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In an Age of Purposeful Purchasing, Secondhand Diamonds Surge Ahead
Whether a bridal customer wants something sentimental, unique or ethically sourced, the category allows them to say “yes.”
New York—Bridal jewelry has, for obvious reasons, always been a sentimental purchase.
Even so, pieces using repurposed, recycled or vintage and antique diamonds have grown in popularity over the last few years amid social media’s help with discovery and new consumer shopping habits.
Fashion, too, has seen a surge in the secondhand market, a sector that leapt ahead last year amid concerns about money during a global pandemic and the continued emphasis on producing less clothing waste.
But where the bridal market often follows fashion trends, this time it seems bridal has led the way, according to Engagement 101’s Severine Ferrari.
She said the uptick in demand in the secondhand bridal market started a few years ago with the return to vintage-style fashion and jewelry.
In the latter, the popularity of the category can be seen in the number of bridal manufacturers launching vintage-style settings to compete with true antique and estate pieces.
For those who deal directly in secondhand bridal, the increased interest over the last few years has meant good business.
Jay Moncada of Perpetuum Jewels said the wholesaler has seen the popularity of antique, vintage and other storied jewelry increase “exponentially” over the last decade.
Engagement ring shoppers wanting something unique are “increasingly interested in historical context, a good story or narrative, and the romance of past eras,” he said.
Wanting a piece that tells a story or makes a statement is also driving buyers for Jewels by Grace, said designer Grace Lavarro.
She said antique and vintage diamonds have been doing “extremely well” over the last 10 years, driven by women gravitating toward unique but also more meaningful pieces of jewelry.
“The pandemic has definitely brought forth a more emotional and sentimental connection to one’s family.”— Corina Madilian, Single StoneFor Los Angeles-based Single Stone, the past couple of years have brought an increase in sales of vintage and repurposed diamonds as well as vintage jewelry, according to co-founder Corina Madilian, a trend she attributes to consumers being more thoughtful about their choices.
More clients want to work stones that have been passed down through family members. In repurposing, they feel more environmentally responsible while also incorporating a meaningful detail connecting them to their family and their heritage.
“The pandemic has definitely brought forth a more emotional and sentimental connection to one’s family,” Madilian said.
Both Lavarro and Engagement 101’s Ferrari also noted an
Lavarro said more brides are being given their grandmother’s or mother’s diamonds, and a surge in resetting them into more contemporary styles to give them a new feel has come along with it.
Using family stones also mean couples can put more money toward the setting, Ferrari said, adding that since women have started playing a larger role in choosing the ring, the setting has become even more important.
Madilian added that the amount of extra time some people had due to lockdown last year has allowed consumers to get an even better idea of what’s on the market, and what they like.
Engagement ring customers, in particular, know exactly what they want by the time they visit a store.
They’re doing research online and are coming into the store because, most likely, they’re ready to purchase.
That ‘R’ Word
The mindfulness in spending habits extends beyond just time and money; it’s also about social responsibility.
The push for ethically sourced materials over the past few years has propelled the secondhand diamond sector, said Ross Nacht of wholesaler Bernard Nacht & Co. Consumers increasingly want to make sure they are making responsible purchases.
“Instagram has opened the door to see what’s out in the world and become educated about diamonds that were, previously, only learned [about] in person.”— Ross Nacht, Bernard Nacht & Co.Social media has helped the sector along, he said, serving as a hot spot for designers, retailers and manufacturers to actively share their positioning on such issues.
The platforms, especially Instagram, also help catch consumers at the beginning of their discovery stage, seeing, for example, old mine-cut or old European-cut diamonds earlier than ever before.
Antique and reclaimed stones have also become popular over the last few years amid both designers’ and consumers’ insatiable desires for a product that stands out from the rest.
“Consumers continue to want something different and unique, so stores love to have options that are one-of-a-kinds,” he said. “Instagram has opened the door to see what’s out in the world and become educated about diamonds that were, previously, only learned [about] in person.”
There also has been an increase in the number of talented designers entering the market with a focus on sustainability and ethically sourced materials, shining even more of a spotlight on the area.
“While there has always been a demand for antique and reclaimed stones, we have seen an increasing demand in old miners and old European cuts, as well as our family’s Crown Jubilee, which are recut from chipped and worn antique stones,” Nacht said.
As the business’ main area of focus, Perpetuum Jewels too has noted growth in the responsible sourcing aspect of the market, Moncada said.
“The number of designers/makers who build their business around sustainability is exponentially increasing,” he said, adding he believes it to be the sector of the industry with the fastest growth.
At the same time, many aspects of sustainability are top-of-mind for bridal shoppers, including environmental concerns around mining. Therefore, they often see antique/vintage and repurposed gems serving as a suitable alternative to newly mined materials.
“With many online trade webinars and meetings, the responsible sourcing movement suddenly felt more connected and increasing in commitment. The year 2020 brought about many conversations, which for many, were merely background noise in the past.” — Jay Moncada, Perpetuum JewelsDesigner Lavarro sees millennials in particular driving this market.
“They do not seem to care for new and shiny,” she said, adding they want pieces with a story, sense of history and that they know aren’t contributing to a process that might harm the planet.
Moncada said he thought the pandemic, which forced many to evaluate their priorities and take the time to be more mindful of choices, has served to bring this area even more into focus.
Over the past year, Perpetuum has seen more jewelers broach, for the first time, the subject of sustainable material sourcing and practices, helping Perpetuum learn, indirectly, the “wants” and “musts” of engagement ring shoppers directly from retailers.
“With many online trade webinars and meetings, the responsible sourcing movement suddenly felt more connected and increasing in commitment. The year 2020 brought about many conversations, which for many, were merely background noise in the past,” he said.
“Responsibly sourced gems and metals are now at the heart of every conversation.”
With strong demand and supply for rarer, special antique and vintage stones shrinking, it’s no surprise the sources National Jeweler interviewed for this story said prices have been going up.
This was especially true last year.
Discretionary income shifting to jewelry combined with a tight supply brought on by the decrease in secondhand goods entering the market during the pandemic drove up prices, Moncada said.
And the future is looking bright for this particular segment of the diamond market.
For Single Stone, the last two quarters have brought an uptick in sales that it expects to continue through 2021.
Bernard Nacht & Co., meanwhile, has seen high demand for antique and reclaimed stones continue into the new year, and Nacht said he believes that will continue.
He predicted Instagram will continue to be a strong source of referrals, and more merchandise will start to find its way back into the market.
Moncada, too, said it’s likely there will be a surge in trade-ins, just like they saw after the economic recession of 2008, to rebuild supply.
And as buyers continue looking for unique products, it will be even more important for businesses to find a way to stand out in messaging and in product, putting the vintage, antique and estate diamond market in a strong position for the ever-important bridal customer.
Lavarro said she feels strongly that 2021 will surpass last year for the niche sector.
“The floodgates have been open for a while, but that opening is now even wider. Women continue to lead the way in terms of research ahead of a proposal, and they seem to embrace the inherent romantic nature of vintage and antique jewelry in general.”
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However, their optimistic outlook comes with a hint of caution due to a number of factors out of their collective control.
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