FEATURE: Jewellery experts analyse the bridal market

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This year’s bridal jewellery trends balance classic styles with contemporary designs as consumers once again look for timeless pieces that they can wear forever. Here, retailers and suppliers share their insights into the market…

Despite a sharp drop in the number of people getting married in the UK, bridal jewellery has continued to provide a steady stream of revenue for jewellery retailers.

For Liverpool-based Wongs Jewellers, the bridal market is an area the independent retailer wants to continue to invest in over the next 12 months as managing director, Peter Wong, believes this sector of the industry is strong and figures show an impressive growth of what couples want to spend on their big day.

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“We are investing money and a lot of time to ensure we are maximising on this market,” shares Wong. “We would like to see better sales across our diamond, pearl and bridal jewellery suites for brides. By investing in a plush bridal environment in store, attending wedding shows, and selecting and creating bespoke collections, we expect to see definite growth of turnover in this area.”

Reflecting on last year’s sales, Wong expects the store’s ladies platinum bands to continue to perform well, alongside diamond sets and wedding bands which perfectly match the consumer’s engagement ring.

For gents, court shaped 5mm bands with a brushed finish are popular at Wongs, as grooms-to-be who are not used to wearing a ring are looking for something understated. The retailer has found most gents prefer a lighter weight, white metal, leading to a strong sell through of palladium male wedding bands.

At Leicester-based Lanes Fine Jewellery, the store has noticed a rise in the number of grooms-to-be buying bridal suites as gifts. In terms of trends Lanes does not anticipate a big shift this year. Business owner Carli Onguc believes classic pieces will continue to be popular as clients view these as an investment.

Onguc comments: “As diamond specialists we offer a classic range of diamond lines such as tennis bracelets and stud earrings and these are ever popular. Some of our exclusive contemporary ranges are becoming more popular every year, which is fantastic as these have been designed in house.”

Lanes Fine Jewellery is not the only retailer to highlight a rise in bridal suite purchases either. High street jewellery retailer Goldsmiths also pinpoints this as an area of growth.

“We are seeing more and more customers invest in bridal suites than ever before, matching their earrings to their necklaces and wedding rings,” reports Goldsmiths’ executive director, Craig Bolton. He continues: “Brides used to view jewellery as an afterthought to the dress but now it is as an important a decision. We are finding that customers are matching pieces within their bridal jewellery purchase, with wedding bands to match their engagement ring as well as earrings and pendants which also complement the whole look.”

Last year Goldsmiths collaborated with British designer Jenny Packham on an exclusive collection, which has exceeded the company’s expectations since it launch into stores in September.

“The Jenny Packham brand is renowned for beautiful, timeless designs, and her designs translate perfectly into jewellery,” Bolton explains. “We have found the Art Deco inspired pieces have been really popular as they are timeless yet inspiring designs. We expect to find brides searching for statement pieces, as well as beautiful timeless jewellery for their bridal looks next season and we will be expanding our product categories to offer this.”

Goldsmiths

Goldsmiths X Jenny Peckham

A twist on an old classic
When talking to retailers and suppliers, many mentioned both contemporary and classic designs as the order of the day. While modern brides are stilling looking for pieces with a twist there has been a noticeable return to consumers looking for bridal jewellery which will stand the test of time.

Bespoke manager at Alex Monroe, Susie Lee, comments: “I think this year will see an increase in customers who want to buy ‘forever’ pieces. There’s going to be a move towards jewellery that is seen as a lifelong investment.”

While at Alex Monroe nothing is ever simply ‘classic’, Lee predicts the brand’s elegant new Spring Halo pieces, which offer consumers a modern twist on a classic style, will appeal to customers looking for the next generation of timeless, family heirlooms.

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Alex Monroe Spring Halo collection.

At Hockley Mint traditional styles are still the most popular, with a classic four claw diamond single stone being the preferred choice for an engagement ring. However, the company’s area sales manager Carol Sinfield says halo designs are still on the increase.

