Economic Reality: Scaled-Down Engagement Rings

Teresa Novellino, executive editor of National Jeweler, a trade magazine, said that anecdotally retail jewelers have told her that engagement ring sales are holding strong.

"In a recession people might not be buying a fancy diamond necklace or a sapphire cocktail ring, but they are still getting engaged," Novellino said in an e-mail. "Jewelers also say that customers are still willing to spend for quality diamonds and the price points have held pretty steady."

Helena Krodel, director of media for the Jewelry Information Center, another trade group, said that while some buyers won't downgrade the size of their diamond they might choose a stone with a lesser quality of color or clarity.

A lot of couples also look at the price of the metal ring.

"If they are thinking of platinum, they might opt down to white gold. Or they might go with a simpler setting," Krodel said.

Some couples have also decided to skip the diamond altogether, picking birthstones or no rock at all. Part of that is over ethical concerns about the source of diamonds and part of it is driven by the economy.

Some couples are also extending their engagement period to pay off the ring and save up for a wedding, she said.

By the way, June is the second most popular month to get engaged, she said, with 9.1 percent of engagements happening this month. (December is the most popular.)

On Friday luxury jeweler Tiffany & Co. reported that its first-quarter profit plunged 62 percent compared with the same period last year. Online diamond seller Blue Nile also had a bad quarter, with net sales down 11.4 percent.

"Consumer confidence in the United States remained at historically low levels and access to credit continued to be difficult to obtain. We believe these factors significantly impact the demand for luxury goods," Blue Nile said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

But it's not just big retailers that are suffering.

John Liss, owner of William H. Diller Jewelers in West Redding, Pa., said that people are sacrificing. He is seeing customers at his store -- in existence since 1914 – buying smaller stones.

"The magic number was 1 kart, now it's .75," Liss said.

He is now selling rings for $3,500 to $4,500, while before the recession, he was selling rings for "a couple of thousand of dollars more."

Liss also said more people are choosing white gold instead of platinum.

It's the same story for Nicolle Gorman, and the business her parents started in Washington D.C. , 30 years ago, I. Gorman Jewelers.

People are still getting married and coming in for rings.

"Their budget is much more clear than it used to be," she said. "We're still selling platinum, but we offer alternatives to help them with their budget."

Some people are also choosing to go with off-color diamonds to save money.

Gorman said the younger guys are spending up to 50 percent less on the ring. It hurts the store's bottom line, but at least they still have customers buying engagement rings. Other types of jewelry hasn't been selling as well.

"As a family, we said years ago we need to get into bridal to get younger people so we can have a relationship with them for their lives," Gorman said. "I think at this time, we are finding the benefit of that."

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