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What I’ve Learned

Retailers, jewelry makers and even a consultant or two sound off on what they know about wedding jewelry

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We asked a sampling of notable jewelry retailers, designers, manufacturers and consultants to talk about the most important things they’ve learned about the art and science of making and selling engagement rings. Respondents shared everything from practical tips to the emotional high they get from participating in these momentous celebrations of love.

Women are the Drivers

Noam Carver, Noam Carver Designer

  • Women are in the driver’s seat. There was a time when a guy would surprise his bride with an engagement ring. Today, women are active in the process of choosing their ring, sharing images, shopping together and informing their close friends or family of the styles they favor. 
  • Biggest challenge? Getting stores out of their comfort zone, getting them to try new brands and introduce new collections. Retailers can get attached to lines that are not performing out of fear of losing that initial investment, but they are missing out on new collections that can bring revenue growth and new clientele. 
  • Dainty bands, solitaires and intricate setting styles are trending now; demand for halos is declining. Rose gold is very strong and we’re starting to see an uptick in yellow gold; white is still No. 1.
  • What I like about being in this business is: It’s a beautiful harmony of design, fashion, marketing and strategy. Keeps you on your toes and is continuously stimulating. Forging relationships with storeowners, sales staff and consumers brings meaning to all the hard work.

Millennials Get A Bad Rap

Marc Adwar, Brooklyn Jewelers

  • For our new bridal line, we’re trying to target millennials. We take a traditional style and add a little Brooklyn edginess. We built Brooklyn Jewelers in the heart of Williamsburg to be surrounded by millennials. They get a bad rap. They’re misunderstood.
  • I think everyone is wrong about the future of retail. I don’t think everyone is going to be sitting in their houses ordering from Amazon and taking Ubers everywhere. Stores need to change the experience, and if they’re willing to change the experience, they are going to do very well. Everyone has discounted the relationships these retailers have made with their communities over the years. But if those stores aren’t willing to change, then they are going to have a very hard time.
  • When I was a young kid and Dad used to send me on the road, customers would pick out dozens of different styles. And nowadays, stores have much less inventory and everything is more custom-based. Even if a retailer has 5,000 rings, people will want the 5,001st ring. We built our systems for us to be able to build the CAD designs and make alterations for the customer with anticipation that that was going to be happening in the future.
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Make a Personal Connection

Erica Tague, Michael & Sons, Reno, NV

  • I have learned to ask about her. What is she interested in, what does she do for work, how did they meet? Making a personal connection with the person shopping for the engagement ring makes it more than a sale to them. They feel that they have a friend and not just someone trying to sell them something. 
  • I have learned to talk less and listen more. This is difficult because I am Italian and I love to talk, but I have found that if you ask a question, pause and hear their response; then they feel that they are driving the bus.

Show Them Three Diamonds

Alan Perry, Perry’s Emporium, Wilmington, NC

  • Show the customers three loose diamonds and let them pick the one they like best. I learned the three-diamond approach from someone on Polygon many years ago. The nerdy type guys came in saying 54 percent table, 60 percent depth, VVS1, D color, etc. So now I order three diamonds with different colors and cuts and clarity within a certain price range and at least one with a little spread on the table and one triple-X cut and then put them out there, ask him which one is the table and depth you want? Which one is the clarity you want? He always picks wrong … and then I teach him it’s in the eye of the beloved one. Most times, he picks the diamond that’s a lower cut and clarity and a lower price. He usually buys the one I pick for him, because he thinks it’s the most brilliant one of the three!

Let Shoppers Dream the Dream

Jo Goralski, The Jewelry Mechanic, Oconomowoc, WI

  • I want the client to dream his or her best dream, then I want to know the budget. I learned early on that if I design based on budget, no one wins. A young couple came into the studio. She wanted a yellow emerald-cut diamond in a split shank covered with diamonds, and a wedding band for him, and he had a $1,500 budget. Knowing the look she was going for, I found a semi-mount with melee diamonds. I found a killer soft yellow emerald-cut sapphire, and my shop hand-forged him a wedding band. With the sales tax, it came in at just under $1,500. They have been married over 10 years and have three kids, and they have always remembered we treated their dream with respect.

Look Out for Relatives

Chuck Kuba, Iowa Diamond, West Des Moines, IA

  • Beware the groom’s mother! They are surely the spawn of Smaug! We are thinking of selling a gift item for the bride to give to the groom. They’re called “Cut the Cord” scissors. 
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Drug Straight to the Heart

Ryan Karp Jr., Cornerstone Jewelry, Palos Park, IL

  • Selling my first engagement ring was a complete joy. Every time still feels like that first time. You’re involved in an intimate experience. To make their dreams come true is better than having my own dreams come true. Like a drug straight to the heart, it keeps us running and always wanting more.

