For generations, men’s jewellery has come a distant second to its female counterpart, the space comprising little more than the traditional trio of men’s statement pieces – wedding rings, watches and cufflinks.
Apart from a smattering of celebrities who have embraced the adorned look, the every-day man has historically viewed anything beyond the above trinity as too feminine, too intimidating or simply unnecessary.
It’s only over the past decade that the way men view jewellery has shifted and today it seems society is in the midst of a sartorial trend that’s reflected everywhere from the catwalks to inner-city hipster cafes, boardrooms and Instagram accounts.
Circumventing rigid notions of men’s jewellery, today’s blokes are sporting bracelets, lapel pins and dress rings that are changing the idea of what it is to be male. Jewellers who can leverage these notions stand a better chance of attracting this demographic into their stores.
An extensive history
Contrary to what consumers and (some) salespeople may believe, male jewellery is not new. In fact, 500 years ago, bold statement pieces like necklaces, earrings, pendants, chains and rings were as on trend as male stockings.
“Men have been wearing jewellery for centuries; it’s just the meanings that have been different,” Dr Andrea Waling, a researcher at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University, says. “Sixteenth-century men were wearing big rings and big necklaces. It was really a statement of power, wealth and prestige, and in different cultures across different times men have worn jewellery to signify different aspects of themselves.”
In the latter part of the 20th century, symbols of power shifted and men’s jewellery collections shrank in favour of watches, wedding rings and cufflinks.
Fast forward 50 years and men’s jewellery is undergoing a modern renaissance. Old rules about what is and isn’t masculine are being replaced by a fluid approach and men are now free to wear bracelets, rings, brooches and bangles -the more, the better.
Maia Adams, head of global research at Adorn Insight, which focuses on global jewellery industry trends, states the change is especially evident on the catwalks.
“Just this week in New York and London [during fashion week], we have seen male models sporting jewellery on the catwalks of Daks, Julien Macdonald and Jeremy Scott,” she says.
“The autumn/winter menswear shows featured so much jewellery, including ‘granny chic’, vintage-style, gemstone-studded brooches and bangles, fingers full of cocktail rings at Gucci, charm-based neckwear and arm-wear where mementos, charms and trinkets are used to tell a story, leather strap-style bangles, sleek metal rings and bangles with minimalist enamel colourways, surf-style beads at Saint Laurent, long earrings at Louis Vuitton and Alexander McQueen and – my favourite – connector jewellery fastened with embellished pins at Dolce & Gabbana and Alexander McQueen.”
Be a man
At a macro level, Waling explains that broad social changes are encouraging men to explore a wider range of identities and modes of self-expression.
“We’ve got really big movements happening at the moment,” she says. “We’ve got feminism, LGBTIQ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning] and civil rights based around social justice, and it’s contributing to men engaging with their bodies more. Plus, expectations are shifting around parenting and men are allowed to engage in a more nurturing role.
“All of these things compounded are allowing men to start to realise that they can break free from very traditional constraints of masculinity and start to explore their identity in a more progressive way.”
Ella Hudson, senior editor of accessories and footwear at trend forecaster WGSN, says flexible attitudes of young consumers are also driving the trend.
“Millennials and Gen Zs are known for championing individuality, which has led to a general rejection of the social stereotypes that have historically defined age, race and of course, gender,” she says. “With this shift we have seen a real surge in men’s jewellery as men feel increasingly comfortable accessorising their looks. A number of jewellers who have traditionally focused on women’s collections are now branching into men’s collections and numerous new men’s designers are emerging.”
Adams agrees that greater discussion about gender equality makes it easier for men to explore identity and fashion.
“On a societal level there is so much enlightened debate around gender identity that we are seeing a new generation of young men and women at ease with fluid boundaries around personal image, and this extends to fashion and jewellery,” she says. “The way that feminist debate has entered popular and celebrity culture also has something to do with it as we realise that typically female pursuits such as dressing up and liking jewellery are not just for women or elitist fashionistas.”
Coming full circle
Sydney-based stylist Jeff Lack says the acceptance of beards – yes, beards – signalled a change in the way men view grooming.
“About 10 years ago, everyone from the police force to corporates began to embrace beards then we got some longer hair happening. With that came looks that were quite bohemian, which lent themselves to men’s jewellery,” he says, adding, “We’ve accepted a change to grooming, which has opened up a slightly more relaxed way of dressing. This has then been sharpened up by clean-cut guys, clean-shaven with short back and sides; they’re wearing wrist wear that would’ve previously only been worn by a guy with longer hair.”
