Looking on the bright side… love is in the air. The fruits of all those rushed decisions back in those wobbly final days of March are now being harvested. The deep and meaningful questions that were asked during spring, April and May (“do we move in or do we break up?”; “do I really know this person enough to spend lockdown in their parents’ house?”; “I think I love them, so does it matter that their children are monsters…?”) have been answered. Engagement parties may be off the agenda, but engagements are not. Nor are imaginative ways to pop the question. TikTok, the social media platform, reported a surge in people proposing via its micro-video facility. Tatler responded with some etiquette advice, including a suggestion that you don’t propose on TikTok.
Meanwhile, an outbreak of high-profile engagements (from Lara Stone, Lady Kitty Spencer and Brooklyn Beckham to Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds) has helped nudge the engagement-averse over the line. Shaun Leane, who designed Princess Beatrice’s ring, reports that sales of engagement rings have risen by 25 per cent to account for 85 per cent of his business.
This is all good news for small, British jewellery entrepreneurs. Laura Lambert, the 29-year-old founder of Fenton & Co, says sales of the company’s engagement rings through lockdown are up by 40 per cent on last year.
Lambert is the kind of dynamic, disruptive, forthright self-starter we will need many more of in the coming years. After reading history at Oxford she worked at a series of digital retail sites including the outlet Bicester Village (where her father was on the board). When she realised how inconsistent online clothes measurements were, she helped develop an algorithm to make them more accurate.
Two years ago, she launched Fenton & Co from her flat in west London, determined to shake up the jewellery industry as online retailers had revolutionised clothes shopping. “At the top end you had these rather off-putting shops where the ring you wanted was always more than you could afford, with all these stuffy ideas and protocols. And at the mass end – it was just junk and bad service,” she says.
Signet Cushion Emerald 18kt Yellow Gold, £2,750, Fenton & Co
Lambert decided to offer high-end jewellery, online only. That meant no retail overheads. Streamlining the sourcing process (the traditional process for finding stones is notoriously circuitous) meant she could reduce overheads even more. “The bottom line is that a high-quality, ethically sourced stone that might cost £30,000 at a luxury branded name will cost around £5-6,000 from Fenton & Co,” she says.
She also offers many styles for far less. There are art deco-inspired emerald-cut aquamarines, garland cushion rubies, bezel yellow sapphires and signet-style emeralds for under £2,000. There are almost endless options to customise – vintage styles are hugely popular – but with a speedy, modern delivery.
Don’t customers miss the engagement ritual of visiting a shop? “That warm glass of bad champagne and being told that the ring should cost three months of the groom’s salary?” laughs Lambert. “That’s so old fashioned. We’re having so much one-to-one contact with customers online, they don’t seem to miss the old ways at all.” She adds: “It’s not just engagement rings, we’ve got grannies self-gifting, women celebrating a promotion, 21st birthdays.” Love comes in many guises.
Lisa Armstrong‘s column appears each Saturday in The Saturday Telegraph and is published online every Saturday at 7am on Telegraph Fashion.