Re-Educate When Necessary

Pat Henneberry, The Jewelry Coach and VP of learning  and development for Hearts On Fire 

  • Many years ago, the consumer came in with no information. They would try their best to learn about the 4Cs. Now they come to us overeducated, and some of the education is not the best. You kind of have to backtrack and start at square one. I like to start by educating them on cut and how important that is.

Find Margin in Mountings

Terry Chandler, President and CEO of the Diamond Council of America

  • When the bridal sector crosses into the millennial sector, the jeweler must have the knowledge, equipment, and expertise to create a one-of-a-kind engagement ring. Millennials want “their” engagement ring, not “an” engagement ring. 3 Amidst all the conversation about shrinking margins on larger center diamonds, the jeweler has an opportunity to make up margin on more diamond-set bridal mountings.

Be Very Good at Getting Them to Talk

Shane Decker, Sales trainer

  • If they’re shopping together, you need to ask her a lot of questions about style, fashion, what she’s seen, what she liked, if she has a photo on her phone. Too many people get defensive when they bring in a lab report from Blue Nile or James Allen or something. Say, “I’m so glad you did some research!” If they bring that in, it means they haven’t bought it yet.
  • The Internet doesn’t deliver an experience. So give them an incredible experience, get them talking about their engagement, their lives. This is something that’s among the top 10 most incredible memories of a woman’s life.
  • So many salespeople don’t know how to close. You have to have the ability to romance the product. When you drive up the value of the ring they want, that closes the sale.
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Do Not Be Afraid of Silence

Aleah Arundale, Olympian Diamonds 

  • The problem with most salespeople is they don’t stop talking! Decisions are not made while you are talking, they are made when the customer is thinking. Do not be afraid of silence. Give him the chance to have an inner conversation on how he will pay for it or picture how much she will love it. If you interrupt this, you kill the sale.
  • As strange as it sounds, the price of the diamond does not matter. Shoppers may tell you they saw a cheaper diamond somewhere else, but the more likely truth is that they are not sure what they saw. Think about it. Do most customers really understand diamonds? 
  • You need more and better reasons to buy from you. I call this a value story. Your value story can be that you buy second hand diamonds, or that you have 40 years buying experience, or that you just got back from Antwerp. Even telling customers you have the best warranty can give them that feeling of value and reasons to buy. Not everyone is a price shopper, but everyone is a value shopper.
  • Tell them the price early on. Why? Because all they are thinking is “how much?” “that’s nice but how much?” “would she/he shut up and just tell me how much?” By saying the price early, it shows you are not ashamed or scared of the price. Everything you say afterwards adds value to it.

It’s Not a Refrigerator

Douglas Elliott, Designer and partner, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Customers deserve the best no matter what they spend. Our average sale is around $30,000. This is not a refrigerator or a car. You can’t make a mistake with an engagement ring and you’ve got to make sure these people are treated with love.
  • I don’t believe in emails for customers. If you’re spending $35,000, I want them to get a phone call.
  • I’ve learned to give the women what they want. They like a thin and delicate ring. We have the world’s thinnest wedding band. This is what the New York woman, between 25 and 35, is wearing today.
  • If the diamond isn’t beautiful, we don’t sell it. We made over 725 pieces of jewelry by hand last year. Everything is bespoke and made in New York. I pick every diamond in the store. And we sell only gold and platinum men’s bands. If you want to wear wood on your finger for the rest of your life, that’s your business, but you won’t find it here. 

Find Out What Exactly They Want

Marisa Perry, Marisa Perry Atelier, Manhattan

  • Everyone shopping for an engagement ring is scared. Guys are scared because they’re spending a lot of money and making a huge emotional commitment. They want to get it right. Girls are like “Oh my God, I need a ring! I don’t know what I want!” It’s important to let them try on a lot of options and make sure it’s what they want. It should be really fun. It’s not a science project like a lot of men make it out to be.
  • You have to make the customer feel at ease while getting the job done. It’s half business and half fun. Nobody walks out of my store without knowing what they want. We’ve asked them enough questions that they know what they want. They’re grateful. They’re relieved. They figured it out.

Educated Staff Clears Up Confusion

Harvey Rovinsky, Bernie Robbins Jewelers, NJ and PA

  • Education is one of the most important roles of the jeweler — for most clients, this is one of their first significant jewelry purchases. At Bernie Robbins, we have 5 C’s of diamonds: cut, color, clarity, carat, and confusion. Our team is highly educated on our diamonds’ quality, style and process of being responsibly mined.3 The rise of social media allows brides to see pieces online of different styles that they would not have seen otherwise. It also allows our sales team to better understand a bride’s style by seeing photos of pieces she “likes” online. 
  • Customers are increasingly looking to buy from local family-owned businesses instead of major chains to get the personalized, artisan experience.
  • An online presence is even more important as customers investigate a company’s website and social media channels before ever coming to the store, and we want to make sure they have the BR experience online and offline.

