16 March 2018
Much ado was made in the press recently about Ed Sheeran’s decision to wear an engagement ring. The shock! The horror! A bizarre quirk of an out-of-touch celebrity, surely? But the truth is that men are becoming much more adventurous when it comes to jewellery, and designers are responding with collections and collaborations that offer so much more than dog tags and surfer beads.
“Tainted by the 1970s moniker ‘medallion man’, gentlemen and jewellery have taken several years to become reacquainted,” muses British jewellery designer Stephen Webster, who has been courting the purses of both men and women for most of his career. His jewels, sold under the tagline “jewellery to separate the men from the boys”, include punky razor blade-inspired pendants and single diamond-dotted drop earrings. These come from the Thames collection, a collaboration between Webster and Blondey McCoy, the young fashion-designer-turned-skater.
While Webster’s personal brand of bling attracts a rock ’n’ roll crowd that has always been more comfortable with a skull ring and layers of lariats (fans include singer James Bay), he feels that the scope is widening for masculine jewels. “The democratisation of men’s jewellery has now led to men from all walks of life being able to find a place for jewellery in their wardrobes,” he says. Harrods agreed with him, and held a Stephen Webster men’s jewellery pop-up shop last year.
Research released by Barclays in November suggests that British men are now spending an average of £300 more a year on clothes, shoes and grooming than women. It also claimed that men are devoting more money to fashion than to drinks with friends or tickets to sports events.
With so much being diverted to looking good, it’s understandable that these modern men desire a little flash for their cash – and what would surely be described as a cocktail ring should it be found on the finger of a woman is now finding its way onto male digits.
Oscar Graves, a jewellery brand that launched last year, sells dress rings for men. “Our ethos is quite simply to be the first label to offer a genuine alternative for style-conscious men when it comes to luxury rings,” says Pearse Curran, creative director of the Dublin-based brand, which can be found in Wolf & Badger’s Mayfair store. “No other area of fine jewellery has been neglected more over the past century than men’s rings.”
To redress the balance, Oscar Graves proffers engorged signet rings in silver or gold, set with faceted blue Burmese spinel and smoky quartz, sized to be worn on ring fingers rather than pinkies; as well as heavyset diamond-pavé rings inspired by the Baroque period.
This is not to say that pinky rings, the classic male trinket, are out. Plain silver signet rings were worn on pinkies by male models during the S/S18 runway shows of Givenchy, Isabel Marant and Paul & Joe (the latter dressing only its male models in jewellery, while females were left unadorned). There are also plenty more adventurous options out there, like Foundrae’s unisex Scarab rings that layer colourful flashes of enamel over gold to mimic cigar wrappers.
An increase in jewellery collections being branded as unisex is a key driver of the expanding choice for men. As gender norms are redefined in every walk of life, jewellers too are less keen to put shoppers in boxes. For instance, Webster and McCoy’s Thames collection is technically a unisex line, despite its masculine undertones.
When Kate Moss, who once described jewellery as her “drug of choice”, collaborated with Brazilian jeweller Ara Vartanian last year on a collection of precious talismans littered with inverted gemstones, rose-cut diamonds, swords and sickle moons, it identified as gender neutral. A group of male and female models, who looked like they’d just drifted out of a spiritual retreat, were drafted in to show the versatility of the collection for the official campaign.
Brooches for men were another catwalk hit this season, and in the world of high jewellery, brands like Chaumet have reported men buying pins to liven up lapels. Even suiting, the most masculine of attire, is benefitting from jewels as modern dandies sneak a little personalisation into boardrooms and black-tie events.
Jeweller Shaun Leane, whose recent sale of couture fashion jewels at Sotheby’s New York raised $2.6 million, launched his first men’s collection in a decade last year. The Arc collection includes slick silver and gold vermeil tie clips and cufflinks that are perfect for this purpose. Also central to the collection are necklaces, bracelets and cuffs designed to be stacked. Vartanian too has responded to the trend for male stacks in his main collections, with edgy zig-zag rings set with black diamonds that slot into one another.
Thomas Sabo also has its eye on male shoppers, and this year the jewellery brand launched Rebel Charms, its first charm collection for men. Rather than build up your bracelet, these masculine charms, with motifs like feathers, skulls and snakes, are supposed to be clipped onto necklaces. In its first week, an oxidised silver feather charm from the men’s collection sold in such volumes that it became the brand’s bestseller, over and above any of its women’s charms. “The reaction we had at the launch was incredible,” says marketing director Louisa Hopwood. “We had influencers who would see one of my team wearing it and literally take it off their necks.”
Layers of charm necklaces are perfect selfie fodder for the stylish man, yet it seems the democratisation of jewellery stretches far beyond posing on Instagram. It is no longer just metrosexuals who are wearing fashion-led jewellery every day.
As one passionate male jewellery collector told me: “My jewellery sets me free from the mundane; it allows me to express my style. My mates used to laugh at me in the pub when I’d come in with stacks of bracelets and rings across my hands, now they just want to know where I get them.”