A silver leg-shaped pendant dangles from a thin, gold chain strung around a naked neck; a whopping silver cuff wraps around a thick forearm; the finest single gold hoop earring meets the top of a manicured beard: for the most striking depiction of men in jewellery, turn to the work of American artist Barkley L. Hendricks. Known for their minimalist opulence, his portraits of Black men painted between 1969-1978 feel particularly relevant today. After all, the 1970s, when Hendricks painted, embodied much of the elegant machismo that has returned – confidence in great clothes with a smattering of sparkle. Leading this revival of poetic pageantry is Harry Styles with his single pearl earring, Paul Mescal with the silver chain he wore in Normal People, and even A$AP Rocky with his gold-and-diamond grills.
‘I think men have an obligation to break down constructed norms,’ says Evan Sugerman, founder of Paris-based jewellery label Parts of Four. Since 2011, he’s been making jewellery, objects and furniture that are meditations on form, material and process. Ungendered and non-seasonal, Sugerman’s chunky, angular pieces are ‘an investigation of inner-space. By this I mean that I don’t generally look “outward” for inspiration or direction. The collection grows organically – it evolves like a language.’ It’s a language that transcends a certain time, a certain attitude. ‘My hope is that as we begin to equalise antiquated gender roles, men will feel more confident to express themselves in ways that would have traditionally been considered feminine.’
As the gaudy 1980s came to an end, the men’s jewellery market was built only to deliver highfalutin, technically savvy timepieces, dependable gold wedding bands or heavy silver bracelets. But that’s all changed in tandem with a blurring of binaries. ‘I just don’t think there’s been adequate options for men to buy into fine jewellery – it felt like everyone was scared of departing too far from the heavy silver because that's what has traditionally worked,’ LA-based jeweller Lizzie Mandler says. She started her label in 2012 and has gained a following for her graphic, modern classicism. Her knife-edge oval chains are soft yet sharp, curved and crisp.
‘There’s definitely been a shift towards more comfortable, wearable luxury suiting, a more active and flexible lifestyle. Men are looking more for quality investment pieces of fine jewellery to accessorise and wear every day,’ says Yves Spinelli, one half of LA label Spinelli Kilcollin. As the world struggles to reconnect with buying again, there has been a shift in attitude: the seasonal has been replaced by the seasoned. Jewellery is – and always has been – considered an investment. Spinelli adds: ‘My father has worn a solid gold Gucci Horsebit bracelet since the day I was born. He never takes it off, even at night, and it’s become a constant in his life. It’s a true investment piece that is always in style even almost 50 years later and one he will pass along to me. That has always been my inspiration. I aim to create pieces that can become a part of someone’s life and grow with them year after year.’
Before launching his namesake line in the late 1990s, Shaun Leane honed his craft working on diamond solitaires and tiaras, and painstakingly restoring Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Victorian and Edwardian pieces. ‘I like the idea that jewellery will remain and be treasured as a piece of history. There’s something very romantic about that, the stories and sentiment behind a piece, to know that it has been loved through generations,’ he says. This emergence of a new market for his modern gothic style is energising. ‘My vision and ambition have always been to question jewellery, where it’s worn, how it’s worn, the materials used, the message jewellery portrays and the feeling it gives. There’s so much room for expression and I’m glad to see that this is happening.’
Fine jewellery is the ultimate anti-trend trend. ‘Without a doubt!’ Tania Shayan, co-founder of Shay, agrees. ‘Jewellery not only completes an outfit, but it can celebrate a birth, put a smile on a face, mark a new memory or remember an old one. It can remain in families for generations. As a jewellery lover, some of my first pieces had been handed down to me.’ Created together with her mother Ladan, their collections fuse diamonds and precious gemstones with 18-karat gold and platinum, and are designed to be worn with a certain West Coast layered ease. For all of this new bravery among men, they’re perhaps, Shayan observes, generally drawn to the detail of each piece, how each stone is set, the spacing of every prong, the weight of the pieces, the colour of the stones. ‘Gold and diamonds will always hold their value and are the perfect place to invest your money during this uncertain time,’ she says.
With his talismanic pieces, Parts of Four’s Sugerman also suggests that the reason for purchasing, say, a milky quartz and silver pendant is less to do with fashion and more a declaration: ‘I find the male mindset to have a tendency towards collectibility and possession, which lends itself very well to jewellery because its value, in a way, is something absolute. For me – both as a wearer and maker – it’s actually closer to an instrument of body-modification than an object of fashion.’ It’s for life.