Going platinum

September 5, 2022  |  Francesca Fearon
Le Vian
This rare, durable precious metal has been climbing up the charts in jewelry circles, especially among brides-to-be.

As Queen Elizabeth II was celebrating her Platinum Jubilee in the UK this summer to mark an impressive 70 years on the throne, platinum jewelry was seeing robust sales in the US. While the two achievements are unrelated, the 19th-century tradition of naming a rarely accomplished 70th anniversary after platinum is a reminder that it’s a rare metal, ranking ahead of gold and diamond anniversaries.

In 2021, retail sales of platinum jewelry grew 15% year on year, according to the latest Platinum Guild International (PGI) report. For the first quarter of 2022, the sector grew 23% year on year. Meanwhile, the development of branded collections has boosted interest in the metal. Platinum-only brand Platinum Born recently expanded its distribution into upscale department store Neiman Marcus. Brands like Le Vian have begun using the metal not just in their high-end collections, but in their main ones as well.

Huw Daniel, CEO of PGI, chalks up the spike in US sales to the recovery of the economy and consumer spending. Factors such as government stimulus payments, the release of pent-up demand, and an increase in affluent consumers’ wealth have contributed to the trend.
“Consumers also diverted their spending away from ‘experiences’ [and] toward products that deliver lasting value and symbolic meaning, which has benefited jewelry sales, including platinum,” he comments.

The Ukraine war, inflation, and erratic stock-market performance may yet affect American consumers’ sentiments, PGI cautions.

In Japan, meanwhile, platinum is extremely popular, even performing better than white gold in recent years, says Daniel. Affluent consumers, younger shoppers, and online sales have been among the main supporters of demand there. In India, platinum sales rebounded strongly in 2021 after the disruptions of Covid-19, getting a boost from engagement rings, men’s jewelry, and women buying jewelry for themselves, according to PGI. China has been a more problematic market due to the waves of virus-related restrictions; sales of the metal there were good in 2020 but lost ground in 2021 as demand declined and gold caught up, Daniel says.

White wedding

One big area the pandemic impacted was the global bridal market, as it delayed many weddings. As such, the current flourishing of platinum may be related to a boom in nuptials. In 2021, retailers sold 9% more platinum bridal pieces than in 2020, according to PGI.

“The past couple of years have taught us we must celebrate love, family and life — to focus on what matters,” says Scott Udell, vice president of London Jewelers, which has locations in New York and the Hamptons. “We believe this is the greatest driving force [behind] bridal jewelry sales soaring during this time.”

His store always recommends platinum as “the one,” he adds; it uses the metal for nearly all its bridal rings, and even white gold rings from other designer collections can be made in platinum on request.

“Platinum has always been an aspirational metal in the bridal space because of its strength, durability and beauty — messages that have been more important than ever in recent years,” says Ann Grimmett, vice president of merchandising at Jared. The Signet Jewelers-owned chain has seen platinum grow as a percentage of its business during that time, with more clients searching for it in stores and online.

“It truly [makes] a ring that will last forever,” she says.

Better than gold?

The increase in gold prices is making platinum look more affordable than in the past, according to retailers. “Many see platinum’s cost as comparable to 18-karat gold, so transitioning to platinum is easy,” explains a representative of Chicago-based Razny Jewelers, which has observed this trend at its store in the city’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Still, among most of Razny’s clients, the demand for gold engagement rings and bands has not noticeably changed, and gold is still “the standard for bridal jewelry.”

Udell agrees that the rise in the price of gold “makes the decision to buy platinum more instinctive.” So does Grimmett, though she reports that Jared mainly reserves platinum for its higher-end bridal collections.

Independent designers are also seeing healthy demand for platinum.

At New York-based brand Eva Fehren, “platinum pieces have been performing extremely well — especially in the bridal segment,” says cofounder and creative director Eva Zuckerman.

“Platinum is highly durable and timeless and has always been a hot commodity,” affirms Angie Marei, founder of Marei New York. “For clients that love white metal, platinum is usually their preferred choice. Not only do we create a lot of platinum engagement rings for our brides, but we have a lot of men who choose platinum over gold for their wedding rings.”

Cool, clean, and made to last

Although there are examples of platinum jewelry from as far back as ancient Egypt, the metal came fully into fashion in Europe during the 18th century following the discovery that arsenic lowered platinum’s melting point, making it easier to cast and manipulate. French King Louis XVI’s jeweler produced several platinum pieces for his collection during that era. The discovery of new deposits in the late 19th century made the precious metal a popular setting for important jewels, especially diamonds. That was partly because it didn’t oxidize and turn black like silver, and partly because of its purity: The standard platinum alloy contains only 5% of another metal, ruthenium, in contrast to the higher percentages of other metals in gold alloys.

As many have noted, platinum’s main selling point is its strength and endurance. “It can withstand the vagaries of everyday use that an engagement ring will see over its lifetime,” elaborates Zuckerman. And aesthetically, “its cool and clean tone lends itself to subtle, intricate settings with vivid white diamonds.”

Platinum is “synonymous with classic, traditional styles, and those who favor it tend to prefer [its] solid weight and sheen,” says the Razny representative. “Clients are attracted to [its] low maintenance, [and it] develops a beautiful patina with time. Classic solitaire and vintage styles grow more beautiful each year when crafted in platinum.”

Clients who choose platinum from Marei New York want it for the minimalist look it offers. “Platinum is true white/colorless, goes with everything, and complements all skin types,” says Marei. “They also see the value in the durability of the metal and love how the weight feels substantial and luxurious.”

While the alloy is denser and more difficult to work with than gold, she adds, it is typically “a more suitable alloy for setting gemstones and more delicate settings because of its rigidness.”

Some customers come in specifically asking for platinum, while others are drawn to it during the sales process. Independent jeweler Shahla Karimi has found that if a client chooses one of her streamlined platinum ring designs, they request the same metal for all their bridal jewelry, including earrings and necklaces.

Lifestyle is often a factor in determining whether platinum is right for a customer, notes Zuckerman. “Are they very active? Are they in a profession where they use their hands a lot? For those clients, we definitely recommend platinum for its strength and durability.”

When she’s designing, though, “I generally let the stone ‘speak to me,’” she says. “And if it was destined for a platinum setting, then that’s what we will use.

Image: Le Vian

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