Traditional paradigms have shifted in the engagement ring market. What matters most to brides-to-be has evolved from an emphasis on the sheer size of a diamond, to whether it is natural, responsibly sourced and beautiful.
Today’s engagement ring shoppers are looking for uniqueness, and distinction comes in all shapes, sizes and price points. According to global natural diamond producer De Beers Group, today’s engagement ring shopper seeks a sense of refined modesty focused more on personal style and rarity, and less on the antiquated notion that diamond size connotes a specific level of commitment.
In a recent ranking of the five most important features for engagement rings, 56 percent of shoppers said the shape of a stone is the most important feature, trailed by 41 percent prioritizing style and setting of the ring, according to a Diamond Insight Flash Report by De Beers. What follows is the size of a stone, or carat weight, type of metal used in the setting, and quality of the stone.
Sally Morrison, Director of PR, Natural Diamonds, for De Beers, told WWD that there has indeed been a curious evolution of the engagement ring landscape. “Over the last few years, we have seen interest move away from getting the biggest rock possible to being more focused on an overall ring design that speaks to them and a smaller, but more beautiful diamond. Research from bridal magazine The Knot shows that the size of the diamond has dropped significantly as an importance factor since 2017.”
Craving Nature’s Candy
And despite difficult economic times, jewelers say that consumers are spending more than ever on diamond engagement rings – and much of it is fueled by changes in consumer behavior stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Morrison explained that COVID-19 accelerated the trend of shoppers focusing on cut and clarity over size, and that according to jewelers De Beers speaks with directly, couples are choosing natural diamonds that are smaller, but more “perfect” with regards to the 4Cs of cut, clarity color and carat weight.
And it’s fitting that due to setbacks and challenges with travel, 54 percent of couples are thinking more about the ring – with a mere 15 percent saying they’re thinking about plans for a honeymoon.
“It’s interesting because many couples are actually spending more on their rings now, because they are foregoing the big expensive wedding, and in many cases, the honeymoon. But they are focused on those diamond qualities – the trend in settings is that they are much simpler, like solitaires or solitaires with classic side stones, that really show off the flash of that central diamond rather than surrounding it with layers of pave or other ornamentation.”
“Additionally, couples are exploring lots of diamond shapes, with ovals, cushions, pears and other less traditional shapes really gaining in popularity.” That exploration takes form in experimenting with new and unfamiliar territory in the engagement ring market, with a focus on finding the atypical and unique – and in the case of De Beers, that rarity begins with Botswana.
Natural diamonds are innately rare: Born deep within the Earth as long ago as 3.5 billion years, pre-dating life on the planet, each diamond is wholly unique and one-of-a-kind, collectively finite in supply. De Beers Group’s natural diamonds mined in Botswana are done so consciously and responsibly, and the firm has had a stake in the region for decades.
De Beers Group formed Debswana, a 50/50 mining joint venture with the Government of the Republic of Botswana, in the late 1960s. Through this partnership, over 80 cents in every dollar of profit generated by Debswana goes back to Botswana through taxes, royal- ties and dividends – this, among other De Beers initiatives in Botswana, has resulted in diamonds contributing up to one-third of Botswana’s GDP.
In as little as 50 years, its investment structure of shifting diamond revenues back to the country has helped trans- form Botswana from one of the poorest countries in the world to an upper-middle-income nation, with the emergence of a solid middle class – and following its independence in the late 1960s, Botswana has had one of the world’s fastest economic growth rates thanks to diamonds, De Beers explained.
Pat Dambe, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, De Beers Group, told WWD, “Today, every child receives free schooling to the age of 13, with further education funded 95 percent by the government. Increased public spending has shored up a dynamic infrastructure around energy, water and transportation. The country has 7,000 kilometers of tarred roads, compared with less than 5 kilometers in 1966.”
Its natural diamonds from Botswana are mined with careful consideration for the land and players part of the process: For each single acre of land used for mining, De Beers sets aside six acres of land for conservation to support endangered, threatened and vulnerable species. De Beers also steadfastly follows its Best Practice Principles, or set ethical, social, environmental standards, human rights and labor conditions throughout its value chain for more than 2,700 entities, inclusive of its operators, customers and contractors.
