I created my china registry when I was ten. I have never been married and never been married. I have never created a “gift” registry and rather dislike the very concept. Have I confused you?
A “gift” registry presumes that you expect other people to give you stuff, and figure that you’ll be making it easier for them if you provide instructions on what stuff to give. If you think about it, that sounds rather entitled, doesn’t it? It is not quite “nice” to put too much energy into thinking getting stuff from the friends and family whom you value more for their love and kindness than for their fat pocketbooks. By the highest standards, it is “over the top” to expect gifts, ever.
But setting up a household that is intended to last “until death do you part”; including through multiple Christmas dinners and Thanksgivings, houseguests, children and their growing-up, christenings, birthday parties, graduations, Nobel prizes; does require a certain amount of stuff, some of which you will need to acquire at once and some of which you may need to plan to acquire over the years. In my age and social circle, every household was (is?) expected to be equipped with fine china, silverware, crystal drinkware, and fine household linens (sheets, pillowcases and tablecloths.) Girls were taught the inevitability of needing these things, and thriftily began “collecting” in pre-adolescence. “Household” registries allowed them to receive notice from their department store of sales of “their patterns” and — heaven forbid — of impending pattern cancellations. Great-aunts could inquire at the department store and contribute to the girl’s collection via birthday gifts. Obviously, the traditional norm is to store collected china and other housewares with the parents until the the girl does set up her own household.
Once a young lady did set up her household, traditional registries allowed shame-faced guests to replace broken pieces even after their hostess had assured them that “oh, never mind about that, it happens.” And registries allowed snoopy wedding-guests to spy out the lady’s choices and complete her collection via wedding gifts.
By proper etiquette, gifts ought not to be sent for engagement parties and ought NEVER to be brought to formal parties, but you cannot control what other people do and should not be thinking about preventing them from bringing gifts any more than you are thinking about inducing them to bring gifts.
So if you think of your registry as being about exercising forethought and deliberately designing the type of marital household you wish to have, then you may set up your registry as soon as you find it helpful to do so. Put on it the heirloom-quality goods that you need to plan to acquire over the years, and avoid thinking about what you might score from your dear wedding guests based on what you register. And may you have a long and happy marriage.