When it comes to a modern classic, halo styles have been performing extremely well in the UK jewellery industry. 77 Diamonds creative director, David Allen, comments: “The trend for halo engagement rings with a matching diamond set wedding band shows no sign of abating. I predict it will be the most popular bridal choice in 2017.”

The Diamond Store director, Gary Ingram, adds: “Halo diamond rings have overtaken the traditional solitaire as the engagement ring of choice for most younger couples and I see this trend continuing to grow for at least another year or two.”

“We have been waiting a couple of years for rose gold to force its way into the bridal market in a more substantial way, but this hasn’t quite happened yet,” Ingram continues. “We’ve also seen the first hints of a third trend that’s just starting to emerge – stackable ‘third tier’ rings such as diamond or gemstone eternity rings, which sit alongside the engagement ring and wedding band. All of these trends are about achieving a more luxurious look, which I think is the defining element throughout.”

Jewellery manufacturer and supplier Domino introduced engagement ring enhancers last year as part of its Sienna collection. These enhancers have proved to be a popular introduction, with the halo design attracting a particularly strong interest.

Elsewhere at Domino white on white remained the most popular choice for both wedding and engagement rings last year, but the company did experience a slightly greater demand for bi-metal designs incorporating a hint of yellow or rose gold.

While diamonds and sparkles still remain the lead choice for bridal jewellery, retailers and suppliers have also noted that brides are increasingly adding a pop of colour to their engagement rings and wedding day jewels.

E.W. Adams director, Edward Adams, remarks: “Demand for coloured stone engagement rings will really grow this year; increasing amounts of bridal buyers are looking for something different and better value and fine coloured gems like blue and pink sapphires, aquamarines and rubies offer this to them.”

77 Diamonds and JewelStreet have both seen an increase in popularity for alternative stones in engagement rings — with sapphires and rubies being mentioned by many suppliers as on the rise.

Jewellery designer, Alexis Dove, adds: “We have seen a massive upward trend in unusual sapphires for engagement rings in the past year. Unusual diamonds are also still popular, with the interest in rose cuts and salt and pepper diamonds continuing throughout the year.”
In addition to halo styles and coloured gemstones, Art Deco and vintage inspired designs continue to win the hearts of consumers too.

Rose Gold Peachy Diamond

Unusual stones shine for Alexis Dove.

Fairtrade Forecast
As consumers continue to question the provenance of products before making final purchases, it is important to look at Fairtrade gold when considering the future of the bridal jewellery market.

At the end of last year the jewellery industry witnessed the Fairtrade gold message being shared in innovative ways.
In July 2016, Birmingham-based fine jewellery and bridal manufacturer Hockley Mint launched the UK’s first Fairtrade Ambassador Scheme — an initiative to encourage retailers to invest in Fairtrade gold jewellery.

Designed as an effortless way for independent jewellers to stock, promote and sell Fairtrade gold wedding and engagement rings, the scheme provides retail stores with point-of-sale display and marketing materials needed to highlight Fairtrade products.
At its launch the initiative had 30 independent jewellery retailers on board, including Drakes Jewellers, Michael Wall, Marmalade Jewellers, Baroque Jewellery and Daniel Christopher.

“As a company, Hockley Mint has seen an increase of over 1,000% of Fairtrade gold sold in 2016 to 2015 and we are just about to send out to our Fairtrade gold customers POS support, which includes store training packs, A5 show cards, postcards and concertina’s for consumers to take away, which show striking images from Peruvian goldmines and information about gold mining and how the Fairtrade Premium is used by the miners,” Sinfield shares.

She adds: “As there is very little difference in the cost, this will only increase and Fairtrade will become an integral part of the jewellery supply chain.”

In addition to the Fairtrade Ambassador Scheme, last September marked a nationwide push from the Fairtrade Foundation to promote Fairtrade gold.

The initiative kicked off with a series of conferences held across England, Scotland and Wales, followed by the launch of a new e-learning platform and the creation of a suite of new business resources and new campaigner literature.

