The modern bride is looking for a mix of old and new in her jewellery.
The recession has caused a wedding boom as couples seek out security, and it seems that brides are also on the hunt for the familiar through vintage-inspired ring choices. Kathryn Bishop reports on this and other trends driving the modern bridal market.
In this sudden age of austerity, being a bride in 2011 might seem like a daunting prospect.
Aside from the recent VAT rise which will affect all aspects of a wedding budget, there are rising metal and gemstones prices to consider when purchasing those all-important wedding and engagement rings. With the average wedding estimated to cost almost £20,000, many couples are facing the tough decision of splashing out on their special day or saving for the permanence of property and children.
Of course, weddings will continue to happen, even if a tighter budget is necessary. In 2009 The Telegraph suggested that more couples were getting married during the recessionary period for that feeling of security and closeness. Now, with the royal wedding set for April 29, there has been a re-awakening to the positives of marriage. But retailers are still asking – just what are the bride and groom of 2011 looking for?
Kate Middleton was proposed to with Princess Diana’s engagement ring, an 18ct blue sapphire and diamond cluster designed by Garrard in 1981. The style is perhaps not what the public expected ex-Jigsaw accessories buyer Middleton to choose, but the heart-warming story is one that will go down in history.
As a result, blue is big news, suggests Claire Gallagher of Pandora. “The continual year-on trend for brides is simplicity, but with the royal wedding this year we’re expecting the traditional look to be huge, with a big focus on blue”, she says.
Philippa Williams of Welsh jewellery bland Clogau Gold agrees. She says: “In light of recent events, sapphires are obviously going to be a huge bridal trend in 2011.”
The use of the word tradition is ubiquitous among jewellery retailers and designers alike, who are experiencing a resurgence of the classic, demure bride. For this month’s Professional Jeweller bridal photoshoot stylist Rebecca Sammon selected lingerie and bridal accessories with an evident vintage feel through cream-coloured lace and delicate details. The jewellery used at the shoot evoked the same feeling. Diamond cluster engagement rings set with 0.4ct to 0.5ct central stones were key to the style – modern rings with a demure, classic design.
Wedding ring designer Charles Green has taken note, with head designer Philip Beale constantly trying out new design ideas. “This year’s trends are already becoming clear,” he says. “I think clusters of diamonds will be a preference, often accompanied by small attentions to detail such as mille grain effects around the settings.” He says that such styles evoke the detail of Edwardian jewellery.
British jewellery designer Lindsay Pearson takes Victorian jewellery as her inspiration, and asserts that the vintage trend is big news. “I’m getting married this year and I’ll be making my own rose-cut diamond engagement ring,” she reveals. “It’s the perfect opportunity for me to design some vintage-inspired, very pretty and affordable engagement rings, which is something I’ve wanted to do for some time.”
And there’s a chance that the royal engagement has inspired gents to consider proposing with their own mother or grandmother’s rings, saving on the cost of purchasing a new ring but maintaining the ever-important tradition. Jos Skeates, owner and goldsmith at EC One, has experienced a rise in such thrifty proposals. “In the past year or so I’ve seen an ever-increasing number of women with inherited, modestly sized diamond engagement rings who want us to design a bespoke wedding ring to complement the design or fit snugly around it” he says. The result, Skeates says, is a bespoke diamond-set wedding band with a vintage-style.
The notion of remodelling or so-called upcycling is becoming more widespread. With the rise in cash for gold schemes, recycling old jewellery for something new and improved was foreseeable by many designers. In reply to queries from brides, Dower & Hall recently launched its Sentiment range, allowing customers to take in dated diamond jewellery and have the stones set into modern rings.
Dower & Hall co-founder and designer Diane Hall explains: “We saw a rise in brides coming into our stores with family diamonds they wanted to use, or they had been proposed to with the groom’s family ring. They felt they needed to add their own style so we designed the Sentiment range to allow them to do this.”
Trends within metals have also changed in the past year, with rose gold achieving a revival of interest due to its traditional, vintage look. Pearson asserts: “Brides will always go for a demure, timeless look. The soft feminine colour of rose gold seems to fit perfectly. It suits almost every skin tone and looks even better with wear.” Pandora has been quick to pick up on the rose gold trend, creating a softly curved, diamond-set collection of rose gold jewellery with its Love Pods collection.
Within wedding bands, tradition continues to hold fast for women, but most are keen to stamp some personality on their wedding band. Jewellery designer Laura Gravestock typically works in silver, but has taken on several bridal commissions with a personal touch. “I’ve had brides who want an original ring,” she notes. “They’re still going for wedding bands in gold and platinum but are opting for unusual textures, like the beaded feel of my Promise ring.”
