IN DEPTH: Bridal Report 2013

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What brides and grooms want from their wedding jewellery in 2013.

Brides and grooms tying the knot in 2013 want rings that are personal, value for money – but not necessarily cheap – and have extra added sparkle from additional diamonds or textured metal. Rachael Taylor reports on these and other trends shaping the wedding jewellery market this year.

Jewellery has not shifted seismically in the past 12 months but there have certainly been a few tweaks in the popularity of designs, metals and priorities – and innovation amongst the manufacturers – driven by the continuing theme of personalisation.

Every bride, and groom, dreams of a wedding day that is uniquely tailored to them; one that is about their interests and their style, and wedding rings should reflect this.

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“Weddings today are all about individuality,” says Domino marketing manager Andrew Sollitt. “People are marrying later and they are creating wedding services, wedding breakfasts – everything about the day, including the jewellery – to reflect their own personal style. Manufacturers and retailers have responded to this trend towards personalisation with a far greater choice of wedding jewellery than in the past. The classic styles are still the most popular choice for us, but with the individual and unique contemporary twists that our in-house design department can provide. ”

Stubbs & Co also believes that the trend for personalisation has legs, as do bespoke services. “Consumers are becoming more demanding and want to be more involved in the creation of their jewellery,” says Stubbs & Co managing director David Shem-Tov. “We have developed ConfigureRing, a software tool that can be used by a sales person in a consultative sales presentation to help consumers do just that.”

ConfigureRing has been designed to be used by trained sales staff in retail shops to offer myriad design and price possibilities, but also to help traditional retailers battle against the wealth of choice offered by online-only sellers.

While such e-tailers cannot usually be beaten on price, Gemex sales director Lee Ruben believes these sites are actually helping to increase bespoke business at high street jewellers, as while they offer a huge choice, it can be overwhelming. “I think [the rise of bespoke is] due to more and more internet sites and apps offering the Design Your Own Ring service,” he says, adding that Gemex handles about 40 bespoke jobs every week. “Because many of these sites don’t actually have a premises for the customer to visit, this process can be very tedious for the customer. Therefore, they’re more than likely to take their idea to a traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer because they’re able to discuss their ideas face to face.”

Brown & Newirth offers retailers a bespoke service as well as a wide range of finished rings and sales director John Ball says this arm of the business has been booming of late. “Our bespoke department has never been so busy,” he says. “As a manufacturer, we are able to work with our customers to achieve any required deign that the consumer is looking for. With a growing team of designers who are able to draw, carve and CAD, we expect to become more important than ever to our retail partners moving forward.”

Charles Green also offers in-house bespoke services, ranging from slight modifications to full commissions and head of design Pip Beale says the rise in bespoke has led to shoppers who know just what they want. “Certainly the bride, and more so than ever the groom, know exactly what they are looking for from both research on the internet and influences such as their mother’s or grandmother’s rings,” says Beale. “Because we make every ring to order in our Birmingham workshop we are able to cater to the customer’s needs, from adding an extra diamond or 10, to designing an original matching engagement ring set from scratch.”

And it is a trend that Beale expects to continue. He says: “I believe that the buyer’s individual style will be prominent in 2013 with more bespoke pieces being made, and more personal wedding rings being designed. Whether these are flashier or more conservative depends on the customer.”

Value Sensitivity
While offering a wide range of rings caters for shoppers looking for individuality and choice, it can also help retailers to open up additional possibilities to customers on a budget.

“Every penny we all spend in life is far more considered than it was perhaps five or six years ago,” says Ball at Brown & Newirth. “We look closer at the cost of whatever we buy and the wedding shopper is no different. As a manufacturer we are very flexible and have been able to produce in lower fineness metals, but more importantly we design for market needs and requirements, which includes price points.”

While some budgets might be more constrained than others – and Stubbs & Co has reacted this by launching ranges of narrow and lightweight rings – seeking out value is not all about saving money but about making sure investments are maximised, and this savvy line of thought is playing a key role in the wedding jewellery market.

“Yes, shoppers today are price conscious, however they are more value conscious and there is a big difference,” says Hearts on Fire UK and Ireland sales manager David Hartley. “Customers will spend their money when they understand the value that they are buying.”

