Rapaport Magazine

Born to shine

Loaded with sentimental value, birthstone engagement rings are an affordable, more personalized alternative to diamonds.

By Jodie Smith

Couples are increasingly sidestepping the traditions surrounding marriage, and the conventions of engagement-ring buying are no exception. Diamonds are still the default choice, but colored gemstones, especially birthstones, are becoming more popular.

Etsy saw 34,000 searches for “birthstone engagement rings” in three months during 2019, according to Dayna Isom Johnson, the e-commerce site’s trend expert, and there are sure signs that this trend continues to grow. Etsy typically attracts thriftier consumers looking for distinctive items crafted by artisans, rather than big-name brands, and this demographic represents the lower end of the engagement-ring market — a group likely to expand due to the sustained global economic downturn.

Beyond the practicalities of choosing a generally less expensive stone, consumers look to incorporate personal touches in jewelry. Mirta de Gisbert is a New York-based jewelry consultant and concierge who helps clients create and discover exceptional engagement rings. In her experience, consumers are drawn to designs that impart meaning.

“Personalization has become a prime driver across a variety of industries for millennials and Gen Z,” she says. “While the idea of using birthstones in jewelry is not a novel concept, its rise in demand can be attributed to the shift in consumer behavior to prioritize self-expression and individual identity over fitting in. The more unique and individualized something can be, the better. Birthstones provide another way of harnessing jewelry’s intrinsic self-expression and storytelling powers.”

The next question for jewelers is how to deliver the birthstone ring designs their clients want. For New York-based brand The Lovery — run by mother-daughter team Betty and Sharon Hakimian Kohanim — it’s been crucial to anticipate customers’ choices beyond just the “Big Three” colored gems.

“Clients are typically looking for one of the classic gemstones [ruby, emerald and sapphire] because they’re not so familiar with alternative and semiprecious stones, but everyone also knows their birthstone. We like to showcase the not-so-well-known stones,” says Sharon.

On Instagram, The Lovery reaches out to the LGBTQ+ audience, acknowledging this important and growing engagement-ring market. These customers, likely to eschew conventions they view as typically heteronormative, tend to be less invested in diamond-only engagement rings.

The full spectrum

Valerie Madison, a Seattle, Washington-based designer who specializes in alternative engagement rings, says she has always had occasional requests for birthstone editions. “If someone’s birthstone is soft, like amethyst, we suggest a sapphire in a purple color as an homage to the recipient’s possible favorite color but a more durable option for everyday engagement wear,” she explains.

Along with fancy-colored sapphires and emeralds, Madison offers rings featuring central tsavorites, spinels and Malaya garnets. Looser interpretations of birthstones include secondary and even tertiary gemstone options for each month. Spinel, for instance, can be an alternative to peridot for those born in August. “Spinels in particular are gaining popularity because of their color range and price point,” Madison reports.

Anna Sheffield, a fine-jewelry maker with stores in New York and Los Angeles, California, agrees. She offers contemporary engagement rings with a whole spectrum of gemstones, including spinel, garnet, moonstone, tourmaline, turquoise and opal, as well as the more traditional sapphire, emerald and ruby.

Like many brands branching out into colored-gemstone bridal options, New York brand Gabriel & Co. promotes pink and yellow sapphires as alternatives to its diamond rings.

One designer who embraced the concept of birthstone engagement rings early on was Los Angeles-based Jennie Kwon. “We have always had a steady stream of clients throughout the years who have purchased birthstone or gemstone engagement rings — morganites, onyx, black diamonds and green sapphires — because the pieces personally resonate with them,” she shares. “Our clients aren’t overly driven by tradition.”

De Gisbert adds: “From the moment I started my company, I have more often than not suggested incorporating an element of birthstone jewelry into my clients’ pieces in order to add that extra layer of personalization. Most recently, I designed a toi et moi diamond and sapphire engagement ring — with a ruby [the groom’s birthstone] inside the ring so she could carry him close to her.”

A lasting trend

But what about durability? Lifestyle is increasingly a factor that determines which gemstones make appropriate engagement ring choices.

Michelle Demaree is an engagement ring expert and diamond concierge whose specialty is large, high-value stones, many of which she showcases on her website, Miss Diamond Ring Atelier. “When it comes to colored-gemstone engagement rings, I would recommend sapphires above all else due to their hardness and the variety of color options. Rubies would be second (unless they are of collection quality or rare origin), and I would be hesitant to suggest an emerald unless it was in a highly protected setting like a halo or bezel.”

De Gisbert does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach when choosing a gemstone. “I like to understand [customers’] individual needs and desires: If you want to wear your ring daily, I recommend not going lower than 7.5 on the Mohs scale [of mineral hardness] so long as we set it in a protective setting,” she explains. “However, if you are looking for a ring that you can set in a delicate setting, wear daily and not think twice about, I recommend finding a stone that is 9-plus on the Mohs scale.”

Just as retailers have effectively employed storytelling in selling trinity and eternity-style bridal rings, it’s worth teaching sales staff how to connect with couples on the topic of birthstones by focusing on their sentimental value. Demaree believes there is a demand for jewelry that evokes emotion.

“Birthstones carry much meaning and joy, celebrating the birth of life,” she points out. “I could see gemstone fashion jewelry taking a huge rise if marketed properly to a consumer wanting to enjoy their favorite colors and the meanings behind those gemstones.”

Kwon sees particular meaning in using such stones for bridal jewelry: “Just as our zodiac signs, names [and] birthdates are identifiable objects that help create our identity, and people really value that, birthstones feel personal and intimate, as does a piece of jewelry that reflects your lifelong commitment to another person. Why not consolidate the two?”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - August 2020. To subscribe click here.

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