Clogau Gold has also noticed a shift away from the traditional. “We are increasingly finding that brides-to-be are choosing less traditional wedding rings” says Williams. “For them it’s all about personal taste and, of course, budget.”
Cindy Dennis Mangan of Dennis & Lavery designs and hand-makes high-end platinum bridal jewellery. For her, demand for diamond-set wedding bands has jumped from 50 percent of clients to 100 percent of clients. “People want matching bridal sets and diamond-set wedding bands”, she explains. “I’m also getting more and more gay couples who want matching designs. Their spend is higher as they don’t have kids.”
It seems that the trend for the traditional in the bridal market doesn’t carry through to grooms’ wedding band choices. Gents’ wedding jewellery appears to be growing and evolving simultaneously to suit individual styles and taste. Gone, it seems, are the days of the plain, matt-finished wedding band.
Beale notes the current trends in male wedding jewellery, describing the changing tastes and growing confidence of men to choose their own wedding jewellery. “For gents, the wedding band is becoming more important both on the day and beyond,” he says. “We’re finding palladium has become the metal of choice at Charles Green, while geometric patterns on the rings, and straight lines and angles are popular.”
Pearson recalls an unusual commission for a gent’s ring undertaken last year. “I helped my friend to make a wedding ring for her partner,” she recalls. “She wanted to be as involved as possible, so I gave her some casting wax and a set of files and she carved out a simple but organic ring, which I finished off and we had cast in gold. The design completely suited her boyfriend’s personality and the emotional attachment they both feel towards it is so much more than if she’d bought a ready-made ring.”
However, Dennis Mangan has experienced gents opting for classic court shape rings, often with details of their own choosing. “Men are turning away from flat bands, and they’re also looking for diamond accents”, she notes.
Skeates agrees that there has been a change in gents’ wedding band choices, noting a shift in the demand for metals that fit smaller budgets. “There’s been a higher demand for classic-shaped wedding bands” he says. “Gold and platinum are still common but we have made a number of silver wedding rings in the past year, and palladium is big news, especially among guys.”
The emotion evoked by wedding jewellery is a strong one. Beyond the symbolism of the rings, the bond built by giving and receiving wedding jewellery can be valuable one, something especially true for retailers. When a bride and groom purchase wedding bands together – or even the engagement ring together, as is common today – they are potentially beginning a life-long relationship with their jeweller. Not long after the wedding brides will often be on the lookout for thank you gifts for bridesmaids or family.
“I’m often commissioned to create personalised pieces by brides as extra-special thank you gifts,” says Gravestock, who has a collection of rings and pendants that can be personalised with names, initials or bespoke phrases. Pandora and Clogau Gold are finding that pendants and charms are frequently given as bridesmaids’ gifts. “At Pandora our classic charm bracelets and beads are always popular, especially if the bridesmaid already has a bead bracelet. A charm which reflects the wedding day is always idea,” notes Gallagher.
For the groomsmen, the traditional set of cufflinks is still regarded as an ideal gift, though Skeates offers that they are much less in demand compared with five years ago. Conversely, Gravestock notes: “I have grooms buying gifts for their best men, especially cufflinks. Sometimes they have them made with stones to match the colours of the wedding or the groom’s personal taste, while maintaining a masculine manner.”
At Clogau Gold, traditional tie pins and signet rings are choice gifts. “We’ve made sure best men and grooms are catered for, with a classic selection of men’s watches, signet rings and tie pins,” notes Williams. “These make generous keepsakes for the groom, the best man and father of the brides.”
The bride herself will, in most cases, wear a necklace or a pair of earrings to match her dress and wedding jewellery. But with many couples working to a budget, smart brides are shopping for pieces they can wear on the day and beyond. Dennis Mangan notes the number of brides opting for necklaces over earrings, which suggest the trend for statement earrings is on the way out and likely to be replaced by the clean, classic diamond stud.
Pearson, however, disagrees. “For me, earrings are at the top of requirements for brides,” she states. “I’ve been asked to commission earrings before, including classic freshwater pearls clustered with semi-precious stones. They were made to complement the bride’s dress and add some colour.”
It seems that trends, as the word itself suggests, are changing. New metals are causing a stir, but the desire for tradition in wedding jewellery still seems to hold fast. Diamond sizes may be modest, but it’s personality and little detail that will draw brides and grooms to make choices.
The effect of the recession may be noticeable on the extravagance of weddings today, and there’s the suggestion that many ceremonies are being scaled-down. In return, however, brides and grooms are able to afford well-made wedding jewellery, something many designers and retailers will be relieved to hear.