V-Day cometh and designer Barry Verragio is here to assuage your gift-giving fears

The season of mandatory romance is upon us. And whether Valentine’s Day is your favorite holiday of the year or your most dreaded, a good number of folks will be getting down on one knee. In fact, one 2013 report suggests that some 6 million couples are engaged on Valentine’s Day each year.

It can be an intimidating prospect and before you head to the Diamond District, you’ll need to be up on the latest engagement ring trends. Gone are the days of De Beers’ notorious ad campaign that made a month or more’s salary worth of diamonds the status quo. So to help us get it all sorted out, we spoke with Barry Verragio of Verragio, a trendsetter in designer engagement rings and bridal jewelry.

What got you into the jewelry business?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, whether it was crafting planes or arts & crafts. As I got older, I found myself enjoying working with metals – soldering, cutting and assembling. To enhance my design skills, I then studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Why engagement rings?

Engagement rings are the single item in jewelry that are really unlike any other gift. They have a very specific and special meaning from the person giving and for the person receiving. There are a lot of emotions involved and it’s so meaningful to me to be part of a couples engagement process.

Who/what are your design inspirations?

Each Verragio collection is distinctly its own. I try not to look within the jewelry industry for inspiration, but rather I am most influenced by architecture, history and the textile industry for their beautiful, varying patterns and designs.

What makes you stand out as a designer?

I think Verragio stands out in its styling, unique qualities and how the piece is carefully crafted.

When I first started out as a designer, I found engagement ring options pretty standard – emphasis was on a simple diamond and a crown head that holds the diamond, much less emphasis on the styling. An engagement ring is the single piece of jewelry you will wear everyday for the rest of your life and it should feel true to you. The ring should focus on not only the center stone, but also the little details that makes it uniquely you – beautiful and elegant from the top to the side profile.

What are some new trends in engagement rings?

About three or four years ago, we saw the introduction of two tone metals into engagement rings – white, gold and rose gold. Since then, and in the last year especially, we’ve seen the consumer embrace rose gold versus all white metals. There is definitely a lot more flair in styling and the consumer is much more comfortable mixing metals, cushions and center stones. In terms of stone shapes, we’ve seen an increased interest in oval diamonds over the last year as well.

This could be parallel to the previous question, but what has changed about the business?

The consumer today is much more knowledgeable about the industry than they were 10 years ago. It is so easy to do your research in the convenience of your own home to understand the meaning of the 4 C’s, diamond clarity, style options, how the ring is manufactured and so on – information they may not have known otherwise. This knowledge makes the engagement ring and design process a lot easier and couples then truly understand the value of the Verragio piece they’re selecting.

Are diamonds still an essential part of the engagement ring?

Diamond center stones are innately associated with engagement rings and we definitely see it remain as a dominant component. We do see some mozanite in the industry, though that is just a play on a diamond.

There are a lot of myths about how much you should spend on an engagement ring. What do you tell people?

I always tell people you need to be comfortable with how much you’re spending – don’t listen to gimmicks or promotions, myths that you should spend two-to-three months salary. This is very much a discussion between the couple. Both partners play a role in the purchase, a lot of times we find the couple will wait to buy a ring if budget is an issue. I don’t believe there is a formula, if you find a piece that resonates – the right price, style or design – that is the one you should get. Go with your heart.

But actually, how much could someone spend with you?

Last year at Verragio we introduced price points (without the center stone) between $7,000 to $8,000 retail, which have been received extremely well by our customers. For those not shy to spend, we see price points anywhere from $2,000 to as much as $8,000 retail for mounting and then incorporating a stone of equal or greater value.

Are more men buying rings for other men? If so, do they want something different?

BV: Very often we find men will buy identical pieces to match their partners set. A couple’s tastes are generally the same or very similar in the styling. We have seen pretty elaborate modifications to our men’s bands – sometimes adding diamonds, either on one side or all around.

What are some engagement ring faux pas?

I’m a big believer in doing what you feel most comfortable with, so it’s hard for me to pinpoint a generalized faux pas.

It seems like less people are actually getting married these days. Does that hurt the business?

More than anything, in the United States we are seeing couples getting engaged and married later in life than they were 20 or 25 years ago. When a couple is looking to get engaged in their early or mid-thirties (rather than in their twenties), they are more well established, have a secure job and disposable income is higher. I can’t necessarily say that less people getting married is a concern, I haven’t yet found it affecting the jewelry or bridal business.

I’m sure you hear a lot of creative proposal stories. Do you have a favorite?

There are so many! It seems like guys definitely go through more elaborate and creative ways of proposing these days. One story that really sticks out was a customer once rented the big screen in the middle of Times Square for his proposal – literally for the entire world to see. That was definitely impressive.