim, president of Washington, D.C.’s Tiny Jewel Box. However, a significant portion of same-sex bridal shoppers do gravitate toward classic selections, notes Rosenheim.

What’s different about contemporary rings are the embellishments: Although the stones are smaller, they’re accented more frequently with smaller diamonds on the sides or around the center—a distinction jewelers say is a uniquely Gen-Y spin. According to JIRI stats, a mere 28 percent of rings today are solitaires. The vast majority are what Gassman calls  “something extra and different.”

“They want more detail in a smaller space,” says Brian Toone, president and CEO of the Jewelry Design Center in Spokane, Wash. “What we’re seeing has a solitaire or streamlined look, but when you look closer, there are more stones on the sides or detail work underneath to add that personal element.”

Takes Two to Say “I Do”

CLASSIC ELEGANCE (clockwise from above) Beloved diamond solitaire with 1.22 cts. t.w. diamonds in 18k gold, $12,000, Hearts On Fire, Boston, 800-343-1224, heartsonfire.com; octagonal mounting in a proprietary platinum alloy with colorless melee, $1,199, 585 Platinum for GM Diamonds, NYC, 212-764-1809, gm-diamonds.com; platinum mounting with colorless diamonds, $3,859, Designs by Vatche, NYC; 800-718-2444, dvatche.com; 18k gold Solea semi-mount with bezel-set and micro pavé accents, $2,502, Vanna K for S.A. Kitsinian, Van Nuys, Calif., 800-821-2351, vannak.com; platinum mounting with floral details, $947, Judy Evans for Platmex, Scottsdale, Ariz., 480-538-0670, platmex.com

The era in which a man would select an engagement ring for his intended without her input is long gone. While retailers report that men often make the initial trip, the purchase itself is usually a joint decision. For store owners, it’s important to have salespeople who can discuss the ring’s emotional value as well as its investment value and cut, clarity, color, and carat weight (yup: the four C’s), says Huisken. “The best salespeople today are the most curious. They need to be chameleons and adjust the presentations to address the customers’ buying motivations.”

Retailers also report a growing number of consumers asking about recycled gold, fair trade, or conflict-free diamonds, but this niche has yet to achieve the critical mass necessary to move the needle when it comes to sales. It could also be that eco- and socially conscious consumers are simply flying under the radar, due to the large number of customers who are bringing in heirlooms or reworking existing pieces.

Picture-Perfect Ending

HE’S WITH THE BAND (from far left, top to bottom) Troy band in BioBlu 27 (a proprietary alloy of cobalt, chromium, and molybdenum), $345, Scott Kay, Teaneck, N.J., 800-487-2724, scottkay.com; sterling silver band inspired by Loving v. Virginia (1967), which legalized interracial marriage in the U.S., $220, Ken & Dana, NYC, 212-972-7031, kenanddana.com; blackened 18k gold Metropolitan band, $2,240, Damiani, NYC, 877-326-6900, damianiusa.com; 10 mm stainless steel band lined in 24k gold, $1,740, Philip Crangi, NYC, 212-643-0026, crangifamilyproject.com; moveable Gear ring in stainless steel, $165, Ben Hopson and Glen Liberman for Kinekt, Livingston, N.J., 862-200-1184; kinektdesign.com; New White Tungsten Carbide band with a bonded finish of 95 percent platinum group metals, $299, Frederick Goldman, NYC, 800-682-4920; fgoldman.com; O-ring in 18k white gold with rubber insert (sizable at counter), $2,640, Mark Silverstein Imagines, Woodland Hills, Calif., 800-993-5900, msimagines.com

“Years ago, when someone wanted something unique, they didn’t know what, so we’d draw pictures,” says Jewelry Design Center’s Toone. Now, he says, customers are coming in prepared with tear sheets from magazines or catalogs and pointing out features they want to combine. “That aspect of custom is actually getting easier,” he says.

Rosenheim, who has invested in a CAD/CAM to create custom designs, says the preference for custom can sometimes be a red herring. “I find that a lot of people who want custom just haven’t found what they’re looking for,” he says. Today’s bridal buyers want something unique and meaningful to them, whether it’s one of a kind or simply something unlike what their friends and family members have.

In other words, it’s possible for a retailer without an in-house designer to remain competitive—although Huisken points out that they’ll miss out on the recession-driven trend toward refurbishment of existing stones and settings.