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NEW YORK — Once upon a time, brides dreamed about a solitaire diamond engagement ring with a matching wedding band. Today, the reality is that brides want more individuality, style and functionality in their jewelry.
What’s more, one ring is no longer enough. Brides are buying multiple wedding rings and changing them as often as they do their fashion accessories.
This attitude adjustment means big business for both designers and retailers who are looking to capitalize on the bridal trade, which continues to grow even during the current retail slump. According to the Jewelry Information Center, a nonprofit trade association, annual sales of engagement rings and wedding bands in the U.S. are $14.7 billion.
Many jewelry designers have been quick to respond to the changing customer by launching bridal collections. Designers including David Yurman, Cathy Carmendy, Jose Hess and Stephen Webster have created bridal rings that reflect their signature style. Even traditional retailers such as Tiffany & Co. and Harry Winston are spicing up their bridal collections with signature diamond cuts, unique settings and wider offerings in wedding bands.
“There are more wedding ring options than ever before,” said buyer Lauren Kulchinsky, whose family business, Mayfair Diamonds & Fine Jewelry, has four stores on New York’s Long Island. Increasingly, her style-savvy and tony Hamptons customers are opting for designer rings from Antonini, Stephen Webster and Tahköhl by Tammy Kohl, all of which offer alternatives to the tried-and-true classics.
“People want a little more style in their wedding jewelry,” said Marc Green, owner of Lux Bond & Green, an upscale jewelry retailer with seven locations in New England, which promotes its own store brand in the bridal category. “We see a demand for solitaire engagement rings, but with more accessorizing on the mounting, such as side stones or pavé details.”
One of the biggest changes in bridal jewelry is the emergence of wedding ring wardrobing.
“Women are buying wedding bands to match their mood or fashion: diamond wedding bands for evening; sleek, modern rings with jeans, or vintage-style bands for a feminine look,” said Kulchinsky.
Here, a look at some of the top bridal jewelry trends:
Classics With a Twist: The three-stone ring, round or emerald-cut diamond engagement rings and platinum settings are the overwhelming bridal favorites, but now they are shown with distinct details. These classics have a fresh appeal, with pavé accents on the mounting, multiple diamond side-stones, wider and chunkier metal settings, or conversely, an allover delicate diamond mounting. At Harry Winston, for example, a new take on a three-stone ring features unique diamond side stones in the shape of a half-moon or a shield.
“Women come in wanting something that is a little more personal,” said Jim Haag, Harry Winston’s marketing director. “But they still want traditional.”
A one-carat diamond ring with unique side stones begins retailing at about $15,000.
“New diamond shapes that offer the brilliance of a traditional round stone but in different shapes are very popular,” said Bob Cepek, vice president and general manager of Tiffany & Co.’s New York store.
Tiffany’s best-selling Lucida diamond cut, a square-cut stone with intricate faceting for a brilliant sparkle, is an example of a classic diamond with a distinctive edge. Lucida diamond rings retail from $2,060 to as much as $1 million, depending on the quality and size of the diamond.
Similarly, the newly launched Royal Asscher, which is being distributed by the mega-diamond company M. Fabrikant & Sons, is another modern take on a classic theme. The stone is a slightly modified version of the original Asscher cut diamond developed in 1902 by Amsterdam’s Asscher family. It retails between $5,000 and $25,000, depending on size, cut and color of the stone.
Color: Yellow diamonds are now a widely accepted alternative to white diamonds. Companies such as Louis Glick, Charles Krypell and Michael Beaudry are showing yellow diamonds, often in combination with white or pink diamond accent stones.
“Yellow diamond engagement rings and wedding bands have been especially strong over the past two years,” said Hank Siegel, owner of Hamilton Jewelers, which has two jewelry stores in New Jersey and two in Palm Beach, Fla. “Sales will continue to grow as clients become more and more aware of yellow diamonds,” he said. The bulk of the retailers’ bridal ring sales are of the store’s own line.
Designers, including Los Angeles-based Cathy Carmendy, are highlighting blue, pink or yellow sapphires for an alternative to the traditional diamond. “I often get special orders from couples who want something different in a wedding ring,” said Carmendy, who recently produced a custom-ordered orange spessartite garnet wedding ring.
Vintage: Vintage rings featuring old cushion, Asscher or rose-cut diamonds have inspired a new movement in designer wedding jewelry. Finely detailed rings with engraving, pavé accents and retro diamond cuts are a hot trend.
“Customers are beginning to favor antique styles in diamond jewelry,” said Cepek of Tiffany.
In response, the retailer has created a collection of diamond, blue sapphire and platinum rings inspired by designs from the Art Deco period it dug from its archives. The rings retail between $9,600 and $102,000.
“People love rose-cuts because not everyone else has them,” said Erica Courtney, a Los Angeles-based designer who designs vintage-style platinum wedding jewelry, with engraving, open metal work and diamond accents. “Couples want something special that they can call their own, not a cookie-cutter ring.”
Wedding Bands: Wedding band designs run the gamut from Fred Leighton’s tiny, pavé diamond rings to Cartier’s sizable channel-set diamond bands featuring round, emerald or square-cut stones. Anything goes in a wedding band: sleek steel and gold designs, colorful gemstone bands, finely textured gold rings and diamond eternity bands that combine varying colored gemstones or diamond shapes.
“Today, women often wear a diamond wedding band as an everyday ring and save the engagement ring for special occasions,” said Green. “We are selling more diamond wedding bands than ever before.”
Popular styles, he said, combine diamond cuts such as round, baguette or princess.
Increasingly, couples are drawn to novelty ideas that personalize their rings such as Tahköhl’s rings, which have hidden writing or gemstones, and Steven Kretchmer’s Hidden Treasure rings, which feature personalized messages and motifs on the inside of the ring.