The initiative was designed to inspire, motivate and equip community networks to boost awareness of how jewellery is made and in turn increase sales for jewels crafted from Fairtrade gold.

Despite this push during the latter half of last year, do retailers and suppliers believe Fairtrade gold to be a growing trend in the industry?
While many Professional Jeweller spoke to said they do not currently stock Fairtrade products and have not yet had consumers enquire about it, many, especially independent jewellers, believe it to be on the rise.

“The interest in traceability is growing, customers are asking more questions and expecting answers,” shares Alexis Dove, who recently opened the doors to an ethical boutique in Lewes. “I have already seen a massive increase in enquiries for Fairtrade gold and as awareness grows so will popularity. I see Fairtrade gold beginning to have an impact on the high street soon — it is not a trend that is going away.”

Category manager for jewellery at Not On The High Street, Diane Smith, adds: “The rise of ethical and Fairtrade gold looks set to become increasingly important in 2017 and tied in with that the trend for more artisan finishing with soft gold and celebrating imperfections with clustered gemstone settings.”

Domino remarks that manufacturing Fairtrade gold is still an important aspect of the company’s business and of the bridal market as a whole.

Domino Jewellery's Creative Finishing Touches

Ethical trading is important to Domino.

“Ethical trading and luxury jewellery go hand in hand and consumers are undoubtedly placing increased importance on knowing the origin of their products and how the materials have been sourced,” Domino’s sales and marketing manager, Andrew Sollitt, shares.

While Wongs Jewellers currently doesn’t stock any Fairtrade gold pieces, managing director Peter Wong says it is a topic he is looking to learn more about this year, with plans to attend seminars on the subject and look into what he can do with Fairtrade in 2017.

Online Commitments
An area that is certainly growing in the industry is the online bridal jewellery market. Gone are the days where consumers fear making important purchases online. As long as there is a good returns policy, shoppers have proven they are willing to depart with large sums of money on digital platforms.

“Consumers are now more online savvy than ever before,” remarks 77 Diamonds creative director David Allen. “They visit stores to get an idea of style and design, but are more than happy to purchase online to get better value and the same quality.”

The Diamond Store’s Ingram adds: “As long as there is a clear, easy and painless returns process, then most consumers are happy to take the plunge.”

Online marketplace Not On The High Street actively focused on expanding its bridal offering last year as the company noticed an appetite for more unique and personal bridal jewellery, an area in which the business excels.

While Smith admits that at first Not on the High Street witnessed consumers resisting to buy pieces such as engagement rings online, this has changed quite rapidly as online has provided great value for money in areas such as diamonds.

Smith says: “We see an increased confidence in buying over £500 and the £800-£2500 bracket works especially well for us, with customers confident about spending this much online. It greatly helps that customers can place bespoke orders though liaising with our partners directly, so this inspires confidence to get exactly what you want.

JewelStreet joined the bridal market last year in a bid to make sure it has a good collection of authentic and designer led brands across the board.

In keeping with the businesses ethos, JewelStreet has focused on unique bridal piece that have been hand crafted. Bridal brands on JewelStreet include Arctic Circle, The Inspired Collection, Luminar, Arabel Lebrusan and Rox Diamonds & Thrills.

“I think customers are feeling more comfortable buying all types of jewellery online,” Passmore shares. “There are also a lot of good technologies coming online that help to provide confidence in the stones they buy, such as Ever Ledger.”

In terms of trends, JewelStreet has seen a lot of intricate designs coming through, with consumers moving away from big single stones. Passmore predicts rose gold will become more popular and prevalent in wedding jewellery over the next 12 months.

Over at 77 Diamonds engagement rings are the most popular product for the online jewellery retailer. In 2016, the business also saw a rise in purchases of wedding rings, with engagement ring customers returning to buy wedding and eternity bands.

This year 77 Diamonds will continue to add to existing ranges, and create new collections which will incorporate an engagement ring, matching wedding band, earrings and necklace.

