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Engagement Jewelry in 2009

12 march 2009

The weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day are typically a busy time for jewelers selling engagement rings, as the date is the second-biggest time of year (behind Christmas) for wedding proposals. The bad news for jewelers this year, however, is that the average amount spent on an engagement ring is expected to drop 9.8% in 2009 to reach $2,900, the Wall Street Journal says.

The projected decline follows a 30% drop in the average amount spent on an engagement ring in 2008, says Shane McMurray, chief executive of The Wedding Report, a Tucson, Ariz.-based firm that specializes in wedding industry market research. Together, the declines suggest a significant shift in consumer attitudes. In past economic downturns, he says, the wedding industry has been more resilient as people continued to spend on weddings.

“The economy really has people in a big bind right now, so that has a direct effect,” says Mr. McMurray, who notes that the average amount spent on weddings plummeted 24% in 2008, compared with 2007, to reach $21,814, according to a survey of 3,000 brides that The Wedding Report conducted in 2008. This year, he expects couples to spend 6% to 8% less on weddings on average — these wedding costs include reception fees as well as items such as the wedding dress, tuxedos and rings for the bride and groom.

When it comes to wedding rings, the average amount spent on a bride’s wedding ring rose 21.3% to reach $1,129 and the amount spent on a groom’s ring increased 38.3% to reach $907 last year, due in part to couples having more money to spend on smaller-ticket items after scaling back on spending on big-ticket items such as catering and reception fees, Mr. McMurray says. This year, however, those amounts spent are expected to decrease by 8.6%, he says, adding that spending on the wedding dress is also likely to see a 6% to 8% decline this year.

Unfortunately for men, even in this downturn, a survey by online ring reseller showed that women still expect their partners to splurge on a ring. In the survey of 208 women conducted in October, 64% said a groom should pay “as much as he can afford” for an engagement ring, and only 23% said they thought it was OK for the bride to chip in and help to purchase her engagement ring. (Almost 40% said “Absolutely not–would hurt the romance of the moment,” the survey said.)

A new survey performed by Blue Nile revealed that 62 percent of those Americans who were in a relationship but unmarried described the traditional diamond engagement ring as an important part of the proposal.  However, 52 percent said they would now consider altering their proposal plans due to the economic crisis. "According to the survey, 26 percent would consider proposing with a non-traditional engagement ring, such as a diamond eternity band or a ring with a precious gemstone as the center stone. While 18 percent said they would consider proposing without a ring, only a small minority — 8 percent — would consider delaying their proposal," Blue Nile reported.

Many luxury items are being sidelined as consumers tighten their belts, but jewelry is often seen as a necessity, diamonds net says. For instance, how can you pop the question without a ring? "People are still getting engaged and they still want a ring," said Mitchell Clark, executive vice president for B.C. Clark Jewelers.

Some consumers are cutting costs by choosing alternative metals or gems other than white diamonds, jewelers say. "People still want nice things and expensive things, even in an economic downturn," said Valerie Naifeh, a jewelry designer at Naifeh Fine Jewelry.

Although the traditional diamond solitaire ring still remains popular for engagements, some jewelers say more consumers are substituting diamond wedding bands for the traditional engagement ring. Naifeh said she hasn't seen that happen here, but traditionally, both rings were purchased at once. Now, nearly 95 percent of her customers pay for the engagement ring first and the wedding band later.

"That gives them a way to space out that financial commitment," she said. Customers are finding other ways to trim jewelry costs. Using a black diamond instead of a traditional white diamond of the same size and cut can cost thousands less, Naifeh said.

Alternative metals - such as palladium in place of platinum - also offer the same look for less. B.C. Clark Jewelers have been selling more sterling silver jewelry because it is priced lower, Clark said. A ring in sterling silver can cost as little as $100, where an identical ring in gold would be several times that.

Many women are raiding their jewelry boxes or turning inherited jewelry into something new by resetting the stones. Naifeh said her store had a record number of alteration jobs in 2008.

The Telegraph reports a new trend that is gathering momentum – more and more women are proposing marriage to their boyfriends. The H Samuel jewelry chain recently launched the Tioro, a titanium ring embedded with a tiny diamond.

The Tioro sells in England for £79.99, a bargain when compared to £1,350, the average amount spent on a woman's engagement ring.

The Telegraph quotes Natasha Gregory, buying controller for the H Samuel jewelry chain, as saying: "UK women are no longer waiting until the man pops the question. We are equals in the work place and in relationships and we make our own decisions. Now this ring is a clear message to everyone that a man is to be married."

Male engagement rings have already become fairly popular in Scandinavia and Spain, but they have yet to catch on in other countries.