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June 24, 2013

Gatsby-style weddings show confidence to spend big

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

"There are some indicators that consumers are finding their stride," said Josh Holland, a spokesman for Blue Nile Inc., an online retailer of diamonds and fine jewelry. The Seattle, Washington-based company, founded in 1999, estimates it sells half of all U.S. engagement rings purchased over Internet. "More people bought a Blue Nile diamond engagement ring in the first quarter of 2013 than in any other first quarter in our history."

Signet Jewelers, which sells engagement and wedding rings under Kay and Jared brands, reported an 8.1 percent increase in same-store sales in the U.S. for the 13 weeks ended May 4. Last year, the company recorded a 1.2 percent increase in the comparable period. Investors have been rewarded with a 23 percent increase in Signet shares in the six months through June 14, compared with a 14 percent gain for the S&P 500.

New York-based Martha Stewart Living said advertising revenue from its Weddings magazine rose 6 percent in the first quarter, and it's "encouraged" by the levels seen in April, according to comments by Chief Financial Officer Kenneth P. West during an April 30 conference call with analysts.

Stronger demand is allowing companies to raise prices. The average cost of a wedding dress climbed to $1,211 last year from $1,121 in 2011 and $1,099 in 2010, according to XO Group.

Hollywood is playing a role too. Some couples are inspired by the Roaring Twenties style of opulent parties, rich diets, slinky knee-length dresses, champagne and diamonds, as pictured in "The Great Gatsby," a 3-D movie released earlier this year that stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

"We also see, with pop culture, the release of The Great Gatsby, a revival of looking to things that are nostalgic," Beitler said in a phone interview. "There's been a focus on vintage-style dresses. Lace has been a very large and growing trend."

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