Edgy designs and unusual materials fuel a resurgence in men's jewellery, writes Francesca Fearon
A road trip across America in a restored 1959 Thunderbird was what inspired Stephen Webster's most recent men's jewellery collection. The Highwayman range has a tough, masculine look, featuring the London-based jeweller's signature thorn motif on engraved rings, plaited leather bracelets, pendants and cufflinks.
Meanwhile, the Qianlong emperor inspired Dickson Yewn to create an imperial amulet collection that will be launched in the spring. It is partly a homage to the emperor for the contributions he made towards creating a strong Chinese cultural foundation, the designer says. His preliminary designs are pendants based on daggers and swords in their scabbards, which are crafted in either yellow or white gold set with diamonds and jade, with other gems being introduced such as rubies, sapphires, tourmalines and turquoise.
"I thought it would be a unisex collection," Yewn says, "but I actually sold the first few pieces to good male friends."
It is the rock-star influence that has helped change men's attitudes about accessorising over the past decade. Crucifixes, chunky metal rings and bracelets in leather, silver and turquoise worn by musicians and celebrities have made the concept of wearing jewellery manly again.
The macho image of Chrome Hearts' silver biker jewellery depicting tattoos, daggers and skulls, merged with the rock-festival trend of woven friendship and hippie-style Shamballa bracelets paired with VIP-area wristbands, have also fuelled this change. There has been a realisation that given the right materials, male adornment no longer has to be restricted to watches and cufflinks.
Webster is convinced that celebrities have been hugely influential on this change in mindset. The jeweller is renowned for his rocker jewellery, with fans that include Johnny Depp, Justin Timberlake and Nicolas Cage.
The more that guys see men they admire wearing jewellery, the more they feel it is acceptable for them. "It boils down to the fact that every guy wants to look a little bit cool," Webster says.
His clientele includes bankers, lawyers and stockbrokers, so he ensures the designs are overtly masculine. "Men love manly materials such as flint, bloodstone and spiderman jasper. This season, we added steel bracelets which are both light and durable."
Evan Yurman is looking at new materials and technologies for the men's collection he oversees for his father's eponymous jewellery company, David Yurman. Link bracelets, signet and Royal Cord rings are made from super-light black titanium, sometimes mixed with silver. Evan Yurman uses the brand's signature cable design for Goth-style rings and cuffs made with titanium, which has a strong masculine appeal, while the small dog-tag pendants feature slices of black onyx, black diamonds, banded agate or meteorite.
Chunks of meteorite or the fossils of tiny prehistoric ammonites and trilobites are rare and fascinating materials that have become a new source of inspiration for jewellers. Yurman is using fragments of the four-billion-year-old Gibeon meteorite in his jewellery pieces, and he is not alone in being attracted to otherworldly and prehistoric materials. Robert Tateossian is also using them for a range of limited-edition cufflinks.
London designer Theo Fennell has always offered a wide selection of jewellery for men and likes stretching boundaries, and a lot of his clientele from the creative world enjoy experimenting as well.
"Yellow gold has always been popular with men. It has heft and status that is timeless," he says. And he has noticed that more men are wearing diamonds. "I think the taboos of men adorning themselves have all but been lifted. Things are going back to the [young men] of Elizabethan era. It will be codpieces and capes next!" Well, maybe not just yet, but Fennell says bangles and friendship bracelets are becoming more of the norm than the exception.
Tomasz Donocik, Hannah Martin and Dominic Jones are new designers whose work has a cool, edgy appeal amongst the young generation. Martin and Jones have been making a stir with their chunky gold and silver rings, along with pendants and geometric-inspired shapes.
For Donocik, a former Goldsmith's Jewellery Designer of the Year, modern and masculine silver bracelets, rings and leather wraparound bracelets threaded with stars are proving to be bestsellers. "I started as a men's jewellery designer because I saw a niche in the market," he says. "I also wanted to wear exciting men's jewellery and found it difficult to find anything that suited my style."
Mixing materials like leather, silver, gold and coloured stones appeal to Donocik's male clientele, who connect with the subversive element in his designs. His silver pieces sell very well, but he says: "I get a lot of commissions from the ladies for their men, and these are always exciting pieces."
Despite men's newfound passion for jewellery, hardly any fine jewellery houses have exploited this potential market.
Tiffany & Co collaborated with architect Frank Gehry a few years ago to create a jewellery collection, but with only a few pieces designed specifically for men.
Cartier is one of the only brands to dip into men's jewellery, producing screwhead-studded gold bangles and rings, along with a range of yellow, white and pink gold chain necklaces. The look is subtle and streamlined, but for those who enjoy a bit of bling, there is also the jeweller's iconic panther ring in white gold and diamonds.
Perhaps this general hesitance is a sign that men's jewellery has not gone mainstream yet. However, designer Stephen Webster says demand is growing.
Ten years ago, "such was the lack of confidence for men's jewellery among the retail community that apart from the cufflink selection and a couple of signet ring blanks, there wasn't even a place to display a men's collection", he says. "Nowadays, that's all changed; the selection of men's jewellery on offer is amazing, and the market is buoyant. Compared to even five years ago, there is virtually something for everyone."