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Decorative jewellery makes a comeback

Men’s jewellery and its perceptions in society have changed drastically over the years but the quality among Australian suppliers has been consistently high. KEITH NOYAHR reports on the evolving trends for men.

It’s been two decades since male jewellery consumers showed genuine readiness to extend beyond functional watches and neck chains and into decorative items that enhance the wearer’s image by providing a sense of identity and style.

Twenty years ago, the market moved with trepidation to meet the demands of a new fashion-conscious consumer. Today, however, jewellers are capitalising on jewellery for men and are taking every opportunity to expand the market.

According to Maiya Adams, head of global research at UK-based market research firm Adorn Insight, “The focus on appearance is key today. Jewellery is a part of image creation and therefore increasingly used as a means of accessorising and personalising a look.”

The New York Times reported that sales of men’s accessories increased 9 per cent to $US13.6 billion ($AU18.9b) in the 12 months ending May 2014, making the point that the fashion industry is capitalising on men’s accessories.

“As men become increasingly comfortable with adorning themselves, savvy brands seeking to add revenue streams to their portfolios will tap this sector for its growth potential,” Adams says.

Local influence

Industry heavyweights from seven of the country’s top men’s-jewellery suppliers have weighed in on the category’s progression in recent years. Cudworth Enterprises director Darren Roberts says that men’s jewellery has evolved considerably since the millennium.

“The market, which was conservative and masculine, is now daring to try new styles of jewellery,” Roberts says. Cudworth Enterprises is known for its bracelets, chains, rings, tiepins, pendants and cufflinks in base metal, steel, silver and gold.

Duraflex Group Australia (DGA) supplies Thomas Sabo to Australia. Its men’s collection Rebel at Heart launched in 2009, and managing director Phil Edwards says the market for branded jewellery has grown considerably.

“In Australia the demand is steady, but in Asia we are seeing significant growth and expansion for these brands.”

Paterson Fine Jewellery has been supplying men’s jewellery since it acquired Marrickville-based gents-ring jeweller Weiser & Hanak in 1996. The line includes sterling silver and 9-carat traditional gentlemen’s rings and cufflinks, and will soon venture into bracelets.

"The market, which was conservative and masculine, is now daring to try new styles of jewellery"
Darren Roberts, Director of Cudworth Enterprises

Managing director David Paterson attributes “European influence”, including social ambassadors, as the driving force behind a “passion for quality men’s jewellery”. He believes the demand is stronger than ever before for affordable jewellery.

Peter W Beck managing director Peter Beck concurs: “We are currently seeing a strong market for men’s jewellery. We have observed that men are now more adventurous with their choice of wedding rings and now often choose titanium, zirconium, two and three-tone products and diamonds.

“In gold, the traditional yellow and white are still on trend for men. We have seen that younger male buyers favour our newer products in titanium, which shows a masculine, grey colour unlike any gold, and zirconium, a dramatic black colour,” Beck says.

The company has also added titanium and zirconium products to its men’s range which it believes have been popular in the current market.

“The younger generation of male jewellery buyers are more discerning in choice of both design and materials,” Beck continues, adding, “We expect the market to remain strong as we have noted its growth and don’t expect this to change.”

Worth & Douglas supplies men’s rings of all kinds, offering platinum, palladium, titanium and zirconium. Director Chris Worth agrees with Beck’s sentiments.

“Men’s jewellery is a big part of fashion and style now,” he says, mentioning that it was only a few years ago that jewellery was reserved for weddings and special occasions. “White metals are still very popular for men and black is being widely sought after.”

As the industry expands, Worth predicts “new concepts, metals and materials will be added to a company’s collection along with additional plating options”.

Jewellery has succeeded in capturing the evolution, according to David Rodrigues from Australian Wholesale Jewellery (AWJ), who says the transition has happened over time with some trends emerging and fading away.

“Traditionally, a man would normally only buy a gold wedding band. These bands changed over time to include more colourful use of two-tone and even three-tone white, yellow and pink gold in different patterns,” Rodrigues says.

RJ Scanlan specialises in men’s rings having pioneered three-tone wedding rings.

