Backing Into the Bridal Business

Works Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side has designers on hand to work with customers in crafting rings to their unique specifications.
Works Gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side has designers on hand to work with customers in crafting rings to their unique specifications.

Sometimes it’s the customers who let you know what business you’re in. Paul and Paula Coben of Gallery Five in Tequesta, Fla., discovered they were in the wedding business when their extensive art-to-wear collection became a must-stop for women whose daughters were getting married.

This statement-making, cowl-collared top in orange crinkled silk crepe by Kay Chapman is one of a wide assortment of art-to-wear wedding ensembles at Gallery Five in Tequesta, Fla.
This statement-making, cowl-collared top in orange crinkled silk crepe by Kay Chapman is one of a wide assortment of art-to-wear wedding ensembles at Gallery Five in Tequesta, Fla.

The bridal market today is a multi-faceted business that encompasses every category of a gallery’s offerings—jewelry, gifts, clothing, home accessories—and embraces every craft medium, from metal and glass to pottery and fiber. It also touches on societal changes, including later marriages, second marriages and same-sex marriages. Paula Coben says her wedding clothing customers are women who grew up in the ‘60s. “They dress differently and they want something more unusual,“ she says. That may mean a hand-painted silk jacket or a hand-painted silk tunic. “Something special but not conventional.” Changing Demographics Demographics also play a part at Carlyn Galerie in Dallas. “I’m finding people getting married a little later, not in their early 20s,” says co-owner Wendy Dunham. “They already have the necessities, coffeemakers and so on. They want more unique pieces.” Dunham says her gallery “does a lot of bridesmaid jewelry, necklaces and earrings. We also do a lot of custom work.” Carlyn Galerie offers a bridal registry, but she’s noticed that couples using the service tend to register for more artistic items, including serving pieces in wood, glass or metal. Handscapes Gallery in Beaufort, N.C., also has a wedding registry, “but not a lot of people use it,” admits owner Alison Brooks. Instead, “We get a lot of people buying gifts for attendants,” she says, “like matching necklaces for bridesmaids.” Handscapes sells wedding rings, particularly by Sarah Graham, Todd Reed and local artist Steve Goodspeed. But she’s noticed a change in her clientele’s thinking about which kind to choose. “Customers are becoming more interested in the keep-it-local aspect of things,” Brooks says. “Young people in particular are tuned in to unique, handcrafted wedding rings.” Special Requests Even galleries that cater to more traditional couples, where rings can retail at $15,000 to $20,000, are seeing changes. The ages of customers really do make a difference, especially if they’ve been married before. “Our customers tend to be older, and they’re looking for a single ring,” says Frank Pereira, of Works Gallery on New York City’s Upper East Side. That may be a band with diamonds all around, by Whitney Boin or Barbara Heinrich. Or it may be something more unusual. “Our designers are on hand to create specific, different things.” Raw diamonds, natural color stones and diamond slices are big sellers at Max’s in St. Louis Park, Minn., which bills itself as a “chocolate and jewelry” store. The slices are faceted on top for a different look, says owner Ellen Hertz. Max’s, too, found itself in the wedding business when the staff began to notice that rings were selling as “alternative bridal” rings. “People come to us for something different,” Hertz says. Exclusive Designs Artists who supply work to galleries are noticing the trend toward distinctive, more personalized items for weddings.

Star vases by glass artist Jake Pfeifer have holes down the middle to hold a single flower and some baby’s breath.
Star vases by glass artist Jake Pfeifer have holes down the middle to hold a single flower and some baby’s breath.

A request from one customer led glassblower Jake Pfeifer, owner of Hot Glass Alley in Reading, Pa., to create small glass vases designed for bridesmaids to hold flowers that matched the bride’s—and to take the vases home afterwards as keepsakes. Pfeifer has also met requests for Christmas ornaments to give to wedding attendants, and for all kinds of stemware, from champagne flutes to wine glasses. The idea is to create something personalized for the bridal couple that will stand out in guests’ minds. Pfeifer can match seasonal themes or work with wedding colors from fabric samples. “I can be pretty flexible,” he says. Reliable Market Even without the huge investment that selling traditional engagement rings generally requires, craft galleries are finding that a little creative marketing can put them in the steady, ever-lucrative wedding business. “After all,” says Dunham, “there will always be weddings.”

The interior of Max’s gallery in St. Louis Park, Minn., is just as classy and inviting as the handcrafted jewelry it showcases.
The interior of Max’s gallery in St. Louis Park, Minn., is just as classy and inviting as the handcrafted jewelry it showcases.

To view the “Wedding Essentials” portfolio of bridal rings, jewelry and accessories accompanying this feature order a copy www.nichemagazine.com/archive  of the Spring 2014 issue of NICHE magazine. 

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