Bling is back in the wedding jewellery market

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In 2012 bridal shoppers want bigger diamonds and more of them.

Diamonds might be more expensive and consumers better educated in versing their four Cs, but neither has softened demand for more rocks and higher carats. Rachael Taylor reports on the rise of confidence, branded cuts and ethical sourcing.

The late Elizabeth Taylor once famously said that “big girls need big diamonds”, and it would seem that the bridal market is inclined to agree with her in 2012, although it’s not just the girls who want extra sparkle for their nuptials.

The diamond market has had a rocky ride of late with prices escalating sharply in the past 12 months to reach record levels and with a consumer market that is using the internet to better educate itself about the four Cs, retailers can often be hit with a hard sell.

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Lee Ruben at Gemex admits he has struggled with the volatile prices in the diamond market and has had to raise the prices of its diamond jewellery. “The problem that we have had with the diamond price this time last year is that they trebled and quadrupled depending on the quality,” he says. “However, retailers have been presented with problems from all their suppliers so demand is pretty resistant to price increase.” Resistant enough, in fact, for the brand to be investing money in a range of rings that are set with 4ct of diamonds and above.

Because despite increased prices and consumer awareness, shoppers are demanding more sparkle, not less. “It’s very much about diamond-set bands for ladies,” says Sue Hurst, store manager at Prestons of Bolton, of demand for wedding bands at her shop. “The majority of what we sell are 3mm fully set diamond bands.”

Hurst says this is a very different scenario to last year, when Prestons of Bolton struggled to sell the eternity bands that are now proving to be one of its most popular products.

At platinum brand Dennis & Lavery, owner Cindy Dennis Mangan confirms that her customers are also demanding wedding bands fully set with diamonds. “The bar has really been risen,” she says. “Eternity bands have become weddingbands now.”

Dennis & Lavery’s customers are asking for wedding bands set with anything between .15ct and .40ct of diamonds, but Dennis-Mangan also notes that customers are demanding larger central stones for engagement rings. “18 months ago it was all about a 1ct central stone but now that has changed and we’re being asked for 1.35ct central stone,” she says.

Demand for diamonds is also shaping the men’s market as manufacturers and jewellers report male shoppers asking for diamond-set wedding bands, and ladies piling on extra diamonds with embellishment on the shanks and settings of engagement rings.

James Maxwell of 21st Dimension, the company behind CMJ-exclusive diamond jewellery brand Mastercut, says that a major shift in the market has been the increasing confidence from retailers buying in the brand’s goods, suggesting an atmosphere of hope for bridal jewellery sales in 2012.

“We are seeing more confidence from retailers to make a commitment,” says Maxwell. “Fine jewellery retailers want to be jewellers, not just shops selling gifts and silver. They want to sell diamonds and bridal is always the first place that starts to pick up when confidence returns.”

Maxwell, who buys diamonds from De Beers through the DTC, builds on this good news with a nugget of hope about how the diamond market will perform in the coming months. “The market has been subdued internationally this year and I don’t see prices rising any more,” he says.

However, Maxwell adds that everything hinges on China and should demand shoot up then the UK could be in a tricky position. “Everybody is waiting until the Chinese New Year as the Far East has implications on prices as it is a huge market for diamonds,” he explains. “The retailers that I supply in China have been very bullish and this is where it is difficult for the UK as we are squeezed between a weak pound and strong demand in the US and China, which pushes prices up.”

Unfortunately these price fluctuations are out of UK retailers’ hands, but even should there be further rises in price, it might not necessarily have a huge impact on the bridal market. While jewellery consumers are more clued up than ever on diamonds, it is certification that has caught their attention more than market prices.

“Shoppers are more aware of certification than pricing,” says Hurst, who adds that, despite this, Prestons offers two cost levels of diamonds – certified and uncertified. “Certificated diamonds carry that extra cost and sometimes people don’t want to pay it. Some people want flash for their cash and so go for bigger uncertified diamonds.”

While some shoppers might swap the peace of mind that certification brings for a bigger bit of bling, a large proportion of the market is in fact demanding additional certification and are asking more questions about how ethical their are diamonds.

National jewellery chain Goldsmiths has been strongly pushing its selection of Canadian Ice diamonds, a range that puts ethical mining and clarity of supply chain at the fore of its sales messages. While the ethical diamond revolution has been rumbling on for some years now, the move by a well-known high street chain to target the masses with ethical messages shows just how far the debate has come.

Mastercut also offers an ethical dimension to its sales pitch. Each diamond is sold with a rough certificate that documents the weight of the stone when it was rough and its polished weight, the dates of when it was polished and its Kimberley Process certificate number. “If retailers buy a loose diamond they don’t know where it comes from but as we buy from a DTC source we can track it and customers can join us on that journey,” says Maxwell.

Trust is all part of brand building, which is becoming more important in the diamond market. Mainstream jewellery has been shaped by branding over the past few years and now diamonds are starting to follow suit. But offering consumers something more tangible than a clear conscience is vital and diamond brands are answering this with unique cuts.

Mastercut has developed its diamond cut with Tolkowsky which has given it 89 facets, 32 more than a traditional round brilliant cut. Canadian Ice, meanwhile offers 68 facets that are cut and polished by “some of the world’s leading master artisans” in Chiang Mai according to its marketing material.

At Jeremy France in Winchester, branded diamonds are proving to be a hit with customers. The diamond brand of choice at the store is Phoenix Cut, a diamond with 89 facets. These, it says, remain a top seller due to the quality of the stone setting, marketing and point-of-sale material. Jeremy France also says that the diamonds simply “come to life” more so than other branded cuts.

Signet has also bought into branded diamonds at its Ernest Jones and H Samuel stores. Ernest Jones carries The Leo Diamond by Leo Schachter, which claims to be the first diamond cut in the world to be visibly brighter thanks to a patented cut that returns more light, adding that “90% of people see the difference”. H Samuel meanwhile has a different line of branded diamonds, offering shoppers Forever Diamonds. These diamonds boast 73 facets, which, like The Leo Diamond, is exclusive to the retail group.

Signet UK commercial director Seb Hobbs says that the methodology behind offering exclusive diamond brands is to answer its customers’ calls for something unique. “Stocking [diamond] brands allows us to extend the choices available and gives our customers even more options in terms of cut, certification and style,” he says.

Just as individuality has bolstered demand for bespoke wedding jewellery, it – along with a stronger need to trust diamond dealers – has also built a business around branding diamonds. The increasing importance of these brands is not only positive for the ethical diamond trade, it also allows retailers to sell a premium product. And with demand not only increasing for premium diamonds but more of them the market looks set for a buoyant year.

 

COLOUR BURST: THE KATE EFFECT
Demand for coloured diamonds and gemstones in wedding bands and engagement rings is certainly on the rise. Whether or not the Duchess of Cambridge, who wears a Garrard sapphire engagement ring, is wholly responsibly for the influx in demand is a moot point but the colour is definitely back in vogue. Ernest Jones has reported a rise in sales of coloured stones, particularly its lemon- and chocolate-coloured diamonds by brand LeVian, while Dennis & Lavery says that it “rarely makes a men’s band without black diamonds”. Jeweller Brazen in Glasgow has noted a rise in the demand for brown diamonds and sapphires and Clogau Gold, which was touched by the royal wedding magic a little more than most, says that its Kate-style replica engagement ring is still popular although from February it will switch the stone from a sapphire to tanzanite to offer a more purplish colour.

 

This article was taken from the January issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read a digital version of this issue click here.

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