“My father Robert introduced fancy, three-tone wedding rings at a time when most jewellery stores had only sold plain yellow gold bands [to men],” says Chris Scanlan, whose company distributes Dora wedding rings.

Since then the men’s wedding ring market has changed regularly; white gold has become popular and alternative metals like titanium and carbon fibre – blended with gold – are very much on trend with guys today, according to Scanlan. He attributes economic factors for the constant presence of non-traditional metals such as titanium and tungsten on social media platforms, creating a demand for lower-priced options in some demographics.

Stainless styles

Cudworth first introduced stainless steel jewellery in Australia in 2002; however, the company has seen many changes in the sector since its establishment back in 1921.

“Stainless steel is hardy, durable material that works well for men. Of late we have been combining steel with Italian leather and with semi-precious stones,” Roberts says.

AWJ has been around for almost quarter of a century and Rodrigues agrees that non-precious metals are in demand for men’s jewellery.

“Stainless steel has led the way in styles with pendants, bracelets and rings using leather or similar materials with the metal,” he says.

The company offers stainless steel, as well as a range of tungsten, titanium and silver wedding jewellery, some with carbon fibre or wood inlays.

“Alternative materials like tungsten and ceramics will make their way into the mainstream jewellers as accepted norms,” Rodrigues predicts, “Especially products that will not discolour or fade, like zirconium and ceramics.”

Stainless steel has long been the perfect price point for men looking to enter the market, but Paterson argues that even this trend is now giving way to fine metals and mixed materials.

“Stainless steel jewellery was a huge growth area in men’s jewellery about 10 years ago but the trend is now coming back to fine metals mixed with natural stones, woods and leathers,” Paterson says, adding that it was about to launch a collection “featuring leather bracelets and natural stones”.

Scanlan is optimistic that there will be a return to precious metals.

“We are in the business of selling precious metals and it’s in everyone’s interests to be selling higher-quality products,” he says. “My hope is that we are all selling more gold three years from now.”

Paterson Fine Jewellery
Paterson Fine Jewellery

Peter W Beck
Peter W Beck
Thomas Sabo
Thomas Sabo

Thomas Sabo
Thomas Sabo

Branded boys

DGA also deals with stainless steel in the Save Brave collection and sterling silver in the Thomas Sabo brand. It’s been almost a decade since the company launched the line in Australia offering a range of bracelets, necklaces, rings and more. Edwards contends that the market for branded jewellery in Australia has experienced significant growth over the years.

“Men’s jewellery such as Thomas Sabo’s Rebel at Heart collection has evolved into a unisex line that caters to both men’s and women’s sizing,” Edwards says.

Roberts is positive and confident about the expansion of the branded jewellery market. As an example of this confidence Cudworth added luxury, London-based men’s jewellery range Tateossian to its portfolio last year, joining well-established Hugo Boss.

“It is a growing market as the demand is there. We just need to keep an eye on trends that suit our market and not be complacent,” Roberts says.

Changing norms

Another reason for the resurgence of men’s jewellery, according to Adams’ study, is “a more open-minded approach to gender identity” with the definition of what is typically masculine or feminine becoming more open to interpretation.

Adams predicts this new disposition by men will be tapped for exponential growth: “If you look at the menswear catwalks for Spring/Summer 2019, there was a plethora of jewellery looks and silhouettes that build on trends that have, until now, been big in women’s jewellery: stacking and layering, multiple ear piercings, statement rings, talismans and trinkets.”

Adams contends that social media stars, celebrities and leading bloggers are also influencing men’s taste in jewellery.

“We’ve noticed the welcome rise of elaborate brooches on male stars on the red carpets at events such as the recent Emmys too,” she says.

Roberts agrees that the role of celebrities and the use of active social media sites by brands with accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube is changing men’s attitudes towards jewellery.

“With the biggest brands and celebrities talking to you 24/7 through your mobile phones, we now see it’s more than just watches and cufflinks,” he says. “They [consumers] see what their idols are wearing and multiple necklaces, bracelets, rings are now accepted as the norm.”

Dr Andrea Waling, research Fellow at La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society agrees.

