Much ado was made in the press 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 current jewels for men, sold under the tagline “jewellery to separate the men from the boys”, include punky razor blade-inspired pendants and solo diamond-dotted drop earrings from the Thames collection, a collaboration between Webster and bright young thing Blondey McCoy, the young fashion-designer-cum-skater.
While Webster’s personal brand of bling attracts the 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 agrees with him, and facilitated a Stephen Webster men-only jewellery pop-up shop at the department store last year.
Men are spending
A recent research report released by global bank Barclays suggests that British men are now spending an average of £300 more a year on clothes, shoes and grooming than women do. It also claims that men are devoting more cash to fashion than to drinks with friends or tickets to sports events.
With so much money being diverted to looking good, it is 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 chunkier male digits wrapped around pints, whiskeys or, what the hell, the occasional espresso martini.
Oscar Graves is a new jewellery brand that launched last year, and its sole product is dress rings for men. “The ethos of Oscar Graves is quite simply to be the first label to offer a genuine alternative to style-conscious men when it comes luxury rings,” says Pearse Curren, creative director of the Dublin-based brand, which can be found in Wolf & Badger’s Mayfair store. “If you were to choose one area of fine jewellery that has been more neglected over the past century, I cannot think of any other than men’s rings.”
To redress the balance, Oscar Graves proffers engorged signet rings in silver or gold, set with faceted Burma-Blue spinel and smoky quartz, sized to be worn on ring fingers rather than pinkies, as well as heavyset diamond-pave rings inspired by baroque period.
This is not to say that pinky rings, that classic male trinket, are out, however. Plain silver signet rings were worn on pinkies by male models during the SS18 runway shows of Givenchy, Isabel Marant and Paul & Joe (the latter dressing only its male models in jewellery, while females were left adornment free). 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 purposely 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. 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 $2.8 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 with stacking in mind. Ara Vartanian too has broached 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 men, and this year the jewellery brand launched Rebel Charms, its first charm collection for men. Rather than build up your compilation on a 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 our launch [for Rebel Charms] 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, of course, yet it seems the democratisation of jewellery stretches far beyond posing on Instagram. It is no longer just metrosexuals (mouth it with me, slowly and silently) 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.”
If you were to choose one area of fine jewellery that has been more neglected over the past century, I cannot think of any other than men’s rings