Beale at Charles Green, which offers all its rings in lower-priced 9ct gold or palladium, believes, like Hartley, that having a keen eye on price is more about seeking out value than a bargain. “We find that although consumers are looking for a good price they still appreciate the value in investing into a well-made piece of jewellery, as it will be with them forever,” he says.

At top end of the market there has been little price resistance, according to Gemex, which specialises in high-value diamond-set rings. Despite this the company is about to start catering for a lower price bracket by offering its Raphael Collection set with H SI diamonds to lower price tags by an estimated 20% to 25%. Ruben says: “We don’t feel that this will cannibalise sales of our F/G VS market, it will just open up further avenues and distribution channels for us and allow more jewellers to get in on the action.”

Classic, But Extra Sparkle
When picking out a ring that will be worn for the rest of their lives, most brides to be will play it safe, which is why solitaires continue to be overwhelmingly the most popular choice. But while the majority of couples are opting for an engagement ring with a single central stone they are now looking for extra embellishment in the form of smaller diamonds on the shoulders of the ring, or perhaps looping the solitaire with smaller diamonds to create a halo effect. “Demand for shoulder-set products was higher than ever in 2012,” affirms Sollitt at Domino. “But our reinterpretation of essentially classic styles still seem to be the most popular choice.”

Hartley says figures at Hearts on Fire echo this trend. “Solitaires continue to be very popular, however I have seen a shift towards product with additional diamond content,” he explains. “Diamond halos and shoulders that offer the consumer more bang for their buck have been very popular.”

At Stubbs & Co, diamond pavé details have proved a popular method of creating extra sparkle. “Classic diamond solitaires continue to be popular and the trend toward pavé-set detailing is also strongly prevalent in the market,” says Shem-Tov.

As well as providing a bit more flash, Ruben at Gemex believes that the shift of the market towards using more diamonds signifies a more liberal consumer that is happy to experiment. “Stone-set shoulders with and without halos [have been popular],” he says. “These have a tendency to make the centre stone look even bigger and brides are no longer afraid to experiment with their designs and go for something more fancy. Rings with shoulder-set stones also offer more bling for less buck as these are set with much smaller diamonds.”

Fancy Bands
Demand for extra sparkle has also extended to wedding bands, for both men and women, and Shem-Tov says that Stubbs & Co’s bestselling micro-set diamond circle rings have proved popular with ladies using them as wedding bands.

Gemex has also noted an increase in demand for diamond-set wedding bands and says that it is hard to keep up with the demand for variety of choice. “We have a range of over 1,400 diamond-set wedding bands, the largest in the country, and you still can’t please everyone,” says Ruben. “That’s why our product development department is continuously designing new concepts based on crucial customer feedback.”

At Domino demand has been such that it has increased its range of diamond-set wedding bands for women and is also working on new lines for men set with either diamonds or black sapphires. “Where diamonds are chosen by men, they tend to be as a subtle finishing touch,” explains Sollitt. “To offer men more choice our new collection offers two contemporary bands set with either diamonds or black sapphires on the edge of the profile, and these are already causing a bit of a stir with our customers.”

While some shoppers might just be looking for a smattering of small diamonds on the band, or perhaps a half-loop of rounds, others are seeking out maximum diamond detail with channel-set bands, a product sector that Brown & Newirth describes as being “very strong” for it.

Hearts on Fire has built its business on a premium diamond offer and Hartley says that more of its customers are now looking for not just one great diamond but several. “In the wedding ring market I still feel that quality plain wedding bands remain very popular, however I have seen a shift toward diamond set and accented product,” he says. “People do like to put diamonds with diamonds. The key here is to encourage the sale of a wedding ring at the stage of the engagement ring sale, as many times we see that wedding rings bought then are higher in retail value than those bought when all the wedding budget is already spent.”

Textured Metal
Texture is proving to be an important trend in wedding jewellery for 2013, with a particular focus on bringing alternative finishes to gent’s bands.

For shoppers who still want a point of difference, and a bit of sparkle, but who don’t want, or can’t afford, extra diamonds, texturing may be the answer.

Domino offers a range of rings with alternative finishing touches including extra grooves, millgrain lines and diamond-look centres, plus polished or satin finishes. “I think people will continue to want to enhance their wedding jewellery with more diamonds and extra finishing touches but not in an ostentatious or flashy way – it’s going to be more a question of subtle added extras,” says Sollitt. “Our finishing touches are perfect for this.”