Go Deeper Into Collections

Megan Thorne, Designer

  • When it comes to designing rings, I’ve learned to leave room for customization. Styles that work only with a certain shape or size stone make accommodating clients’ stones difficult.
  • The biggest change I’ve observed in what women want is that size is no longer the defining diamond characteristic. Women care about quality, history and the ethical implications of a stone. 
  • My best advice for retailers selling designer engagement rings is to give space to each artist. There are so many talented designers and thousands of gorgeous rings, and it must be tempting to get a little here and a little there so that you can represent more designers. But limiting your selection to fewer artists and going deeper into the collection with each of them allows your team to establish a relationship with the brand and engage more knowledgeably and thoroughly with your clients.

Wedding Jewelry is Recession Proof

Asaf Herskovitz, GN Diamond 

  • People are too negative about millennials. Eighty-eight percent of them believe in getting engaged with a traditional natural diamond. I’m seeing millennials spending more on diamonds than their parents did. There are fewer smaller diamonds and more classic jewelry being brought back, like solitaire settings. Millennials still want natural diamonds and the industry is starting to explain a little bit better why one diamond outshines another diamond. They’re looking for a different life experience. Just being on Main Street for 25 years is not going to cut it any more. Stores need to provide a wow factor and education. 

Love is Love

Rony Tennenbaum, Designer 

  • There were a number of reasons I began designing wedding and engagement rings for the LGBT community. A little over 10 years ago, six states had the laws on the books that allowed gay couples to marry. I woke up one day and said, “I have so many friends who ask me about engagement rings,” but when you Googled gay and lesbian rings, all you would get were rainbow rings and triangle rings, and none of my friends or I would want to wear those as our wedding rings. 
  • I’d get hundreds of emails all of the time from couples seeking advice. I started lecturing on the topic because there’s a different dynamic involved. All we knew was what the tradition is for a traditional couple. Do we both get engagement rings? Do we need to have matching rings? They were asking me these questions. So that’s how I started my series of talks for couples called, “The New Etiquette of the Rainbow.” 
  • I can’t say wedding jewelry is “normalized” in the LGBT community. I think if anything, it’s an individualized niche where a lot of people do different things. No one believes it has to be a certain way. 
  • When the political arena was very favorable, I stepped back from targeting the LGBT market because there’s nothing about my jewelry that says, this is gay, this is straight. There’s no such thing as a gay ring. In my store, 80 percent of my clientele were straight and looking for something unique. I lost a little bit of the fire for LGBT only. Now we’re kind of back to it.
  • It is important that this is an LGBT line, that I am a gay designer and that I stand for LGBT rights. That’s where I feel most comfortable. In the current political climate, we’re going back a step to gay, proud and shout it at the top of our lungs: love is love. Let’s show people that we are here.

One Customer at a Time

Julie Terwilliger, Wexford Jewelers, Cadillac, MI

  • 3 I had a gentleman purchase a modest wedding set from us, and then his fiancée began working with me to exchange it for something bigger. She was a nightmare, and after countless changes to a designer name that we carry, we perfected what she wanted. She explained that she would be paying the difference personally as she made more money than her significant other. I then finalized and updated the invoice to collect a deposit for the new project. Unfortunately, it was automatically sent to the original email on file, which was the gentleman, who apparently had no idea that she had been working with me. It blew up and she was very upset. She intended to table the upgrade for maybe a year until this blew over, but it has been over three years now. Wondering if they are even together still. Lesson learned: email the invoice to the one paying. Ugh!

Become An Invited Guest

James Doggett, Doggett Jewelry, Kingston, NH

  • Over the past 40 years, I have found that the bride-to-be who is the most realistic about what her fiancé can afford stays married the longest and becomes a great repeat client. Remember, for the 5th or 10th anniversaries, the husbands will be back for “something bigger” and all those dates in between, birthdays, holidays, push gifts, they remember how reasonable you were when they were younger and poorer. In 1980 after the silver market crashed, I was working in an urban jewelry store when an “average Joe” came in looking for an engagement ring between $750 and $1,000. Store policy at the time was that you guilt them into $2,000 if they said they had a budget of $1,000. Breaking store rules, I showed him rings in his price range and reminded him that sizing was extra. He bought a nice ring from the estate tray for $900 plus tax. It fit his fiancée perfectly. They followed me when I opened my own store and have been clients ever since. Last Christmas, he bought his bride a sapphire and diamond necklace almost 25 times the price of her engagement ring.
  • I’m not looking to rip anyone off. I’m on the third generation with some families I’ve been dealing with for years. If I treat them right, they will keep coming back. There’s a reason I no longer have to advertise.
  • I am often invited to weddings (learn to dance, guys, and dance with anyone who is sitting alone at a table), where I am often introduced by the bride shaking her left hand at people saying “This is Jim, he made my rings!” Husbands introduce me to their friends and suggest they come to me when they are ready to do “something good for a change.”

Eileen McClelland is the Managing Editor of INSTORE. She believes that every jewelry store has the power of cool within them.

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