No discussion about beards would be complete without mentioning the much-maligned hipster. Mark Boldiston, owner of Lord Coconut, believes the hipster movement as well as the rise of steampunk – a sci-fi-inspired look that fuses the Deco-period with mechanical and industrial designs – have fuelled the mainstream uptake of men’s jewellery.
“[Somewhere along the way] the hipster crowd became more fashion conscious,” Boldiston says. “Also the steampunk aesthetic is becoming quite mainstream. These movements were both happening at the same time quite independently and they really influenced the general population.”
Peter Coombs, president of the Design Institute of Australia, notes that more relaxed attitudes to office attire have also helped men express themselves not only via their facial hair and dress but in the jewellery they wear in everyday locations.
“If you think about the way the workplace is these days, there’s no longer the briefcase and the suit and hat,” he says. “With the relaxed but more stylish dress sense that people have, they’re allowed to be a bit more flamboyant in the way they dress.”
Waling concurs that men are more motivated than ever about their appearance.
“Men are getting more engaged in fashion and more concerned with their appearance and they’re being told they should be working out and caring about their bodies, face and facial hair,” she says. “Jewellery has become part of the new male look.”
Here for the long haul
It may seem like a passing fad but Lack says social acceptance of a broader range of men’s jewellery means the trend is here to stay.
“I have a real sense that this will be a consistent space for some time – I don’t see it changing any time soon,” he says. “It’s such a nice change and a great way for men to express themselves in their personal style. We don’t usually move away from great expression like that; we embrace it.”
As for how jewellers can make the most of it, Lack says there’s a lucrative gap in the market for on-trend product like bracelets.
“Consumers are buying stuff online that’s not available for retail sale,” he continues.
“If you go onto Instagram and look at the most popular men’s jewellery, you’ll see bracelets that are not actually available for sale in Australia – they’re all imported online. If any jeweller is stocking fashion watches that have been ‘Instagrammed’ hard, they should also look at connecting those watches to bracelets.”
Hudson says lavish styles are set to replace the minimalist aesthetic and stocking product that appeals to both sexes can be an effective and risk-averse strategy to target the emerging male market.
“Gender-neutral collections are designed to be worn by anyone who likes them, regardless of their gender,” she says. “Looking to the future, we expect to see a continuation of gender-neutral jewellery and a shift away from it being centred on restrained, minimalist aesthetics to become much more opulent and luxurious.”
Even though much has changed, Boldiston says men still desire approval from their peers and jewellers will need to be patient as word about the new male look continues to spread.
“I’ll often get a guy coming in to buy a ring and you can tell he’s always wanted to wear a ring but hasn’t really known where to go or what to wear,” he says. “They buy one, take it home, wear it and as long as their mates don’t hassle them, all of a sudden they come in for four or five more rings. It’s really a bit of peer group acceptance.”
As every jeweller knows, peer acceptance can be a barrier to the adoption of new trends but if jewellers can win over those ‘peers’, the sky is the limit.
Men’s jewellery heats up
What do Aussie men want? Here is the low-down on some of the key trends and statement pieces expected to sizzle in the warmer months.
“We have noticed a trend in demand for simplistic designs using different wood grains and textures that are complemented with precious metal plating of rose gold and gunmetal as well as keeping with our traditional rhodium plating.”– Julie-Anne Bosworth, Abrazi
“I believe the sterling silver with pearl rhodium plating leather bracelet will be one of our best sellers over summer. The style is available in black and chocolate and can be mixed and stacked with our beaded bracelets.”– Darren Roberts, Cudworth Enterprises
“For Thomas Sabo, the key trend this season for men is beaded bracelets. Wearing them stacked together on one wrist combined with a Rebel at Heart watch creates a strong statement. Navy and tiger’s eye are the masculine tones of the season.”– Phil Edwards, Duraflex Group Australia
“Our men’s jewellery demographic is the 30 to 60-year-old-male who prefers classic and traditional jewellery, as opposed to the modern stainless steel market prevalent in the 18 to 25-year-old category. We see signet rings and flat top men’s rings becoming more popular because they can be engraved with initials. All insignia jewellery is very popular for males (and females) right now.” – David Paterson, Paterson Fine Jewellery
“After only launching in July, this rustic two-toned bangle has rocketed to our #1 steel product for men this season. Its unique dark and light highlights provide a new look while staying on recent trends and also features a brushed finish clasp.”– Justin Meath, DPI Jewellery