For a broad understanding of the wedding jewelry market and the twists and turns that have shaped it over the past quarter century, you can’t do better than Barry Verragio (pictured). From his design studio on Fifth Avenue in New York, the founder and chief designer of Verragio has a bird’s eye view of the business.
With approximately 250 doors across the United States and Canada, the brand serves a core customer base of independent retailers. “Our biggest door is Robbins Brothers – and we’ve been with them for many years,” Verragio said. JCK. “We are one of their leading wedding brands. They rely heavily on us for forward-looking styles and consumer leads.
Below, Verragio shares his insights into the biggest disruptors to shape the bridal market since he founded his company in 1996 and what it all means for bridal retailers in today’s rapidly changing market. today.
What are the biggest changes in the bridal jewelry industry that you have seen in Verragio’s 26 years of existence?
When I started, a lot of my designs were a very simple ring with a stick. Lots of simplicity. We were limited by technology. We didn’t have computer-aided design or 3D printers. There were a lot of limitations. But I was lucky to have a big design studio and a lot of designers, so we pushed the boundaries. It gave me a foothold in many high-profile retailers, especially those that made bridal a big part of their business.
At the time, we were doing strictly platinum. As it got more expensive, the price of platinum almost tripled, we moved to 18 karat around 2006-2007, which allowed us to create a different look because some things can’t be cast in platinum. It’s a beautiful metal but not as forgiving. When we entered 18k we were at the forefront of computer aided design and began to introduce new designs, designing primarily on the computer. The resolution of the printers was not as fine as today, but it allowed us to create much more avant-garde designs.
How has using CAD changed your business?
Once we moved to computer-aided design, it allowed us to start offering a massive amount of customization. And not just at the top [of the ring]. Look at him Venetian collection, even the bottom of the stem. Rings can include certain items that are loyal to you, and the world doesn’t have to know about them. It is something that is just for you. And when I designed both the Venetian and the Parisian collections, I knew they would propel us to new heights. And they did.
Which contemporary bridal jewelry trends do you think are most important to retailers?
I definitely see a move to a more classic three stone ring. I believe it’s powered by lab-grown diamonds. It used to be that when a couple came in and had a budget of, say, $10,000, 70% of their budget went to the diamond. You couldn’t really get that big of a stone. You were aiming for a carat, a carat and a half maximum.
Today you can spend a fraction and buy a 2-3 carat lab-grown diamond. Halos were a dominant feature; now you have this beautiful big stone. Consumers are leaning more towards three-stone and much more elaborate engagement rings.
We have not seen the budgets go down. The feedback we get from stores in the mid to high end of the market: from $4,000 and up, the consumer is holding up extremely well.
When budget is an issue, they choose lab over natural. The purchase is not made for environmental reasons; it is the financial aspect that ultimately drives the decision. It also allows him to choose a much more elaborate edit, and a lot more often it’s a bit more diamond intense. It will often be three stones and if it is a solitaire it is not just a simple setting, it is very dressy, looks very elegant and it has a unique feature that only she knows, like a cuckoo diamond.
The possibilities are limitless. I find that customization largely comes from suggestions from retailers rather than the consumer. Because once you’ve opened Pandora’s box and said, “Hey, 80% of Verragio’s business is personalized, tell us what you want and we’ll make it happen…”
What trends do you see in the center stones?
We’re not touching the center stones in the lab at all, but that’s for sure – with high certainty – what the consumer envisions for an engagement ring. In the last couple of years in particular, thanks to COVID, consumers have been looking a lot for the larger center stones. It used to be that if I was designing something for stock, something just to put it in a case, retailers would usually ask for a 1-1.25 carat round diamond. Now I am designing mounts that will hold over 2 carats.
Over the past five years, oval stones have become a staple. The round is still dominant, but then it switched to the oval.
This does not mean that the entire market has gone to the laboratory. There are still stores that refuse to sell lab. And those who do not see the value in the laboratory. It will be interesting to see how the market evolves. Consumers buy them because they can increase in size. And retailers sell them because it gives them a margin. But we both know that the margins will be squeezed. My economics teacher said that nature has an opening and then it tends to close.
I’ve seen retailers give away a lab-grown diamond for free: “If you buy this setting for $5,000, we’ll include, say, a carat-sized center for free.”
As for the future, I think retailers will sell both side by side. It definitely challenges brands like me. Previously, you focused on the center stones. Now you want to make sure that your brand scope is satisfactory to the retailer. We are in the process of significantly revamping our website so that we can show them a lot of it.
And Generation Z? What do they like and how should retailers respond?
Jewelry as a whole is, for sure, driven by Instagram and TikTok, as you see influencers wearing jewelry more than ever. For the younger generation, the iPhone, the iPad, everything that Apple was cool to have played out. Now I’m getting bombarded: my kids want to come into my business to satisfy their friends’ needs.
We also see it in the male category. Our only exposure is wedding rings. But before, it was an impossible category to break. The guy would spend $100, $200 on himself. Now we are witnessing a complete reversal.
Guys love their wedding bands, so much so that they are completely covered in diamonds. They are open to gold or titanium. Certainly much more avant-garde and very expressive. Next year we will be launching men’s wedding bands priced at $10,000. This is the only category where we have grown by leaps and bounds.
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