With all this in mind, De Beers has begun to generate a conversation about natural diamonds from Southern Africa and tell their full origin story, while helping to ease some of the industry-wide difficulties that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On December 3rd, the company announced Ten/Ten, an innovative engagement ring program which will offer average income couples some- thing extremely special at an attractive price. 10 independent jewelry designers have been enlisted to create a special numbered edition of reenvisioned commitment rings made with its traceable natural diamonds from Botswana. Each designer has created a single ring in quantities of 10, resulting in collection of just 100 rings.
Sean Kell, Chief Executive Officer, Blue Nile, told WWD, “Market trends show that consumers are not only look- ing for a beautiful diamond and good value, but also increasingly something distinctive – a ‘one of a kind’ experience. The rings we are offering in the new Ten/ Ten collection celebrate this trend.”
It’s a Ten!
Jewelry designers talk to WWD about reimagining the traditional commitment ring for Ten/Ten and the use of fully traceable, responsibly sourced diamonds from Botswana.
WWAKE, Wing Yau
WWD Studios: What made you design a pair of rings for Ten/Ten?
Wing Yau: I designed two rings that nestle together and also come apart to layer with the rest of your jewelry collection. You, as the wearer, are meant to explore your relationship to your jewelry as an integral part of the design.
I wanted this ring to be simple (to focus on the traceable diamond from Botswana) and to also touch our customer with these elements of play. This offers them an immediate, personal connection to the ring, and therefore the important story behind the stone.
WWD Studios: How does the engagement ring shopper think today, and how has their approach to buying a ring changed?
W.Y.: Today, the approach to bridal customs is focused less on respect- ing existing traditions, and more on how we can break and reimagine them. This generation is like, “How am I different from what tradition expected me to be? How do I represent that personal growth with these choices?” It’s inspiring. We see a lot of couples very intentionally going against the grain.
WWD Studios: What led to the idea to design “commitment” rings? How does that concept speak to the modern consumer?
W.Y.: I think the idea behind a commitment ring is simple and beautiful: We don’t know what the future holds, but we have each other. Everything else will be a leap of faith, but the one thing we can be sure of is our commitment to each other, and this acts as a foundation for everything else.
WWD Studios: What drives you to design jewelry and where do you look for sources of inspiration?
Lola Fenhirst: I came to fine jewelry design as a second career. Having spent 18 years practicing intellectual property law in California’s Silicon Valley, I felt it was time to let my left-brain lead and allow my creative side to flourish.
I’m inspired by art, sculpture, architecture, all of which are physical embodiments of culture and history. In choosing a piece of jewelry, the wearer is saying something about themselves, where they belong in society, how they would like to be perceived by onlookers, the values they hold dear, all of that is reflected in our adornment choices.
WWD Studios: What’s behind your love of fancy color diamonds, particularly in the less traditional colors of grey, pale or champagne?
L.F.: Fancy colored diamonds represent the intrinsic wonder and beauty of nature in its organic state. A grey diamond, for example, is simply a white diamond with mineral inclusions. To me, these inclusions reflect diversity and create uniqueness. No two grey diamonds are going to be identical, and that I find fascinating. It mirrors the human state, as no two people are completely identical – not even identical twins!
WWD Studios: What is your interpretation of the modern engagement ring?
L.F.: A modern engagement ring is one that is adapted to modern life, meaning it should be easily wearable and lend itself to being stacked with other bands. The ethical provenance of its diamond is equally as important as the size and clarity of the diamond. Finally, the setting should have an elevated, artisanal design aesthetic that complements the solitaire without competing with it. I think that’s what modern couples are interested in.
WWD Studios: What drives the sunny aesthetic seen throughout your collections?
Bea Bongiasca: I think that creativity really comes from within and that you can channel it in different ways. I found jewelry to be my favorite form of expression because I can create mini sculptures that can be worn every day on the body. My love for pop culture and fascination with Eastern Asian aesthetics definitely has something to do with my admiration for colors. I also think that the jewelry that I make reflects my personality: playful, eclectic, joyful…with a touch of irony.
WWD Studios: Your designs strongly vary from collection to collection, but the swivel style seems consistent throughout. What drew you to work with that shape?
B.B.: This shape was inspired by vines. I imagine a piece of simple gold jewelry as if it were a plant that has been contaminated and intertwined with a sinuous colorful vine and it evolved into a new jewel. This creates a kind of kinetic movement as well as a bold, pop look.
