IN DEPTH: Bridal report 2014

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What brides and grooms will wear down the aisle in the year ahead.

This year’s bridal jewellery trends are being shaped by changing metal tastes, the influence of social media and grooms’ growing confidence in fashion. But it’s not just about the ring – personal service also pays off, as Kathryn Bishop reports.

With a new year, comes a host of newly-engaged couples, hitting jewellery retailers ready to find the wedding jewellery that will seal their commitment.

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and UK Weddings Shows reveal that 234,464 couples got married in the UK in 2013, a figure that has grown 6.6% in the two years.

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The figures also show that 84% of couples cohabit before marrying, meaning they are more likely to plan their wedding together and, as a result, could shop for their wedding jewellery together.

Compared to the 2011 Census, the average age of couples getting married has also crept up, with the ONS and UK Wedding Shows stats revealing the average woman marries at 30 years of age, while men are typically 33 years old. This could also suggest that couples are putting off their weddings until they are older, but a later wedding might mean more money has been saved for the big day.

RINGING TRUE
The jewellery market is known to be a leisurely mover when it comes to trends, especially for fine jewellery, but if there is one area where trends are evident, it is among engagement ring styles.

Arguably the early 2000s were all about minimalism. Chunky polished or matt-finish bands with a single stone were ubiquitous, with international companies such as Niessing, Christian Bauer and Henrich & Denzel leading this contemporary style movement.

Today, engagement rings are looking backwards with vintage inspirations, from clusters to Art Deco shapes, ruling the preferences of both retail buyers selecting new collections and those brides-to-be.

Hockley Mint’s head of new product development Poppy Stevens says this changing trend has caused it to update its latest collections. “Clusters have become quite popular for us, so we have added clusters with a glamorous and vintage feel to the range,” she explains.

Bridal jewellery manufacturers Brown & Newirth, Gemex, Continental and retailers Beaverbrooks and ROX all describe the halo ring as today’s engagement ring of choice – a sentiment that echoes 2012’s major bridal trend. This ring with a central stone and a surround of diamonds has become the frontrunner in the engagement ring stakes.

“Flush fit halo-style engagement rings with diamond-set shoulders and matching diamond wedding bands have been extremely strong for us in 2013 and we expect this trend to continue in 2014,” states Gemex sales director Lee Ruben. Beaverbrooks’ head of buying and merchandising Adelle Thompson concurs: “There has been a significant increase in the number of styles of engagement rings, in particular the halo setting and multiple diamond clusters.”

Of course, the solitaire is not forgotten as its style remains synonymous with what an engagement ring should be. For ROX, which operates seven stores across Scotland and England, four-claw engagement rings are its bestsellers, a theme echoed by north of England retailer Green + Benz. Says Andrew Hinds, managing director of UK high street retailer F. Hinds: “Our bestselling ring has to be a classic solitaire, anything from a 20 point diamond in 9ct white gold at about £400 to a half-carat diamond in 18ct white gold at £1,150.”

THE LATEST BOY BANDS
While brides-to-be are saying yes to clasically-styled engagement rings, the growth of the UK wedding ring market has given rise to more companies seeking to answer the public’s changing tastes. Unlike Europe, the UK bridal market is steered less towards matching wedding bands and more towards bespoke designs or a ring that shows off some of the wearer’s personality.

The men’s market in particular has gained strength in the past year, with the likes of Charles Green, Brown & Newirth and Dennis & Lavery recognising the growth of fashion-savvy men seeking rings that fit with their style of dress and other accessories. More men are choosing to match their wedding band with their watch, which has given rise to bi-colour white metal and rose gold rings, as exemplified by Brown & Newirth’s and Charles Green’s ranges. “Gents are after a more engineered look, such as rings with diamond-cut lines or contrasting matt and polished finishes,” explains Charles Green director Oliver Sutton. “A few years ago our patterned rings would account for about 10% of men’s wedding rings sold through a jewellery retailer; now it can be up to 60%.”

For 2014, Charles Green has extended its rose gold and palladium men’s wedding ring collection, after it proved popular in 2013. This has even led to men buying Charles Green diamond-cut pattern rings as dress rings. “Men are more confident and interested in fashion and are seeing their wedding band as another accessory that says something about them,” Sutton adds.

But contemporary styles can also fit with tradition. At bespoke bridal company Dennis & Lavery, a growing number of clients are seeking male engagement rings, stone-set or with heavily patterned surfaces.

“Men’s rings are still enjoying patterns galore,” states Dennis & Lavery co-founder Cindy Dennis Mangan. “I’m about to start on a men’s engagement ring commission with a heavily engraved patterned face. The client will also wear a polished flat band as his wedding band alongside; he likes the tradition of marking the pre-commitment phase and the final commitment that women are able to mark with their engagement and wedding bands.”

