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DIAMONDS Women rock on without men



Published: Sat, January 29, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The jewelry market adapts to women who make more money and marry later.

By PAUL GRIMALDI

SCRIPPS HOWARD

All that glitters isn't gold. For Dianne Arruda, sometimes it's diamonds.

"They used to say you can't wear diamonds before five o'clock. Why?" she said. "You bought it, you should wear it."

Arruda, 57, who lives in Rhode Island, shares her sentiments with more American women today than 10 or 20 years ago as societal changes prompt more women to buy jewelry for themselves.

Women in the United States are getting married later than 30 years ago, with nearly one-quarter of women between the ages of 30 and 34 having never married, nearly four times the rate in 1970, according to Census Bureau figures.

More money

American women also are making more money than in the past, with their median annual wage rising over the last decade to $30,724 last year.

With better incomes, women are in a better position to buy luxury goods for themselves.

"Today's woman is not afraid to make a purchase for herself," said Tom Kowal, director of store operations for Ross-Simons Jewelers, of Cranston, R.I. "They're buying jewelry of all types."

About 57 percent of women bought jewelry for themselves last year, according to Pam Danziger, publisher of "Jewelry Report 2004," splitting their spending between fine jewelry and costume pieces. Among men, 42 percent bought jewelry.

Don Geiss, a consumer analyst for Deloitte & amp; Touche, said his company's most recent survey showed 30 percent of women plan to buy jewelry as a gift this holiday season, while a quarter of men will make such a purchase.

Diamond market

Diamond sales are up this year as well, despite rising prices.

Over the first half of 2004, diamond sales increased 15 percent over the same period of 2003, according to the Diamond Information Center in New York City. The number of women buying diamonds for themselves during that same period rose 11 percent.

"[Self purchases] are what's causing the increase," said Carson Glover, of the diamond center.

Danziger, who runs Unity Marketing in Stevens, Pa., said jewelry purchases among women have been rising for the last decade.

Jewelry company executives have noticed the trend.

"We're seeing that that's an occurrence more and more," said Ollie Keene, senior vice president of Helzberg Diamonds in North Kansas City, Mo. "We're seeing women make that decision without any assistance. That's different than it was 20 years ago."

Women also shop for jewelry differently then do men, whose goal typically is to buy something to satisfy their wives or girlfriends.

"There really are distinct differences between men and women when they buy jewelry for themselves," Danziger said. "Men don't buy costume jewelry."

More women tend to buy just metal jewelry, about 40 percent overall, but the number buying gemstones is substantial -- about 30 percent, according to Unity Marketing's survey.

"It's tough to say they're buying more gold than diamonds or more diamonds than gold," said Bob Simone, Ross-Simons' chief operating officer.

But whatever they buy, they're willing to spend more for it than in years past.

Spending the bucks

Peter Pritsker, of the Providence Diamond Co. in Rhode Island, said where once the average sale to a woman was $120, it's now more than $700.

"They will come in and spend $800, $1,500, $2,000 for a piece of what they consider 'fun' jewelry," Pritsker said.

But, Danziger said, "When they do buy gemstones, then they buy a diamond."

Most advertising, particularly around the holidays, focuses on the romance of a man buying diamonds and other jewelry for a woman.

That's because men still spend more on jewelry, on average, than women do -- about $4,200 a year versus $1,720 a year.

About 1.6 million engagement rings are sold each year, reported the Jewelers Board of Trade Red Book, an industry almanac-directory. These rings account for about $2.85 billion of the reported $12 billion spent on all diamond jewelry annually.

Purchases of engagement rings and other wedding-related jewelry amount to $9 billion annually, according to the Conde Nast Bridal Infobank, with the average engagement ring running nearly $3,600. Conde Nast publishes Bride's and Modern Bride magazines.

In the fall of 2003, diamond producer DeBeers began promoting diamond purchases among women with a marketing campaign for diamond rings to be worn on the right hand.

"DeBeers is capitalizing on that with their right-hand rings and their marketing," said David Sternblitz, vice president with Irving, Texas-based Zale Corp. Zale owns a number of jewelry store chains, including Zales, Gordon's, and Bailey, Banks & amp; Biddle.

Sales of right-hand rings rose about 9 percent during the period the first six months of the year, as compared to the same period in 2003, according to the Diamond Information Center.

"It's probably too soon to tell," if the right-hand ring becomes a sure-fire sales item, Keene said. "It'll take a decade for that to catch on."




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