Putting the ‘I’ into bridal rings

Hazel Bradley reports that when it to comes to choosing wedding jewellery, creativity and individual touches are important to today's bride and groom.
Floods, fires and cyclones may have swept through Australia and economic times may be tough, but people are still falling in love and setting aside savings for their Big Day.
For many people engagement and wedding rings will be the most important jewellery purchases they make in a lifetime.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that while every bride is unique, in one way they are all the same: they all want the ring on their finger to reflect their own style and personality.
More and more they are opting for tradition with a twist.
Fortunately there are a large number of wholesalers in Australia selling a wide array of bridal jewellery to perfectly match tastes and budgets.
Lonn Miller, director of diamond and diamond jewellery wholesalers Miller Diamonds, says the days when women were happy to accept the styles any branded catalogue was offering are over.
“Today they are ready to dictate what they want. Women are more likely to be business professionals and breadwinners. They are getting married later on in life meaning a bigger budget to spend on their dream engagement ring.
“They want the rock of their dreams and they want designs to show them off in all their glory.”
Clearly women are no longer inclined to meekly leave it all up to the professionals.
“Today’s catalogues still contain the classics but the designs differ significantly enough to differentiate them almost as unique styles. And if a woman does not want the catalogue item, thanks to the Internet and free information, she arrives knowing exactly what she does want.
“Current trends continue to focus on traditional type designs but with a modern twist. Six-claw, four-claw multi-stone and pave-set. Bezel is out relative to the former.
“Although the classic solitaire six-claw designs are always popular, four-claws are over trumping six-claws right now.
“The theme is more diamond and less gold.”
Miller, whose range features the generic Undoubtedly Brighter Diamonds and Passion8 branded diamonds, says the mood for one-of-a-kind pieces is a trend that every jeweller and jewellery store should jump on.
“If a woman buys a diamond they need to have it made up and now it is more likely to be modern design alteration versus custom-made or catalogue choice.”
Today’s fiancé pays homage to traditional designs but has the courage to add her own contemporary touches.
This has led the modern age jeweller to ensure Computer Aided Design (CAD) facilities are on site.
Miller identifies what he calls “jewellery design modernization” as the way of the future – modern design changes to existing designs.
“We see a trend, too, for better quality, higher end diamonds and fine diamond jewellery.”
Mark McAskill of Mark McAskill Jewellery, a manufacturer and wholesaler of diamond-set wedding rings and a wide range of engagement rings, agrees that these days couples are looking for “something a bit different, a bit individual”.
“People are researching online and going into stores with a much clearer idea of what they want then they were 10 years ago,” he says.
“But I think people still prefer to buy in-store rather than online. Wedding jewellery is an emotional purchase, it lasts a long time so you want to make sure you are getting what you want.”
McAskill says claw-set jewellery with clean lines is what seems to be selling right now.
“The cluster look, with little bead sets accentuating a centre stone, is popular.”
He says the state of the economy has had little effect on his business.
“We’re cranking along. I believe that is because of the level of service we offer. As we manufacture locally it gives us the ability to do variations on designs and resolve issues quickly and efficiently
“We can make something in two days if we have too.”
Laura Sawade, marketing manager of Peter W Beck, has also noted the shift towards personalisation in bridal jewellery.
“There is more diversity in styles than there was 10 or even five years ago. Many people want something different – they want their own personal ‘wow’ factor.”
Peter W Beck has a large range of wedding rings with over 4000 designs all of which have flexibility in some way, whether it be metal type, width, thickness, or even colour combination.
“We manufacture men’s and ladies patterned, two-tone and diamond-set wedding rings and classic wedding rings and are continually expanding our range,” explains Sawade.
“Despite the rising gold price, we have noticed that many men are choosing heavier, thicker rings and often set with diamonds. Quite a few women are keeping their wedding ring very simple, choosing a classic ring rather than something diamond-set, so their engagement ring is the stand-out piece.
“On the flip side, there is also a trend towards diamonds, and even patterned wedding rings, with many women choosing a style that reflects their personality.”
Sawade foresees even more diversity ahead. “With the comeback of the 1920s’ flapper style on the horizon, I think we’ll see bolder and even more unique pieces in the next few years.”
Lester Brand, managing director of Lester Brand Jewellery, a wholesaler of gold and platinum engagement and wedding rings, aims to provide young brides with something that still makes her feel “warm and fuzzy” in 20 years time.
“The bulk of our market is ½ carat to two carat sizes. While we carry exotic designs our mainstay is classic, beautiful styling.
“The classic styles are evolving. Technology is enabling classic styles to be better engineered with finer detail. The challenge is to produce something individual that still has a classic feel about it and that is where the detail comes in.”
Brand says due to technology there is a lot more fringe design going on as the advent of CAD has allowed people to experiment a lot and product is very diversified and exciting.
“Whereas 15 years ago perhaps white gold was the trend, today everyone has their own trend. People are feeling confident about their own ability to choose what they like.”
Brand concedes that with the recent natural disasters Australia has faced, in the short term a lot of businesses will be struggling.
“People’s priorities change in times of disaster, and in these situations your last priority will be jewellery. But in the longer term there will be a lot of repair and restoration work happening, leading to a mini boom amongst the trade industries.”
