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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 18 August 2018

Statement jewellery: sorting the men from the boys

Men are starting to reject social stereotypes and embrace jewellery of all kinds

Azzaro Couture spring/summer 2018. AFP
Azzaro Couture spring/summer 2018. AFP

“A statement ring. It really sorts the men from the boys,” claims British jewellery designer Stephen Webster.

It would take a bold man indeed to wear some of Webster’s creations. Cases in point: the Beasts of London Lion Head ring, a weighty reproduction of a snarling lion in rhodium-plated sterling silver; or the Razor Blade ring, where a jagged line cuts through a thick rectangle of gold in a design that is at once aggressive and appealing.

The modern man has a complex relationship with adornment. In some cultures, unless it’s a watch or a wedding ring, wearing jewellery stands in conflict with traditional perceptions of masculinity. In many cases, men’s jewellery has only really been embraced by those inhabiting the fringes of society – the genderless spiked collars and cuffs of the punk movement, for example, or the silver peace signs favoured by hippies. And when men’s jewellery has moved into the mainstream, it has often been to disastrous effect.

The oversized medallions of the 1970s, or the ostentatious signet rings that have adorned pinky fingers since time immemorial, are proof, should you need it. But attitudes are changing among a more millennial, metrosexual audience. “Not so long ago, for the average man to wear any jewellery beyond a simple wedding band and a classic watch was considered somewhat arty and rebellious. Now, guys from all walks of life are teaming bracelets, rings or a necklace with both office attires and weekend looks,” says Simon Spiteri, accessories buyer at online retailer Mr Porter. “I think the growing changes in attitude have stemmed from influential celebrities, alongside street-style photographers and influencers on Instagram, showing guys how easy jewellery can really be to wear,” he adds.

Mr Porter has witnessed “a meteoric rise in demand for men’s jewellery” in the last two years, according to Spiteri. Webster launched Rayman, his first collection for men, almost two decades ago, and agrees that attitudes surrounding this segment have undergone a marked change in the interim. “It would probably be too extreme to say that jewellery has become mainstream, but it has definitely shifted from just rock stars, rappers and sports personalities. It has been very interesting to watch men develop a taste for jewellery,” Webster says.

Gucci spring/summer 2018. AFP photo
Gucci spring/summer 2018. AFP photo

That men are increasingly seeing jewellery as a worthy investment is clear by the fact that they are starting to buy more expensive pieces, says Candice Fragis, buying and merchandising director at online retailer Farfetch. “This season, the number of menswear customers shopping for jewellery has increased. In general, we’ve seen positive growth in customer spending on higher price point items and, as the market for buying jewellery online matures, we expect to see more of this,” Fragis explains.

Jewellery brands that are gaining in popularity on Farfetch include Versace, Valentino, Margiela and Saint Laurent, as well as Northskull, Nialaya and Gas Bijoux. “Additionally, newer brands for us are also doing very well – such as Shaun Leane, who makes beautiful leather bracelets, and Tom Wood, currently the king of the reimagined signet ring,” Fragis adds.

Men are becoming more experimental in their purchases, she claims. “The more classic approach has been to collect investment pieces over a lifetime and have a selection that evolves over time. However, as men become more and more fashion conscious, and the selection of brands and trends become more accessible, attitudes towards jewellery become bolder. This is certainly reflected in the rise in fashion jewellery such as leather bracelets.”

Bracelets have emerged as the hero piece in men’s jewellery. They are easy to wear and easy to conceal, and are a natural next step for those men who have traditionally only felt comfortable wearing a simple wristwatch. “A beaded or leather bracelet has become an integral part of a lot of guys’ wardrobes these days,” says Webster. “The bracelet has been the easiest transition or an attempt to venture into the world of jewellery for men; they almost balance the watch on the opposite hand, and bracelets can still be hidden under the jacket or shirtsleeve for a boardroom meeting – we still hear that comment from some of our more conservative clientele.”

The breadth of bracelet styles on offer, in terms of aesthetics, colours and materials, means there is something for everyone here – from Saint Laurent’s straightforward silver ID bracelets, and Alexander McQueen’s beaded offerings (often topped with a skull, as is to be expected), to black leather cuffs courtesy of Balenciaga, and simple strands of braided leather from Bottega Veneta. Those men who are looking to make a bolder statement should head straight to a thick leather cuff by Gucci, which comes complete with tiger-shaped studs and an oversized buckle fastening.

Just as stacking has emerged as a key trend in women’s jewellery, men are catching on, too. “Beaded bracelets make a definite statement, and wearing them stacked has become a trend opted for by many recently. We have seen guys stack a variety of different styles of bracelets, including those made from leather, rope and metal to create individual combinations,” says Spiteri.

“One thing is evident, once the guys start, there is no stopping them,” Webster adds. “They like to mix different colour beaded bracelets with silver, and now our latest additions, ceramic bracelets. Our Cuban bracelet has been very successful. They are masculine and very resilient – and men like the fact that you can keep the same clasp and interchange a different colour or finish for the actual bracelet.”

That’s not to say that all men are content to stop at an unassuming bracelet. Fragis is witnessing rising interest in gold medallion necklaces and rings from Versace, which may mean that 1970s styling is well and truly on its way back. Statement pieces from Alexander McQueen – never for the faint-hearted – are also resonating with a growing number of consumers.

Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2016. Getty
Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2016. Getty

Even Gucci’s Bull Head ring, an enormous silver mass in the shape of an angry-looking bovine, which has a turquoise stone embedded into its forehead and perfectly epitomises Gucci’s current out-there aesthetic, is finding fans on Mr Porter.

Nonetheless, Webster acknowledges that rings are still the last frontier when it comes to men’s jewellery – although he has found a clever way to counter this reticence, he reveals. “Rings, especially bold and figurative, are still not for every man, but one thing we have noticed is give a guy anything they can play with, like a spinning ring, and you’ve won them over.”

Even here, it seems, boys love their toys.

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Read more:

Celebrity jeweller Stephen Webster on what separates the men from the boys, and more

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