WWD Studios: How did Ten/Ten challenge you?
B.B.: As a young, emerging independent designer, creating a ring in collaboration with such an important, highly respected, and established company is definitely different to what I usually do. It is a very stimulating and intense process because you want to create something beyond spectacular and unique, to their standards.
It allows your work to reach a new type of clientele and demographic, which I think is fascinating because you have to envision what kind of engagement ring that new customer base and market would like.
WWD Studios: Why are Botswanan diamonds a “natural fit” with your company’s core beliefs?
Pamela Love: Traceability is so important to me. Knowing exactly where my stones are coming from and ensuring that those involved in the process are treated well is of the upmost importance to my company. We are creating pieces that symbolize love, optimism, and sacred bonds. I need to be confident that the diamonds themselves come from a process and people that also represents these things.
WWD Studios: How did the “value of being different” help develop your brand’s eclectic aesthetic?
P.L.: I think it’s very important to stand out. There are so many jewelry lines in the world, especially right now, that are indistinguishable from one another. For me it wasn’t about adhering to or contributing to a trend. It didn’t make sense to me to make more of the same. I always felt it was more important to carve my own path and I think my customers really connect personally with that sentiment.
WWD Studios: In what ways did the Ten/Ten project challenge you to revisit the idea of commitment, and how did that thought process influence your engagement ring design?
P.L.: I thought about multiple lives coming together to form one, and how to communicate that visually.
WWD Studios: How did you bring the Marla Aaron “rebellious approach to jewelry” to Ten/Ten?
Marla Aaron: For this project I took our DiMe ring – our ring that opens to reveal a place for a message
– and I reconsidered the closure. My “aha moment” was when I realized that evening bag closures are jeweled and function, which means they could make the perfect closure for this ring. Seeing something – in this case, the clasp on a handbag – in a new way allowed this idea to come to life.
WWD Studios: How did your background in communications lead to a career in jewelry?
M.A.: I was dabbling hard long before I quit the day job in 2012 and started my company. I had a very unrealistic view that if I wanted jewelry that did not previously exist in this form – our locks and chains, our convertible pieces – then others would want them, too.
WWD Studios: How would you describe your customers’ style and approach to designing or buying an engagement ring?
M.A.: Working with De Beers and these diamonds in such a specific way makes sense for the values we have as a company. We make real jewelry, for real people, in a real way, and our work reflects this. Jewelry has no gender and we have customers across the human experience – my hope is this ring will be a vehicle of expressing love and commitment for those who choose it.
WWD Studios: There’s an impressive level of intricacy, color and latent meaning seen throughout your collections. How do you translate and convey symbolism into your designs?
Harwell Godfrey: I weave meaning into so many aspects of my designs! From the stone selections to the patterns to the engravings that are all hand-designed by me. I really do play with the details and find as many ways as possible to infuse my pieces with good energy.
WWD Studios: What was your biggest takeaway from the Ten/Ten project?
H.G.: Ten/Ten was my first time working with De Beers, and I was very impressed by the warmth and spirit behind the project. They created a really exciting community vibe with this project — connecting us with the other designers, as well as the various members of their team touching this project. They also really educated us on Botswana, their practices and the incredible level of detail going into everything, down to the tracking of the stones. I learned a lot.
WWD Studios: How has the modern jewelry lover evolved?
H.G.: I’m not sure that consumers actively think about trends as much as designers do, but I do think that they/we (I am a modern consumer too!) are influenced by them.
I do think the modern jewelry lover has evolved in the same way jewelry has evolved. It’s not something to be held in a safe deposit box waiting for a big occasion. Modern jewelry is about wearing the same pieces you might wear with a ball gown with a T-shirt and jeans. It’s about enjoying those special pieces every day.
Catherine Sarr, ALMASIKA
WWD Studios: Tell me about the design process for your contribution to Ten/Ten. Where did you start?
Catherine Sarr: When I work on my designs, the first step for me is to imagine them in gold. That allows me to perfect the shape and form. With this project with De Beers, it was the first time that my creative process started with a diamond. It was a completely different way of thinking and knowing that the diamonds were coming from Botswana I felt inspired by and compelled to put the diamond at the center of this design. The symbolism meant a lot to me.
WWD Studios: You said that jewelry is “a marker of memories.” How does this concept help inform your designs?