For The Diamond Store the bridal side of the business has gone from strength to strength. Ingram remarks: “We love the bridal side of the business because it sets the trend for the rest of the ranges. We use our bridal collections to measure the changes that will inevitably come through — because the bridal buyers of today are the anniversary, wedding ring and eternity ring buyers of the future.”

Looking to the future Ingram believes the online bridal marketplace will become more crowded as the traditional bricks and mortar brands continue to get to grips with the nuances of selling online. Ingram explains: “Customers, just like mobile phones, are getting smarter and internet speeds are getting faster. This means customers will expect a richer content experience and all e-tailers will have to embrace this during 2017.”

“Being ready for purchases made from mobiles is now crucial for any online retailer,” Allen adds. “Tiffany already has an app for trying on rings with different diamond sizes. Soon you’ll be able to upload a photo of yourself and try on jewellery digitally without having to go in-store to see it.”

Not On The High Street also mentions that with the rise of jewellery on Instagram and Pinterest, the UK customer is becoming more trend aware and diverse in their tastes than ever before, carving the way for style-led bridal jewels and broader global ranges.

Smith adds: “The ability to style and personalise is also working well online, as you are not limited by stock holding across stores.”

Brexit and Bridal
One of the biggest challenges for retailers and suppliers working within this sector of the market is, and will continue to be, currency fluctuations and rising gold prices since the European Union referendum vote.

Sinfield at Hockley Mint remarks: “Brexit was unexpected and has had an effect on businesses in the UK with the weakening of the pound against the euro and the dollar. Raw material costs are rising which we have to manage in the business but as a UK based manufacturer we are not exposed to the volatility of the exchange market as some companies. This should make us a more attractive option to UK retailers.

Hockley Mint

Hockley Mint advocates for British manufacturing.

The jewellery industry is used to the peaks and troughs of the metal market and we as a business buy what gold we need and price daily to smooth out the variances.”

Sollitt from Domino echoes: “The price of bullion has been volatile for the past eight or nine years – since the financial crash – and the Brexit vote has not helped to stabilise it. Brexit has clearly had an effect on the whole retail sector creating an aspect of uncertainty and lowering consumer buying confidence. However such things are all part of running a business and as with all changes to external factors, we have and will continue to adapt to work around them. I think the fact that Domino manufactures many of its products here in the UK leaves us better placed than businesses which are importing from overseas and buying in dollars.”

One particular battle jewellery retailers have had to face is the pricing war. Many have held back so far on raising prices, but claim they inevitably will have to do so this year. Wongs Jewellers has already taken the plunge on some of its products, but so far has not seen a negative impact.

“We have certainly noticed the increase in prices and tried to respond accordingly,” explains Wong. “Some of our products now have a higher RRP and some are the same – fortunately, we haven’t noted a decrease in sales as a result of price increases – we are still extremely competitive in the marketplace and continue to offer an unrivalled after care service.” Ognuc from Lanes adds: “It just means you have to work harder when purchasing. As with most things there are always opportunities to be had when a big change has taken place. Our prices have become more appealing to our overseas clientele for example.”

While Brexit will continue to have an effect on the UK jewellery industry, many suppliers believe the uncertain economic climate will encourage consumers to look for quality and craftsmanship more so than ever before. With this, shoppers will be even more receptive to items that have been created and crafted in the UK.

“I believe the future for the bridal jewellery market is a very interesting one, with a huge shift towards more designer and unique pieces,” Alexis Dove shares with Professional Jeweller. “Customers will want more answers about the sourcing of the materials for their jewellery, they will also want to know where the jewellery is made and by who. These issues, I believe, will become more important with every year that passes.”

Adams concludes: “Clearly the diamond market will continue to be very difficult for retailers as more and more people shop with online sites with low costs and even lower margins. However, retailers who carry really comprehensive collections of more unusual engagement styles, priced with realistic margins, can offer the bridal buyer a product and service that is far superior to anything they can buy online.”

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