Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Bling for the boys

Men’s jewelry is a hot trend thanks to celebrities and social media, inspiring collections by the likes of David Yurman, Suzanne Kalan and Stephen Webster.

By Francesca Fearon

Image: Jacquie Aiche

The evidence is all around — just look at the red carpet, hip-hop stars, sports players and the fashion catwalk. Men are wearing jewelry, and lots of it — and the jewelry world is waking up to this largely untapped opportunity.

Rappers are some of the jewelry industry’s biggest clients. Draped in gold chains, diamond-encrusted watches, knuckledusters, pendants, and even pearl necklaces, they use these symbols of success to express themselves. Not surprisingly, their style is filtering into the market via social media and energizing it.

Not just for stars

In 2018, the men’s jewelry market was worth $5.8 billion, up 23% from 2013, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. It is expected to rise to $6.6 billion by 2023. Unofficial indicators suggest it may go higher than that.

“Once the code of rock and sports stars, jewelry has been through a democratization, allowing everyone access,” remarks Stephen Webster, who has designed men’s jewelry with a distinctive rock-star panache for 20 years. His hero piece this season is not a ring, he reveals, but a dangly, unisex single earring from his New Cross collection. “People tend to look for something a little bit out of the ordinary and that extra bit special.”

David Yurman entered the men’s jewelry market informally in the mid 1990s, interpreting iconic women’s silhouettes in masculine ways. When Evan Yurman took the helm at his father’s brand in 2006, he developed the offering even further. Today, men’s collections drive a quarter of the company’s mainline jewelry sales and have been one of its fastest-growing categories for several years, says Lee Tucker, David Yurman’s head of merchandising, marketing, and creative operations.

“Men have evolved to be much more interested in design and style and have developed a deep appreciation for quality craftsmanship,” he comments. They are “as savvy and discerning as the modern female consumer.”

Statement pieces

Of course, men wearing jewelry is not new; it dates back to ancient times, and the kinds of gem-set jewels we’d recognize today have adorned men since at least the Renaissance. While fashions since the Victorian era have generally seen men eschew jewelry, the trend bloomed again in the 1960s and ’70s — as the recent Bonhams auction of singer Sammy Davis Jr.’s jewelry in Los Angeles testifies. It fell out of favor in the 1980s as fashion adopted a more conservative style, but today, trendsetters, celebrities and social media are renewing interest.

“Men want ways to express themselves, and aside from luxury Swiss timepieces, watches have largely shifted to smart watches, so men are looking to other statement pieces,” says Ann Grimmett, vice president of merchandising at retail jeweler Jared.

Designer Jacquie Aiche launched her first men’s collection in 2019. “We had so many men asking for pieces, I just knew it was time to spread the love,” she enthuses. “Demand for our men’s jewelry has grown consistently.” She recently expanded the line with new hardstone editions of her totemic Thunderbird pendants, ranging from lapis lazuli and hematite to onyx and labradorite.

French jeweler Messika’s Move collection of black titanium or cord bracelets with diamonds have been a huge hit with men. The collection is aimed “at both men who are discreetly taking the plunge into diamond jewelry, as well as men who already have a strong appetite for diamonds and are asserting this territory of expression,” says founder and designer Valerie Messika.

David Yurman is also seeing a sales uptick for creations with dramatic diamond pavé and handmade 18-karat gold chains.

Getting comfortable

Male clients are demonstrating a confidence and ease when it comes to accessorizing.

“Men nowadays are much more comfortable wearing and styling their jewelry,” says independent designer Graziela Kaufman, who debuted her first men’s collection in May at the urging of her husband and four sons. “They layer, stack and create their look. They aren’t afraid to wear color and to show their personality through what they are wearing. The demand is huge. I wouldn’t want to miss being a part of it.”

Other men’s jewelry debutantes this year include French brand Fred, with its Force 10 Winch collection in titanium and steel, and Suzanne Kalan, who has taken her signature baguette-cut gemstones and set them in irregular compositions on rings, bracelets and pendants. Some gemstones are surprisingly colorful for this market, suggesting there is more gender fluidity in the pieces men are choosing.

This trend is just further evidence of social stereotypes breaking down. As Aiche says, “Just like women, men have a craving to create their own style, and I believe jewelry is an incredible source of personal expression.”

Here comes the groomTiffany & Co.’s announcement earlier this year that it was launching its first collection of engagement rings for men — more than 130 years after designing its first diamond solitaire version for women — has turned a spotlight on a growing trend: the exchange of rings in same-sex marriages.

A perfect illustration is the pair of bespoke engagement/wedding bands that Kay Jewelers created for Mean Girls actor Jonathan Bennett and his fiancé Jaymes Vaughan last year. After they announced their engagement, the brand was flooded with requests for the same ring, or custom designs of something similar — to the point that Kay has launched a collection called Our Ring by Jaymes and Jonathan in collaboration with the couple.

“Kay has long partnered with designer Neil Lane on men’s wedding ring designs,” says Erica Scott, vice president of marketing and e-commerce at Signet Jewelers, the retailer’s parent company. “As for celebrities, this is the first time, so it will be accessible to other couples in the LGBTQ+ community.”

Luxury brands Bulgari, Boucheron and De Beers also have a hand in this market. Bulgari offers the unisex B.Zero1 engagement ring, and Boucheron sells its Quatre Black diamond band as a man’s engagement ring. De Beers’ diamond-set white gold band targets prospective grooms as well. Meanwhile, Messika’s small Move Titanium ring with black or white diamonds has become a popular replacement for the traditional wedding band.

David Yurman is constantly exploring materials new and old, including meteorite — and what could be more romantic than something that has fallen from the heavens? In addition to fusing the celestial material with sterling silver in several of its wedding bands, the brand has tapped into more modern innovations by combining forged carbon with 18-karat gold.

At Kay, yellow gold, white gold and tungsten are popular metals for wedding bands, accompanied by black or white diamonds or a combination of the two.

Bridal is the cornerstone of fellow Signet-owned brand Jared’s business, rooted in its custom loose-stone and mounting options. Jared has already established a foothold in the men’s category with its Vera Wang Wish line of wedding rings, a collaboration with the New York-based designer. The company’s latest partnership is with bridal designer and TV star Pnina Tornai on a range of white and rose gold rings with black and white diamonds — perfect for presenting to a groom, but also an apt gift of love for any occasion.

Jared’s Ann Grimmett predicts that a lot of women will buy for men, and men will buy for men, but she also envisions an egalitarian exchange of rings “at the time of the engagement or the ceremony, or both!” She further cites “a trend in heterosexual engagements of women proposing to men, or women wanting to ‘propose back’ after they have been proposed to.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - October 2021. To subscribe click here.

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