Wedding bells sound the return of engagement rings
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The pandemic may have hampered many aspects of the jewellery industry, but there has been one flourishing genre: engagement and wedding rings.
With couples rushing to the altar, budgets for engagement and wedding rings have increased, too — thanks to money saved on travel, eating out and even wedding venues. In Japan, “more and more people are just registering their marriage at the city halls,” but are still exchanging rings as part of the ceremony, says Shintaro Aikawa, co-founder and business director of Artida Oud, who starting selling lab grown diamond engagement rings in June from ¥110,000 ($970).
New York-based jeweller Jelena Behrend saw her engagement and wedding ring business double in 2020 compared to the year before. “A lot of times, when you sell engagement rings, you then also sell later on wedding bands to the same client as well,” says Behrend, who hand forges engagement rings from $5,000 and wedding bands from $1,000.
According to Shanya Amarasuriya, creative director of Singapore’s BP de Silva Jewellers and executive director of BP de Silva Holdings, clients are now willing to pay more than S$50,000 ($37,000) for an engagement ring.
Jean-Marc Mansvelt, Chaumet’s chief executive, says their customers have been spending 25 to 30 per cent more on engagement and wedding rings since the pandemic started. “Even for me, it was quite surprising,” he says. And a godsend as, without ecommerce, there was almost no revenue during the initial lockdown, he says. The company will debut its online shop early next year.
It is little wonder, then, that jewellers have been introducing engagement and wedding ring collections this year.
Tiffany & Co debuted six engagement ring styles for men earlier this year. And, after 31 years in business, Stephen Webster unveiled his first collection of engagement rings and wedding bands just in August — encouraged by the alternative wedding approaches as seen at ecommerce retailers like Browns, MatchesFashion, and Net-a-Porter, among others. Called Chapel, this collection features his distinctive thorns, wings and more from £1,000 to £11,950.
Annoushka Ducas features her new engagement rings and wedding bands in the windows and at the front of her new Hong Kong boutique. “Because, in terms of the Chinese buyer, they are perhaps a little bit more traditional in the way they go about buying jewellery, so I wanted to tell them that this is an all diamond collection,” she says.
Michelle Ong, co-founder and creative director of Hong Kong-based Carnet Jewellery, says her clients are wanting more experimental, bolder engagement rings designs now, as “they are craving for something that is really fun,” especially after lockdowns have lifted, but especially to show off on Instagram — or Zoom. Her engagement rings start at HK$500,000 ($64,300).
“Even if you have a big wedding, you tend to book up all the function rooms in the hotel so, in each room, you maybe have 10 people, the other room you have 50 to have a party and link by video,” says Ong, who recently made a rainbow engagement ring with blue, pink and purple sapphires, emeralds and green garnets around a 4.44-carat pear-shaped white diamond.
While Chinese people prefer to buy from big brands like Cartier or Tiffany and from overseas, “right now they can only stay in China so they have to choose their wedding and engagement rings here so . . . it’s good for local business,” says Shanghai based Feng Ji, founder of Feng J Haute Joaillerie. Her emerald and diamond engagement rings for Shanghai socialites have been made in her 10 artisan strong Shenzhen workshop during the pandemic, instead of the Paris atelier that executed many of her designs before.
“The time is much quicker and the energy is good for me to handle all the details in China and I can see all the different processes for my new pieces,” says Feng, who flies to Shenzhen every week now, instead of flying 11 hours to Paris for two or three months at a time.
Yet finding stones and materials for these engagement and wedding rings remains tough for jewellers since the pandemic unfolded. Behrend now has to wait around three weeks for stones and materials sourced from the nearby New York diamond district — which means prepaying and prolonging delivery to clients, she says.
However, travel restrictions mean that Feng is unable to visit stone suppliers in New York, Bangkok or elsewhere, so “I can only see from the picture and the video,” she says.
Amarasuriya, too, is missing opportunities to meet new suppliers or see new products at international jewellery trade shows. “It slows things down firstly for the business and especially when we are in such a competitive landscape,” she says. “Time loss is not ideal and increases our risk.”
As to the future, Amarasuriya predicts there will be more men’s engagement rings and gender neutral designs for both wedding and engagement rings.
“Younger clients [Gen Z and millennials] will look for unusual gemstones in their engagement rings”, she predicts, also. “A lot of them are very passionate about their individual expression and how better to do it than a colour gemstone? Because a round diamond is a round diamond.”