Leeds-based fine jewellery designer Andrew Geoghegan has also noted the potential of the men’s market and plans to launch his first men’s wedding band collection in 2014. “I have some ideas up my sleeve which I must keep to myself for the moment, but I am confident that I will have some very interesting offerings later this year,” he says. “Gent’s wedding rings are a tricky market, which leaves me with a good challenge.”

METALLIC TASTE
Consumers’ changing position on precious metals and the likely impact of the recession has bought with it a rise in palladium 500 and 9ct gold wedding bands. UK hallmarking figures for the fourth quarter of 2013 show palladium 500 hallmarking increased 42.3%, with 9ct gold up 17%.

The growth of palladium wedding bands was explored in Professional Jeweller’s June 2013 issue; now the metal has truly hit the mainstream. At Brown & Newirth, palladium has become a popular choice for men’s wedding bands. “Palladium is still a firm favourite, though platinum remains the aspirational choice,” states Brown & Newirth sales director John Ball. “[But] today’s favourable metal prices mean we are producing more platinum bands.”

The growth in palladium rings is mirrored at Hockley Mint. “I think consumers are becoming more confident in palladium as a precious metal and we are seeing a rise in palladium engagement rings,” notes Stevens. “For those who are on a tight budget but still want a quality feel, they can get more diamond for their money if they choose palladium over platinum.”

At retailer Green + Benz, gents are opting for lower fineness metals to give their brides-to-be a few more diamonds. “We have had an increasing amount of enquiries for 9ct gold wedding bands and gents choosing a lesser option such as palladium or titanium,” states Green + Benz Sheffield store deputy manager Victoria Huckle. “This allows the ladies to have their sparkle and is an example of couples being more conservative with their wedding budget.”

SPARKLING ON THE SHOP FLOOR
A website or shop window might be your first chance to woo a couple looking to buy wedding jewellery, but what happens when they step over the threshold of your store?

Are they greeted with a bright hello and the option of a seat, a drink or luxury consultation room? Today, all four should be a standard in such a competitive market.

If the groom bought an engagement ring from you and is returning with his fiancée, it is a chance for sales staff to impress by remembering the ring, discussing the wedding plans and most of all making the couple feel like they and their custom are truly valued.

Green + Benz, which recently refurbished its in-store viewing lounges to give customers a more personal space, has implemented a voucher system to ensure that it remains in touch with gents that have purchased engagement rings. “We offer couples a voucher towards a pair of wedding rings, which we validate for six months from when the engagement ring is collected,” explains Green + Benz Sheffield manager Sarah Cannon. “We do this to keep in contact with the customer so that we can provide them with a fantastic choice of wedding rings.”

In terms of choice, ROX works to the adage that bigger is better; its engagement and wedding jewellery makes up 65% of its product range. “Your wedding day is up there with one of the most important days of your life and brides expect a high level of personalised service,” states ROX managing director Kyron Keogh. “We take pride in joining in with a customer’s experience and we are genuinely interested in every one of our customer’s big days; we aim to build great rapport and even hosted a party for one of our brides and her bridesmaids before the big day.”

For ROX, the desire to go above and beyond is what it believes sets it apart from other fine jewellery retailers. Its in-house Thrill Rooms – richly furnished spaces where couples can view rings in comfort, a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne in hand – impress not only its customers, but the wider bridal industry. “We also have regular wedding fairs where we partner with luxury bridal boutiques, venues, photographers and cake suppliers to showcase our wedding rings and help bring their big day to life,” adds Keogh, emphasising the retailer’s drive to provide and all-round bridal service.

Of course, it is also about aftercare, and larger retailers such as Beaverbrooks pride themselves on offering lifetime services for their bridal customers, such as diamond cleaning and jewellery inspection, while Green + Benz send cards to mark milestones. “We see our customers as part of the family, sending out wedding, anniversary cards and gifts for the birth of a child to build on the connection that we have established through those big lifetime events,” explains Cannon.

A lifetime event indeed, weddings are as much about making a commitment as to having something meaningful to seal it with. Whether that is a half-carat diamond in a platinum halo setting will be down to the groom or bride in question, but the changing face of the bridal market, from the rise of alternative metals and grooms seeking something more design-led, to brides-to-be celebrating their engagement at their jeweller’s shop, there is plenty for the designers and retailers to consider in their bid to be ‘the one’ for couples in 2014.

This bridal special was taken from the February 2014 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read the issue in full online, click here.
 

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