College Times

Jewelers eye growing market: same-sex weddings

By Rod Stafford Hagwood, Sun Sentinel

Published: Thursday, June 28, 2012

Updated: Thursday, June 28, 2012


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Jewelers are starting to look to the gay and lesbian market, and the political progress of same-sex marriage, to make their registers ring.

They're adding lines of wedding bands and engagement rings designed specifically for gay and lesbian couples.

"There is a huge movement going on, and we want to be a part of it," said Erich Mueller, store manager of Altier Jewelers in Boca Raton, Fla.

Altier Jewelers recently introduced Torque wedding bands, "which are a perfect fit for the gay community," at a gay-pride street festival in Wilton Manors, Fla.

While Fort Lauderdale's Levinson Jewelers is planning a billboard ad with the slogan "Love is Love" to go up next month, announcing that the Las Olas Boulevard store will carry Rony Tennenbaum engagement rings and wedding bands made for same-sex couples.

"We have a large gay community here," said Robin Levinson, who co-owns the luxury retailer with husband Mark. "I want people to know we will accommodate them."

Mark Silver, owner of Argenti Designer Jewelers in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla., said he has always done custom designs for his "broad spectrum of customers." But his gay and lesbian customer requests have "increased a tremendous amount recently," he said.

"A lot of people are flying up to New York to get married. Everything is so much more open these days," Silver said. "Seeing same-sex couples is nothing weird, especially in Fort Lauderdale. So gay commitment ceremonies are no big deal. The whole atmosphere has changed."

But Florida law has not changed.

"I'm waiting for Florida to get on board," said Rain Thut, a client of Silver's. "We want the benefits. There are so many financial benefits to being married."

She and partner Toni Barone got commitment rings last year celebrating the 10th anniversary of domestic partnership.

"We designed them ourselves," said Barone, a retired nightclub owner and activist/fundraiser in Fort Lauderdale.

The two took their idea to Argenti ("I've known Mark for years," said Barone.) and had made two 14K yellow and white gold bands with "orbiting diamonds" that show no matter which way the ring is turned, on a hammered and polished mirror finish setting.

"The good thing about designing the rings yourself is that you can incorporate things that are meaningful to you," Thut said. "Like mine has my grandmother's stone and hers has her mother's stone. It gives it a sense of history, a sense of personal."

For female couples, the jewelry market has far more options, even though most manufacturers do not design specifically or exclusively for lesbians. Male couples have a harder time because "there's just not a lot of men's jewelry in the industry," Levinson said.

The gay community also follow trends very carefully, said Altier Jeweler's Mueller.

"They are very into eye-catching fun pieces that are versatile, in that they go from day to night," Mueller said. "They like the latest: like titanium, which is very light, and tungsten, which is known for its durability. They like cobalt and carbon fiber, and laser-cut designs like Gaelic symbols."

Silver _ who has done custom jewelry for the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men's Chorus, Georgie's Alibi and Hotspots Magazine _ agrees that gay men are trend-savvy.

"But straight men like that heavy chrome look in jewelry too. Absolutely no yellow gold. Everyone wants a contemporary designs, solid and heavy," he said. "The women want something pretty substantial, a big wide ring."

The Torque collection at Altier Jewelers retails for $100 to $500.

Sterling silver bands start at $29 at Argenti Designer Jewelers, while the custom-made pieces could cost anywhere between $12,000 and $18,000.

"A commitment band with semi-precious stones can cost up to $15,000 in gold," Silver said. "And it's about half that in silver."


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