Brown & Newirth has noted a “definite decrease” in sales of men’s diamond-set wedding bands – a trend echoed by Stubbs & Co – but it is working on new ranges of textured bands for gents, which it will introduce to buyers at The Jewellery Show.

Also showing new product at The Jewellery Show – more than 50 new designs – Charles Green describes its diamond-cut gents’ rings as the “runaway success” from last year and is also releasing a number of new textured finishes at the February exhibition.

Platinum Powers On
When it comes to metal choice, platinum seems to be dominating the bridal jewellery market, stealing share from 18ct white gold, according to a number of major manufacturers.

“With the price difference between platinum and 18ct white gold being smaller than ever, I have seen a move towards platinum,” says Hartley at Hearts on Fire.

Gemex reports a “sharp rise” in platinum sales in 2012, which Ruben attributes to the high price of gold and also the efforts of the Platinum Guild International’s UK team, which was disbanded at the beginning of this year, to promote the metal to consumers. Ruben adds: “I am very sorry to [former head of PGI UK] Ruth Donaldson and her colleagues go.”

Ruben claims that Gemex accounts for 4% of all 950 platinum jewellery hallmarked in the UK and Ruben says that it is “by a long way” the company’s bestselling metal. “18ct white gold is in second place but still lags way behind platinum,” says Ruben. “I think our success in this market can be attributed to using high-quality diamonds, a superior finish and the fact that an ounce of platinum costs less than an ounce of gold.”

Is Palladium Dipping?
A recent report by Johnson Matthey painted a grim picture for the palladium market, which decreased by 11% in 2012 and is expected to contract further in 2013, but the word from manufacturers in the sector is that the metal is still proving to be a winner for men’s wedding bands.

“Palladium is definitely on the up as a choice for men,” says Sollitt, adding that while the metal is outperformed by platinum for ladies, it is the most popular choice for gents’ wedding bands.

Brown & Newirth, which recorded total like-for-like sales up 6% last year, says that sales of its platinum and palladium bands have fared well. “Brown & Newirth have continued to see strong sales in palladium,” says Ball. “This is, however, largely the gents’ metal of choice, if they decide on white metal. The expectation for 2013 is much the same, especially given that Johnson Matthey has produced some up-to-date educational point-of-sale material for retailers’ window displays.”

Stubbs & Co has upped the number of palladium rings in its men’s offer, something Shem-Tov says has been driven by price sensitivity in the market as well as an increase in sales.

Another manufacturer doing well with palladium is Charles Green and Beale describes the increase of palladium sales – along with a general increase in men’s wedding band sales – as being one of the biggest changes in the market in the past year. “For us, palladium was the most popular metal in 2012,” he says. “We always have, and always will, shout about the benefits of platinum, especially for engagement rings and the bride-to-be’s wedding ring, but palladium is a great alternative and has been phenomenally successful for us.”

Palladium sales have slowed at Gemex, although Ruben describes the metal as still being “very popular” for gent’s wedding bands. The company offers its entire Raphael collection in palladium, but Ruben says that it does not actively push the metal and adds that only the higher purities cut the mustard with jewellers. “Palladium 500 is a definite no no,” he says. “None of our stockists have shown any interest in that and, anyway, where do you draw the line between a fine metal and a fine metal mixed heavily with non-precious alloys?”

The Year Ahead
Looking to the year ahead, manufacturers are overwhelmingly putting their faith in the public’s ability to recognise value. While most are investing in offering retailers a huge selection of options to pass on to shoppers that cater for both a variety of tastes and a variety of budgets, the feedback is that people willing to splash out on a wedding in straightened times will be willing to invest in rings that will last.

The recession has borne a certain air of austerity that has led consumers seeking out long-term value in everything they buy, and the wedding market is no different.

The question is what do they see value in? For some this may be extra diamonds, for others platinum, and for some it might be an original design that has an emotional value that far outweighs its commodity value.

The key is finding out what makes shoppers tick and tapping into the vast network of suppliers and options to make sure that no shopper need walk out of a jewellers’ store without a smile on their face and a ring in their pocket, or at least an order on route to a workshop, be that in house or outsourced.

This feature was taken from the February issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the digital edition online, click here

 

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