Although men’s jewellery often gets the rap for being effeminate (although Johnny Depp with his multiple rings has never been accused of being effeminate) or for being for the man who likes to show off his wealth, in truth many elements of the men’s jewellery category were created to deliver practical functions.
For instance cufflinks which are now an important category within men’s jewellery were initially created to keep shirt sleeves fastened at the wrist. And dog tags which are now firmly an element of military chic were initially developed to help identify defence and military personnel during times of war.
Many items of men’s jewellery including signet rings and watches originated as purely functional items but evolved into decorative items as their functional requirements changed and evolved, and in some cases finally diminished.
Simultaneously with rising incomes and the emergence of individualism (especially challenging in India where we have traditionally always been taught to fit in) men have slowly but surely begun to place an emphasis on looking good, and now jewellery is part of that look.
From the classical and the traditional, men’s jewellery has begun to move beyond the expected towards the unique, the chic and the stylish with inspiration and cues being taken from diverse sources such as the military, bikers, music and sports celebrities.
Even the symbolism associated with elements of men’s jewellery has evolved considerably. For example men’s earrings originally indicated membership of a particular tribe or clan and were later viewed as a sign of rebellion, but are now sported by leading personalities of the music and sporting worlds. This has made them mainstream and almost aspirational. Think David Beckham.
The modern man’s jewellery category appears to have been largely influenced by three main criteria. The first is functionalism. World War II was a very significant influencer and should perhaps be viewed as the inflection point for functionalism. For example pocket watches lost out to government issued wrist watches which were provided to enable coordinated military action. When the men returned they continued to wear their wrist watches and jewellers began to meet this new market with fashionable designs.
Cuff links are a large category within men’s jewellery and had obvious functional origins. But with evolving men’s fashions and eroding functionality cufflinks have now become an important ornamental jewellery product. Any male banker will stand proud testament to the ornamental importance of this accessory.
The second influence has been music. Men wearing diamond embellished gold, silver and platinum chains, pendants and watches were almost unheard of before the advent of rock and, more specifically, hip hop music. Music, especially in western society, has strong ideological bases and is a potent cultural force. Heavy bejewelled jewellery in general became an enduring element of hip-hop fashion.
The third big global influencer was religious symbolism. Religious symbols have traditionally been worn to display faith and as protection against evil over the centuries. Sizes and materials have evolved greatly over the centuries but yet the traditional symbolism remains.
India has a long jewellery making and wearing history. It has had an abundance of jewellery resources (in fact diamonds were first mined in India) both in precious metals as well as precious stones. While western traditions were heavily influenced by the rise and fall of empires, India has enjoyed the continuous development of the art form for over 5,000 years.
The Indus Valley civilization was one of the first cultures to start making jewellery. It was predominantly worn by women but men also wore beads. Since the days of royalty, jewellery has been an integral part of the Indian man’s wardrobe. Men then wore kilangis, heavy pearl necklaces, rings and bracelets, all usually crafted with gemstones.
Now owing to the inspiration drawn from rock stars, hip-hop icons and athletes think Michael Jordan) more and more men are looking to accessorise their look with jewellery. And these men are not necessarily looking to accessorise themselves with the traditional tailored look of their fathers.
Men’s options today range from modern and sleek designs created using alternative metals and materials that have historically been used by the automobile manufacturing and space industry, to large and chunky options designed around diamond-studded precious metals that symbolise prestige and wealth.
While cuff links have always been the strongest category in the western world, bracelets are fast becoming men’s jewellery staple. Men seem to be comfortable sporting traditional as well as contemporary designs, materials and metals on their wrists. But then, from the Indian perspective, neck chains have long been a staple men’s category.
Most modern men are now piercing both ears rather than one ear as was the trend previously. Diamond studs still remain popular although the larger stone seems to be gaining over the smaller one. Studs in gold, silver, steel and titanium are popular as well. Men’s hoops also remain popular and typically are small and snug.
Neck chains range from mainstream to chic depending on the design, material and look. Precious metal chains are now available in a very wide variety of metals and forms. The traditional mainstream designs are typically worn discreetly not visible to the eye and may carry religious icons. The more fashionable biker inspired designs are typically more visible and could sport fashionable pendants or include masculine stones such as onyx, turquoise or amber.
Dog tags were once made only from steel or titanium. Jewellers now make them in a wide variety of precious as well as new age metals and materials. These are typically worn on long chains.
Rings are no longer just for the married. They are now used for accessorising the fingers by men as well. Unless it is a wedding band there are few rules about how you wear them. Pinky rings are now seen as tacky. As is the wearing of multiple rings. Simplicity of design is important in wearing a ring fashionably. Less is definitely more when it comes to rings.
When it comes to bracelets, gold chain link is no longer the standard. Todays bracelets are crafted from a variety of materials ranging from silver, titanium and steel to leather, rope and rubber. Wearing of multiple bracelets can also look fashionable but requires stylish composition. Link bracelets remain jewellers’ favourites and are made with precious metals along with gemstones or new age mixed materials.
Cufflinks can be worn every day to work or for formal occasions. They can make a bold statement and can be designed with fabric, gemstones, diamonds, gold or even platinum.
One new trend in men’s jewellery is the male engagement ring. Historically engagement rings were made exclusively for women. In some markets men have begun to wear engagement rings designed specifically for them. The traditional solitaire rings are the most popular in this emerging category.
Another trend is the design shift in men’s wedding bands. These were relatively plain and unadorned. Now there appears to be an increase in men interested in more ornate wedding bands featuring relatively more complex designs and gemstones. The carved wedding band is also becoming popular and can incorporate gemstones to making the design more alluring.
From a relatively niche perspective two categories that appear to be gaining popularity are men’s solitaire stud earrings and biker inspired jewellery. Typically half to 1 carat diamonds have been the most popular stud design among pierced men for stud earrings but this has now evolved to a very wide variety of materials and designs.
The biker niche has interestingly always been one to embrace men’s jewellery. Symbols of power, rebellion and strength such as skulls and crossbones or hearts with knives have been popular designs. Only now are these motifs entering the mainstream with these designs being more widely available and in styles that are more wearable.
Regardless of design orientation, materials or sizes it is evident that men’s jewellery as a category is here to stay and grow. The design and material options are limitless. But in precious gemstones and metals it is wise to keep an eye on the long term investment value of the material, especially since currently there is much appreciation in the prices of precious metal. It also makes ample sense to look at independent third party certification and a 100 per cent buy back guarantee.
Before taking the plunge it is essential to understand one’s look and how best to accessorise it. And to keep in mind Rita Rudner’s wise words ‘I think men who have a pierced ear are better for marriage. They’ve experienced pain and bought jewellery’.
The author is a director on the board, and head of marketing and business development at Tara Jewellers.