Taste for fine cuts changes at borders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 12:00am

Can you use a piece of jewellery to tell an American from an European? Sometimes, if you look closely enough.

There is more to jewellery choices than at first meets the eye, as any jewellery manufacturer who plays to differences in consumer tastes on both sides of the Atlantic will tell you.

Look closer before assuming that newly engaged couples the world over are much alike.

Firstly, Europeans are more likely to reach deeper into their pockets for ceremonial jewellery than their American counterparts, says Michael Luk, general manager, Nelson Jewellery Arts Company.

While American gentlemen on average fork over half a month's salary for an engagement ring and wedding band set, European men can be counted on to spend 20 to 30 per cent more. This means European newlyweds are frequently exchanging platinum rings, a more expensive metal that trades for up to US$550 per ounce.

Americans almost universally pledge their vows on 14-carat to 18-carat white gold, a cheaper metal selling for US$319, but one with special aesthetic features.

Nelson Jewellery Arts is a locally-based manufacturer with three factories in Hong Kong and China.

Up to 60 per cent of the firm's US$130 million annual turnover is generated by the bridal category. The other 40 per cent comes from fashion jewellery.

Here again the aesthetic sparks fly. According to Mr Luk, Europeans tend to prefer small, simple ring designs while Americans are driven by size, preferring larger ring settings with bigger, albeit lesser quality, diamonds.

'The design must have a big look, also known as pax Americana,' Mr Luk says. 'Those are styles you cannot bring to Australia, the UK or Japan.'

But Mr Luk cautions against assuming Europeans have cornered the market on good taste. Each country has its own cultural associations, and rings can reflect varying shades of significance.

One reason Americans spend less on rings is because they buy more. Mr Luk says that to satisfy the voracious consumer appetite of US customers, the company releases 125 new ring designs each month.