“With the shift in gender roles, we are getting away from these ideas of what men and women can and cannot do,” Waling says. “It is becoming more acceptable for men to wear jewellery. Perhaps, for some it is being more daring while, for others, it’s always been an expression of themselves.”

Decorative versus functional

Men have been wearing jewellery for centuries, but Paterson and Waling agree that its purpose has changed over time.

“I think men have always been wearing jewellery. I think jewellery as decorative rather than functional is becoming more mainstream again for men,” Waling says.

Paterson agrees: “I don’t think there was a flashpoint in the demand for men’s jewellery, as that has always been there, but the market has changed from a piece that is worn every day to interchangeable items that match mood or complement an outfit.”

Waling traces the types of jewellery worn by men: “Unlike in the past, where jewellery would be much more opulent and perhaps flowery, men’s jewellery today is very streamlined – hard edges and shapes rather than curved, darker colours, and not a lot of intricate detail nor a lot of gemstones,” she says “This goes in line with how we might visualise an aesthetic for masculinity that is similar.”

Annette Atakliyah from Isaac Jewellery has a different take on men’s jewellery. She says her clientele are mainly from Indian and Arabic backgrounds where decorative jewellery stands out.

“Customers are happy with our designs and we custom-make according to their tastes with input from them,” Atakliyah says.

Isaac Jewellery, which started in the 1980s, specialises in producing “finest-quality gold chains and bracelets made by hand”.

Atakliyah says bracelets were historically the business’ main product but now “there is a bigger demand for chains that could range from 50g to 1kg”.

“Now the demand for bracelets and chains are equal,” she asserts, adding that designs are also available in platinum, sterling silver and palladium.

Paterson feels the market is still growing and says colours are entering the otherwise-monochromatic colourscape.

“Dark red is a popular colour in gents rings at the moment, as is mother of pearl in men’s rings,” he says.

“If we believe in trend cycles then we might expect a return to the heritage-style men’s signet rings, insignia, flat tops, black onyx and traditional styles.”

It’s no longer a secret that men are now more fashion conscious and keen to purchase accessories to boost their image. Retailers looking to bolster sales should investigate this consistently expanding market.

Men’s jewellery: a historical take

The category has a glorious, long and lustrous past. Dr Andrea Waling looks back.

“We can trace the wearing of jewellery by men back numerous centuries and through varying cultures and places. In fact, men were more likely to wear jewellery in the past than they are now,” Waling says.

Worth & Douglas
Worth & Douglas

“Ancient Romans and Greeks, the Celt Reign, Renaissance, Middle-Ages, the Enlightenment, Victorian Era – they all had men wearing different kinds of jewellery.”

The reasons why men wore jewellery depended upon the culture and the era.

“In the Middle Ages, men wore jewellery to demonstrate wealth, power and prestige, as well as allegiances to certain families, which was done by having a crest or signal of the family on the ring,” Waling continues.

“The upper classes were much more likely to wear jewellery to denote their class status. For men, jewellery was used to make a statement about their identity and famous men, such as Sir Walter Raleigh – rumoured to be the lover of Queen Elizabeth I – often wore a pearl earring. For other men like pirates, hoop earrings were worn to provide insurance in case they needed a proper burial. Jewellery has also held religious meanings; ancient Greeks would wear floral laurels on their heads to indicate their status and relationship with their chosen god or gods,” she adds.

Men doing away with decorative jewellery could be traced to the advent of industrialism and the world wars in Western culture, where resources became scarce.

“Jewellery was a luxury many could not afford. After the Second World War, we began to get a very defined notion of gender roles and what is appropriate in terms of masculinity and femininity. Jewellery became something that was seen as excessive and frivolous rather than functional and useful. It was thus designated to be a woman’s item in line with beliefs at the time about the role of women in society,” Waling says.

“Men wearing jewellery in the 1950s was seen to be too theatrical. Things like watches, tiepins and cufflinks are functional; they serve a purpose, rather than being purely decorative. Rings too serve a purpose, demonstrating an allegiance to a group like the Freemasons or designating relationship status,” she adds.


Keith Noyahr • Staff Journalist
Ellendale Diamonds Australia

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