The rules when it comes to men’s jewellery largely depend on the man who’s wearing it. A friend of mine sports an antique, baroque-styled brooch wherever he goes, and he looks absolutely terrific. Another friend is obsessed with stacking diamond-decked pieces. He’ll unapologetically spark up an unbuttoned shirt with blinged-out pendants so gloriously decadent they would have turned heads in the court of Louis XIV.
Not long ago, the jewellery worn by these two men might have been considered feminine. Emasculating, even—which couldn’t be further from the truth. Thankfully in recent years, as the definitions of men’s and women’s fashion become increasingly blurred, we’ve seen men’s buying habits move beyond the traditional confines of watches, wedding bands and cuff links—and here at Tatler, we say it’s about time.
Men have, of course, enhanced their wardrobes with pieces of silver and gold for centuries. The Egyptians were some of the first to handcraft wearable trinkets, and Renaissance portraits show aristocrats of both genders wearing jewellery to communicate their status and power. A quick Google search for images of Maharajas and Mughal emperors will have you wondering how they managed to move under the weight of their gilded garments. But it wasn’t until recently that modern-day men could embrace the idea of wearing jewellery with pride.
Incidentally, when asked who she’d most like to see wearing her designs, Boucheron’s creative director Claire Choisne instantly answers: “Maharajah Bhupinder Singh of Patiala”. She describes how, in 1928, the Maharaja visited Boucheron’s Place Vendôme boutique in Paris, accompanied by 40 servants and six boxes teeming with several thousand emeralds, sapphires, rubies, pearls and diamonds. Boucheron’s artisans were asked to create a 149-piece collection which, to this day, remains the largest order placed at Place Vendôme.
Suzanne Kalan, who launched her namesake fine jewellery brand in 1988, frequently designs pieces for her son and launched her first-ever men’s line, which includes black sapphire- and diamond-set dog tags, earlier this year. “I’ve seen a significant growth in men’s jewellery in Asia,” she says. “I think it’s been trending due to the music industry and the increased number of Chinese celebrities who are embracing hip-hop and rock-star style.”
As with so much else in the world of style, K-pop stars are in on the trend, with Lu Han, former member of Exo, revealing his new partnership with Boucheron in August, and megaband BTS named the latest ambassadors for Louis Vuitton, wearing the brand’s jewellery and clothing. Anson Lo, a member of Hong Kong’s answer to K-pop, Canto-pop band Mirror, has been photographed wearing Bulgari. “I’ve seen more and more men, particularly in Asia, rediscovering the joy of wearing diamond jewellery,” agrees Choisne.
So what was it about lockdown that sparked our desire to binge on bangles and pendants? Perhaps unspent cocktail cash was burning a hole in our pockets. Yasuhiko Hashimoto, director and executive vice president of Japanese pearl jeweller Mikimoto, agrees with Kalan and Choisne that men’s jewellery does particularly well in Asia, but adds that it’s gaining traction everywhere. “People have turned to jewellery to compensate for the loss of travel. It’s become a way for them to treat themselves.”
Conventional wisdom would suggest that a pandemic doesn’t bode well for business, but the jewellery industry has remained surprisingly resilient during Covid. Last year, during the peak lockdown months of March and April, online fashion retailer Moda Operandi saw fine jewellery sales skyrocket by 35 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. Mr Porter, the male counterpart to online store Net-a-Porter, initially sold entry price point pieces from luxury fashion houses including Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta. It’s since expanded the category and, at the time of writing, was selling a chunky chain bracelet by fine jewellery label Shay for more than US$50,000. Matches Fashion, meanwhile, increased its men’s jewellery range by more than 50 per cent for spring-summer 2021.
But for Hashimoto, the plan is to steer clear of gender-specific language altogether. “We believe that spreading awareness that jewellery is a non-binary fashion item should be our biggest objective.” Mikimoto collaborated with Comme des Garçons earlier this year and, in keeping with the fashion label’s ungendered approach, the necklaces were designed for wearers “regardless of age or gender”.