In Pam Danziger’s 2011 Jewelry Report, unveiled last July, one category practically jumped out: men’s jewelry. It was responsible for more than two-thirds of the growth in the jewelry market from 2008 to 2010.
“We call it the Jersey Shore phenomenon,” says Danziger, the president of luxury research firm Unity Marketing. Men are exhibiting a new comfort level about wearing accessories such as cross necklaces, dog tags, and chunky chains, she explains—a nod to the fashion style of MTV stars Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino and Paul “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio. “This is a reflection of our environment.”
Yet Danziger had originally noted the growth back in 2006, calling it “the year the jewelry industry finally discovered the men’s market.” Since then, she’s continued to chart its trajectory.
Marketers have exhorted fine jewelers to pay attention to men for years—one reason why those appeals have often fallen on deaf ears. But this is different: Greater product selection, a growing willingness among guys to splurge on themselves while shopping for companions, the legalization of same-sex unions in many states, and, yes, the influence of reality TV all reinforce the notion that men are the next big group of self-purchasers.
REV cufflinks in sterling silver, with 1.4 cts. t.w. diamonds; $4,100; BlumLux, Indianapolis; 877-BLUMLUX; blumlux.com
For Lita Asscher, offering more men’s pieces is an organic decision. “I love the idea of giving more attention to the men in our lives,” says the Royal Asscher of America president. Asscher solicited ideas from her father and her brother, who are also in the industry, for an expanded collection for June’s JCK Las Vegas. “My brother has a diamond on the inside of his wedding band,” says Asscher. “It’s the secret details that are so special.” Expect bracelets and tuxedo button and stud sets, plus commitment rings: “Even if gay couples don’t want to get married, they may want to have a really nice ring.”
At Roberta’s Jewelers in Hamburg, N.J., sales in the men’s category had been growing about 20 percent a year up until two years ago. President Roberta Bootsma blames the slowdown on the price of gold and Internet competition. To reverse the trend, the store recently held a men’s night where guys were treated to soda and hot dogs, 20 percent discounts, gas cards for certain dollar amounts spent, and ESPN on flat-panel televisions. The goal: to make men comfortable. “Men are coming in buying their titanium wedding bands and are feeling more confident about buying for themselves,” says Bootsma.
Deconstructed ring in platinum sterling with black rhodium matte finish and 2 cts. t.w. pavé black diamonds; $6,000; Azature, Los Angeles; 888-494-6116; azature.com
Styling plays a big role in what catches a guy’s eye. Bootsma says best sellers are architectural, “but not so high-fashion they’ll feel out of place.” She recalls one male self-purchaser who had a very specific look in mind, but needed the staff’s guidance on everything—including the vocabulary. (“All the years I’ve been in jewelry, and I’ve never had a man say, ‘This is the finish I’m looking for,’” Bootsma says.) The fellow liked a dark patina and brushed surface—a far cry from the shiny silvery look of his fiancée’s wedding band. As in many fine jewelry stores, employees began by showing him karat gold and platinum options, eventually moving into the tungsten category. “You could see his eyes change, and the sales associate knew she was right on,” she says. Within minutes, the man happily bought a $200 band. “You have to listen to them and watch their reactions to get where they’re coming from.”
Within the designer jewelry community, makers of men’s styles are (finally!) enjoying the spotlight. Robert Grey Kaylor, a Boise, Idaho–based newcomer to wholesaling, debuted his REALSTEEL line of recycled steel keys, nails, and railroad date nails set with diamonds and precious stones in summer 2011, quickly racking up accolades and honors such as the Mort Abelson New Designer of the Year award at the Jewelers of America summer show. His über-cool, virile spike rings and two-tone silver and grey steel cuffs have been called “conversation starters” and “art.” It proves that men are “more open to new materials,” says Kaylor. “I think we’re seeing a shift from the more traditional gold band to alternative metals because male consumers are more aware of their options and are attracted to new styles.”
Steel and silver cuff with brown diamond accent; price on request; Robert Grey Kaylor, Boise, Idaho; 208-385-9337; rgreygallery.com
Ditto for Nick Blum of BlumLux in Indianapolis. “People are gravitating to us because we’re not the traditional men’s line,” he says of his contemporary diamond-accented jewelry and watch lines. “So many men are brainwashed into thinking, This is the only style you’re allowed to wear being a man. I don’t think retailers give their male clients enough confidence to encourage them to be more expressive.” In fact, Blum recently challenged a man in the market for a wedding band to express himself with a 10.9 mm style with 0.24 ct. t.w. diamonds. “It was almost like a lightning bolt came out of the sky,” he recalls.
Such transformations in confidence and style are more common now, as is the notion of a self-purchasing male. “The concept of buying jewelry only for special occasions and for someone else is a bit outdated,” observes Azature Pogosian of Azature in Los Angeles. Pogosian’s black diamond jewels are for men (and women) who aren’t waiting for a special day. “My client just wants it when he wants it,” he says. “The jewelry we design is not simply a precious stone and a premium metal; it is a statement of power.”
Stainless steel and leather bracelets with rubber stoppers and steel components; $250 and $220 as shown; Aagaard, Hadley, Mass.; 413-341-5252; byaagaard.com
One of Pogosian’s fans, a Chilean fine art and jewelry collector, found Azature online and commissioned the designer to make a number of pieces. “He says, ‘Azature, your jewelry has special powers. I never want to take it off.… I am running out of fingers!’”
Meanwhile, all of this should continue to bode well for jewelers like Dan Lustig, owner of Lustig Jewelers, in Vernon Hills, Ill. He has seen a steady rise in men’s sales in the past five years. While moving from a mall to a strip center accounts for some gains, a growing selection of alternative metals such as tungsten, steel, and cobalt has also boosted sales of cable bracelets in rose and black tones. Plus, a new beaded line called Aagaard—Lustig has an exclusive in his area—complements his Chamilia selections and appeals to a wide demographic (think men age 18–50). “We have done very well with this product, especially their leather-braided bracelets,” he says. And online, where the sales sweet spot hits well below $500, Lustig may have struck digital gold with steel-accented bracelets tagged as low as $70. “By including men’s jewelry on our website, we have increased our visibility and sales.”