C.S.: Similar to a piece of contemporary art, I like to think that my jewelry will be enjoyed and admired as central pieces of one’s jewelry collection, then revisited and passed on to generations to come. Therefore, it informs my designs in terms of materials I use such as gold and diamonds and aesthetic which is understated, with soft curves following the line of the body
as a timeless adornment. I think that’s what modern couples are interested in.
WWD Studios: There’s a sense of history, nature and spirituality woven throughout your collections – how did those aspects help shape your aesthetic? What draws you to the cultural aspects of jewelry?
C.S.: My interest for the cultural aspect of jewelry remained a source of inspiration throughout my own journey across three continents and led me to explore through ALMASIKA jewelry, the forms, symbols and stories that transcend cultural boundaries.
WWD Studios: How has the New York City jewelry industry been impacted by COVID-19? Would you share a bit about your experience this past year as a native New Yorker?
Michelle Fantaci: At first everything was brought to a standstill. I had designs that couldn’t move forward and were on indefinite hold. Luckily some stone setters and bench jewelers were working from home, so little things could be done, orders could be filled.
I was happy to connect with clients, but I didn’t feel like designing future pieces. Then when I was invited to join Ten/ Ten, I snapped out of it. Someone was an optimist, so why shouldn’t I be? And I relished getting back to work.
WWD Studios: What is your favorite memory from working with De Beers and the Ten/Ten project?
M.F.: The De Beers team would send me updates and pictures of the diamond sorters and cutters in Botswana. I loved that they were all women (in the photos) in what are male dominated jobs in other places. And I loved seeing the process from the point of view of the people handling and producing the material before it makes its way to market.
WWD Studios: How did your love of layering jewelry help inform your engagement ring design for Ten/Ten?
M.F.: I usually think of layering as worn ensembles. I did not start out with an idea, which is where I usually start the process; instead I developed the idea through drawing, not knowing where I was going with it. And I was drawing over drawings, mashing up different ring sketches together in layers, sometimes drawing another layer right over a finished sketch of an idea.
Aurora Lopez Mejia
WWD Studios: Tell me about your central focus on the talisman. How did that become a defining part of your work?
Aurora Lopez Mejia: I am deeply inspired by ancient civilizations and their reasons for wearing talismans and amulets, which are symbolic of constant reminders of a spiritual connectedness. As an artist/ sculptor, I am deeply provoked by the deeper meaning of words and language and I create my hand inscribed organic wearable talismans to serve as wearable reminders.
It’s been an organic natural course as I was given various meaningful protective amulets to wear since I was a child.
WWD Studios: Has COVID-19 impacted what customers are seeking in the jewelry space? What trends have you noted?
A.L.M.: As my collectors are deeply connected to the power of words, this time of imposed family quarantines has inspired an opportunity to further reflect on life and create pieces which are documenting their current states of mind. I believe this time of pause has given a lot of my collectors the space to contemplate and experience high levels of gratitude which are being expressed in creations.
A.L.M.: How did the talisman influence your design for Ten/Ten?
My most vital intention for the ring is to serve as a constant reminder. In this case, it’s inscribed with the most powerful word of all: love. There is a constant interaction between my collectors and their pieces.
Platt Boutique Jewelry
WWD Studios: How would you describe the modern-day selection process for buying an engagement ring?
Natasha Platt: The modern-day selection is quite different than in the past. Today we see many couples coming in and picking rings together rather than the traditional, men coming in and picking themselves.
They have fun choosing the perfect ring that she will be wearing for many years to come and he is confident, at ease, and has less pressure knowing that she really loves it.
WWD Studios: How do you continuously adapt and evolve in the vintage jewelry market?
N.P.: People today are more interested in mixing old and new. They like the fact that the jewelry is being repurposed and it’s not going to be the same as everyone else’s. Our design inspiration was from the Victorian Era, late 1800s. The ring is yellow gold set in a low 12-prong setting representing a crown, and the shank is smooth and streamlined, giving it a modern feel at the same time.
WWD Studios: What fuels your love of vintage jewelry and gems?
N.P.: I love vintage jewelry because of its history and craftsmanship. The jewelry pieces were made by hand and a lot of love and heart went into making them. There are very few master craftsmen left today. It was something that was passed down from generation to generation.