Retail Jeweller's consumer bridal survey
From the spend to the style, Retail Jeweller finds out exactly what the about-to-be-hitched want from their wedding and engagement rings
Gone are the days of ancient Rome, when giving a band of iron was enough to signify a marriage - though with the gold and diamond prices being what they are we may be adopting that
trend again soon.
Now a whole industry has sprung up around the act of one person asking another four simple words (“Will you marry me?” Obviously. Not “what time is dinner?”).
Despite the number of people getting married in the UK tailing off since 2004, in 2009, the last time the Government published data on this, 266,950 people said “I do”, which is a massive customer base for jewellers if you can find out what they want.
So we decided to ask a cross-section of people what they want from this life-changing purchase, from those who are recently engaged to people who have been married more than 30 years, as well as people who haven’t got round to popping the question yet, and those who never will.
We asked them a range of questions, from what the main factor was when purchasing an engagement ring to where they would buy a ring and what style they would choose.
Luckily for the industry, 62% of those surveyed said they would buy an engagement or wedding ring from a jewellery store, while 34% said they would opt for having a bespoke piece made.
Some 77% also said that the design of the ring was the most important factor, beating both price (22%) and brand name (2%).
This is something that doesn’t surprise Nick Fitch, owner of jeweller Nicholas James in London’s Hatton Garden.
“People who come to see us definitely want design, and a lot are distressed by the sameness of rings in Hatton Garden. Consumers are definitely less frightened by design-led pieces than they were five years ago,” he says.
This is something Lee Ruben, sales director for Gemex, agrees with. Gemex supplies bridal and eternity diamond rings and this year won the UK Jewellery Award for Platinum Bridal Collection of the Year.
“I’m not surprised design came out top. Design and aesthetics, as well as quality, are the factors brides take into account when choosing their engagement and wedding rings. Brides want the best,” he says. Brides may want the best but rising metal and diamond prices are causing problems for retailers.
“The spontaneity has gone out of the industry,” says Fitch. “People used to see something they liked then buy or order it, but now people are doing their homework and going away and thinking about things and it’s all because of cost.”
Blowing the budget
However, Harriet Kelsall, owner of Harriet Kelsall Jewellery Design and winner of Business Initiative of the Year at this year’s UK Jewellery Awards, says that recently people have been more willing to up their budget rather than compromise.
“Last year people had very fixed budgets and would compromise on the metal or the stone, but we have seen more people upping their budget in order to get the ring they want,” she says.
And it’s not like the budgets are low to begin with. About 36% of respondents said they would spend £2,500 to £4,000. According to Fitch, the two months’ salary rule is not adhered to as much, but the man is still the one to put his hand in his pocket for the engagement ring. Obviously feminism still has a way to go on this front.
Where things are getting more equal is with the wedding rings. Apparently the current vogue is for couples to buy each other’s rings.
Design may be top of consumers’ lists when choosing a ring but that doesn’t mean they want something completely bonkers - simple and classic are key words.
“Our whole bridal and engagement range is based around that ethos,” says Fitch. “We build a safety net into all our designs so that they are more toned down.”
One design that both Fitch and Kelsall have noticed has sold well over the past five years is interlocking wedding and engagement rings.
“Some people may be put off because the wedding ring looks odd on its own but we always build in the wedding ring implications when discussing the engagement ring,” says Fitch.
The other thing Kelsall has noticed is an interest in ethics.
“We are seeing people come in really wanting to understand the issues, such as what countries you can support by buying certain stones,” she says.
This is something that Oak Jewellery has noticed too and decided to capitalise on with its new collection of fair trade, fair mined gold and ethical diamond bridal jewellery.
“The collection was inspired by Victoriana, the phrase ‘be mine’ and the idea of playing with this sentiment,” says Oak Jewellery co-owner Jo-Anne Owdud. “In some of the pieces the word ‘mine’ is quite hidden to the wearer and in others, more unashamedly there.
The diamonds are also ethically sourced so we have taken the spin on ‘ethically mine-d’ too.”
Post royal wedding, Kelsall has also noticed women wanting to combine dark sapphires and diamonds. “They are using these colour combinations in a more modern setting,” she says.
Jon Dibben, a jewellery designer based in Surrey, thinks that for this generation of women nostalgia is a big part of why they opt for more classic designs.
“There are many women who walk through the door wanting something different, even outrageous, and leave with something quite classic,” he says. “I think that what often happens is women have been more used to wearing big silver fashion rings than previous generations. So for some this is their starting point when thinking about the ring.
“However, slowly, they come back to the classic, perhaps nostalgia kicks in, they think of the things they have seen on their mother or grandmother, and realise that, hopefully, they will be wearing these rings for a long time.”
Because, whatever the deciding factors, from price to diamond size, that’s the one thing every customer looks for when choosing an engagement and wedding ring - something they will wear for a very long time.
Apparently the trend for engagement rings was started in 1477 by an Austrian called Archduke Maximilian, who decided to give Mary of Burgundy a ring to celebrate their engagement. However, bands made of iron were used by ancient Romans to signify marriage, and placed on the fourth finger of the left hand because they believed, like the ancient Egyptians, the vein in this finger, the ‘vena amoris’, ran directly to the heart.
The two months’ salary rule allegedly comes from a De Beers marketing drive in the 1930s. It started because De Beers wanted ordinary people to buy diamonds, not just the rich, and getting women to associate diamonds with a man’s love was the perfect piece of PR psychology. We still haven’t recovered from it.
In a particularly saccharine gesture in 1862, the Prince of Wales Albert Edward (who went on to be King Edward VII) gave Princess Alexandra of Denmark a ‘gypsy ring’. It included beryl, emerald, ruby, turquoise, iacynth and emerald in a line, spelling out his nickname Bertie.
At the other end of the scale, Nicolas Sarkozy gave Carla Bruni a £15,000 Dior Cupidon ring to mark their engagement. The ring wasn’t the problem, it’s that he gave the same piece to his former wife Cecilia towards the end of their marriage.