Meanwhile, Brand is seeing a trend back to diamond jewellery.
“There was a move away from it when the GFC hit and silver was seen as the next best option, but now the dollar is strong again diamonds are more affordable.”
Echoing the importance of the unique, RJ Scanlan & Co, wholesaler of Dora and Omnia wedding rings, also strives to meet the challenge of providing something different.
“We have to anticipate where fashion is going and provide product to meet that demand,” says general manager Stephen Brown.
To that end at the August trade fairs last year the company released their Venetian Lace line for males and females, a collection of white gold rings with laser engraving highlighted with black rhodium, available with and without diamonds.
Brown has noticed when it comes to fashion in clothing and jewellery men are getting more comfortable with who they are.
“There is still room to grow but compared to what they were wearing five or six years ago they are getting less conformist, more adventurous.
“Rings are getting wider for men, going up to 8mm plus. There are fancier, laser cut styles, as well as more diamond styles.”
Brown is seeing a lot more sales in palladium, and mixed metals such as titanium and gold, platinum and gold and palladium and gold.
When gold prices started going up around three years ago, RJ Scanlan & Co introduced a 14 carat gold into the market.
“We wanted to provide a halfway point from consumers pulling back from 18 carat and going to 9 carat. It started off slow but we are seeing more and more people choosing 14 carat.”
Brown points out despite the state of the economy, people are still getting married.
“The trick is for retailers to secure sale of the wedding ring as early as possible in the wedding cycle, rather than after the flowers, reception and dress.
“This can be done by offering an appointment to view wedding rings six months from the purchase of the engagement ring. Or offering to renovate the engagement ring in six months, anything to get them back into the store.”
This approach has proved beneficial to retailer Graham Jackson, of Townsville-based Loloma Jewellers, which sells Hearts On Fire diamonds.
“Hearts On Fire research shows only 35 per cent of brides purchase the wedding ring at the same store they purchased their engagement ring. We aim for a higher return rate simply by keeping in touch with our customers and making them feel part of the Loloma family.
“We do this through our e-cards, VIP cards and social media such as Facebook.
“Every couple buying an engagement ring is presented with our Wedding Planner booklet.”
He hopes this personal touch will see Loloma’s through the effects of the floods and cyclone.
“Times are tough and we don’t know when we will be back to normal.”
Trend-wise, he says four and six claw-set stones and diamond set shoulders are popular with his customers.
“And we are selling a lot of Transcend diamond engagement rings, featuring a square cut diamond cluster.”
In contrast Robert Cliff, of Robert Cliff Master Jewellers, is seeing people opt for round stones.
“The biggest change in the bridal market over the last five years has been the move from princess cut diamonds to brilliant cut,” he says.
“Fifteen years ago the marquise diamond was in fashion, then it was square cut. People are trying to be different. The point of difference is what drives people.
“Still very popular is the solitaire single large stone, of a carat to carat and a half. If it’s not that it’s something different – lots of little diamonds set around a centre stone and into the band. So it’s either simple and elegant or multi-stone set.
“If anything, diamonds are getting larger. Young people are earning good salaries and can afford a reasonable sized diamond.
“The majority of wedding rings we sell for brides are diamond-set, not plain bands.
“Whether the engagement ring is solitaire or claw-set, they want a wedding ring that will complement and dress up the engagement ring.”
Cliff doesn’t think the economy really affects what people spend on wedding and engagement rings.
“It’s not a discretionary spend, it’s something everyone wants.”
As for the future, Cliff predicts in the next five years another cut of diamond, such as emerald cut or cushion cut, will become popular as people strive to be different.
“Everyone who buys an engagement ring likes to think theirs is different and unique. It doesn’t have to be way out, just not something they see on everyone else.”
The maverick mood suits jeweller Nicholas Pike.
“At Nicholas Pike there are no rules for an engagement/wedding ring,” he says.
“From diamonds to coloured stones, white gold to pink gold or combo coloured metals, chunky, classic, funky… customers leave our store with a ring they truly love and truly suits them.”
Pike says designs at the moment are so varied that the only current trend seems to be white metal as well as wider, heavier, totally hand-made pieces set with diamonds (whites and colours) accented with coloured gemstones.
“Also, most men now want a wedding ring, hurrah! Not your 4mm half round 9ct yellow gold ‘tube’ cut off. They want it one-off, wide, thick and bold. The ring is a new male statement – seriously married!”
Pike says there is a demand for larger diamonds, premium quality and expert craftsmanship, and people are prepared to pay the price.
For the future, Pike says there may be a return to more yellow gold, finer designs and more antique inspired, possibly Art Nouveau, Art Deco pieces.
“There may be a return to old world craft, techniques that not many know now.
“Many will stick with classic, simple, timeless design. At the other extreme there will be more industrial materials, radical mediums and computer-generated designs.
Customers seem braver and more confident to push the boundaries and we celebrate their individualism.
“They are not happy having the same design as everybody else. Our clients leave with a true one-off created for them and only them, and purposefully not repeated.”
The upshot seems to be that for jewellers to live happily ever after, the key is to ensure couples dazzle with a difference as they head up the aisle.