NEW YORK -- With the multi-billion dollar bridal market continuing to grow, more and more jewelry manufacturers are targeting brides, their attendants and even their mothers as prime customers.
By creating specific areas within jewelry departments and providing a high level of customer service and bridal looks that are as up-to-date as the latest runway fashions, these firms see a bright future for nuptial jewels.
Carolee Friedlander, president of Carolee Designs, said her firm has had a separate division, exclusively devoted to bridal and special-occasion jewelry, for four years, and estimated that it accounts for about 25 to 30 percent of their business.
"The bridal jewelry market continues to grow each year, but it's a niche business that requires a significant marketing effort with strong customer service to make it work effectively," said Friedlander. "For example, we guarantee 72-hour delivery to our stores for out-of-stock merchandise and have an 800 number that fields questions from consumers."
In addition, she said, they have just completed a new version of their bridal look book, which showcases the company's complete collection and the newest bridal fashion trends. The wedding-album-like book is usually placed near the firm's case space at their retail locations, making it possible for consumers to special-order styles that the store may not carry.
In the coming months, Friedlander added, Carolee Designs will begin a series of bridal makeover programs. Currently being developed with Estee Lauder, these programs will combine makeup and accessories advice.
Heart-shaped earrings and Victorian-inspired dog collars are the most popular silhouettes at Carolee. Pearls -- in cream or pure white -- are major players, with clear crystal and rhinestone looks following close behind.
Richelieu has been marketing a special-occasion bridal collection for five years. The firm's marketing director, Lisa Otterman, said it accounts for about 30 percent of their business and is still growing.
"The collection's sales have practically doubled in the last two years, and we believe it will continue to grow," said Otterman. "We do, however, expect the rate of growth to level off to annual increases of about 5 percent."
She added that with more and more firms entering the business all the time, Richelieu is trying to find key categories in which to market items that will spur their growth.In addition to their creamy pearl and clear crystal stone lines, they've recently introduced two other groups. One of them, "White Satin," is a collection of pure white pearl jewelry that is merchandised on its own blue card. The other is a group inspired by the look of estate jewelry that is set in silver.
Richelieu's other marketing efforts include specialized case enhancements -- shaped pillows and tiered wedding looks in ivory fabric, matching gift boxes and a top-of-counter look book for special orders.
They launch new styles twice a year, most of which are heavily influenced by the look of fine jewelry. Otterman said drop earrings in a mix of stone and pearls and four- and five-strand Victorian-inspired princess collars are leading their business.
Pat Scheckner, design and merchandising director for Marvella, notes that the firm's bridal collection, which has been in the stores for two years, brings in about 25 percent of their total business.
"Marvella offers a new line two to three times a year, focusing on interpreting the latest in bridal-gown trends," said Scheckner. "We've included lace and filigree looks and bow and heart motifs, as well as more traditional bridal silhouettes.
"Looks for bridesmaids are often simpler and smaller in scale," Scheckner noted. "Sometimes they are a pared-down version of the bride's jewelry and are mainly used as an accent to their attire. Mother-of-the-bride pieces tend to be a bit more statement oriented, featuring longer lengths in multiple strands of pearls and bracelets."
But not all the firms seeing success in this market produce separate bridal collections.
Jeffrey Selner, vice president of merchandising for Miriam Haskell, said that, although his company doesn't produce a separate bridal line, he estimates that bridal purchases account for about 15 percent of their total business.
"My impression is that our bridal business comes to us from what Miriam Haskell has always been known for -- romantic pearl and gold jewelry."
He said they sell primarily chokers and drop earrings in a wide range of styles from the simplest to the very ornamented. The company also has recently begun to produce a small selection in antiqued silver and often fields requests for custom orders.Francie Abraham, director of marketing for Swarovski Crystal, said they're sought out for their fashion pavÄ and crystal looks.
"Bridal styles have been echoing what is happening in ready-to-wear, and our product works well with those trends. Lately, we've seen an interest in old Hollywood -- the glamour looks of the Thirties and Forties -- a clean, icy image that is wonderful with a white bridal gown," said Abraham.
She added that while the black-and-white colored wedding theme is still popular, some of the most adventurous brides are choosing soft, muted colors for themselves and their attendants. Swarovski's current bestsellers are pastel-toned crystal pieces.
Pat Hill, vice president of Ciner, said, "We moved into the bridal market a couple of years ago, and although the growth has been slow, it's been steady because we've worked very closely with our stores to create special looks for brides and their attendants." Hill added that their top looks now are those with rhinestones and silver, while previous bestsellers had nearly always featured pearls. Silhouettes have become slightly smaller, and drop earrings are by far their most popular item.
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