They may not sparkle, but these sleek silver, steel, and gemstone pieces sure do shine: How men’s designs are dazzling retailers and (self-purchasing) shoppers alike.
Ten years ago, British designer Stephen Webster launched a men’s jewelry collection. It bombed. “The press loved it, but with the exception of Neiman Marcus, who had a small but consistent men’s business, no one else wanted to take it up,” Webster says. “Such was the lack of confidence for men’s jewelry amongst the retail community—apart from the cufflink selection, maybe some pens, and a couple of signet ring blanks, there wasn’t even a place to display a men’s collection.”
Nowadays, Webster continues, “that’s all changed. The selection of men’s jewelry on offer is amazing. Compared to even five years ago, there is virtually something for everyone.”
While it’s true that American men remain more conservative accessorywise than their European counterparts, “both are style-conscious and follow the trends,” says Robert Dundon, president of North American FF Group/Links of London.
JCK gauged the temperature of the men’s jewelry market and found some hot new trends worth stocking.
Bracelets and Cufflinks
@2013 Zale Corp.
Shaquille O’Neal’s two-tone stainless steel Grooved Cross Pendant, which retails for $219
One area of the male anatomy that should see a lot of action this year, regardless of cultural persuasion: the wrists. Pendants and rings are strong in some markets, but bracelets are going mainstream—even in the office—and cufflinks are making a comeback. The initial success of Shaquille O’Neal’s bold, bracelet-laden line, introduced by Zales in November, suggests there is a market for younger men eager to experiment with personal adornment. Beyond basic black and metal styles, earth tones hint at outdoor adventures.
“Wrist jewelry is having a moment,” Webster affirms. “Worn on either side of your watch or mixing leather, beaded, and silver, a bracelet is probably the easiest jewelry choice for a guy.”
Links of London is introducing what it calls more “innovative wrist wear” this year, including silver bracelets incorporating leather or woven cord and sterling cufflinks inspired by London architecture and design.
18k yellow gold and stainless steel bracelets with grey, black, or bronze stainless steel nautical cable; $295–$350; Charriol USA, La Jolla, Calif.; 877-346-8207; charriolusa.com
Charriol’s top sellers in the fourth quarter of 2012? Bracelets. While the company isn’t seeing strong response to men’s necklaces or rings, “bracelets and cufflinks are huge right now,” says Charriol USA vice president Ori Zemer. “Men are starting to stack their bracelets, mixing and matching different designers. Whereas the tie was the major accessory for professional men 20 years ago, we’re seeing more business casual in offices. I think you’re going to see men accessorizing more with jewelry, looking for something to set them apart from the guy next to them in the boardroom.”
Zemer notes that the ubiquity of French cuff shirts—now sold at chain stores like Banana Republic—is helping boost the popularity of cufflinks.
Judging by the prominence of rugged white metal links and stainless steel (sometimes accented with gold), designers of jewelry for white-collar professionals are turning to the blue-collar world for inspiration. And not surprisingly, O’Neal—aka the Man of Steel—goes heavy on the everyday metal in his collection.
At Charriol, the trademark component of the Gentleman’s Collection of men’s jewelry is stainless steel cable; just call it industrial chic.
Rockers and Roadsters
With its plethora of skulls and Celtic crosses—emblems of the rock star—Webster’s work has always appealed to the younger creative set. Google Trends shows that search demand for skull jewelry, especially skull rings, is peaking again, after dropping off for the past three years.
For his Highwayman collection, introduced in 2012, Webster turned to the American open road, specifically drawing on an annual road trip he takes with a friend in a 1959 Thunderbird. The pieces mix lightweight sterling silver and asphalt-like black sapphire pavé with shield, cross, and dagger motifs.
Links of London looked to Mercedes Formula 1 race cars for design inspiration, collaborating with the McLaren F1 racing team and using what Dundon calls “high-performance materials”—stainless steel, carbon fiber, and Kevlar—to lend its cufflinks, bracelets, and pendants “a masculine aesthetic.”
|Black leather and sterling silver Anchor wrap bracelet; black leather and darkened sterling silver Tile link bracelet; black onyx, green jade, and sterling silver Skull bracelet; black onyx, red coral, and sterling silver North star bracelet, tiger eye and sterling silver Claw charm bracelet; prices on request; David Yurman, NYC; 212-752-4255; davidyurman.com|
David Yurman, however, was influenced by something considerably more romantic in his winter 2012–13 men’s collection: American poet and naturalist author Henry David Thoreau. In the catalog, however, Yurman opted to display the jewelry—which included stacked black leather and silver chain bracelets—on a denim-clad model posing with a beat-up pickup truck and dirt bike.
Black material pairs well with the industrial look, whether it’s Italian leather, carbon fiber, or gemstones. Textured black figures prominently in both Links of London’s McLaren Sport Collection (carbon fiber set in stainless steel) and Webster’s Highwayman (black sapphires and black diamonds) line.
Black stainless steel and faceted onyx is central to O’Neal’s collection with 36 pieces that are heavy on cross motifs, with accents of gold, platinum, and diamonds. Zale CEO Theo Killion deemed the collection successful enough to increase the number of stores carrying it from 190 to 215 a month later. As you might expect from a basketball celebrity, O’Neal’s jewelry evokes the bling often associated with sports stars. (Those championship rings seem to get more and more diamond-studded every year.)
Men’s preference for black extends to diamonds as well, where better price points and a more subtle sparkle seem to be resonating with clients. “We were never a brand that sold a lot of diamond men’s jewelry,” Webster says. “The price is always an issue for wide appeal—and also the whole sparkly thing is too associated with women’s jewelry and just too pretentious for most guys. However, over the last couple of years we have seen a sharp rise in sales of black diamond pieces.”
Platinum-plated sterling silver cufflinks inlaid with 100-million-year-old fossil dinosaur bone; price on request; William Henry, McMinnville, Ore.; 888-563-4500; williamhenrystudio.com
Unlike the flash that signifies status in women’s jewelry, men prefer a stone with a story—preferably one with a hint of Indiana Jones. “Men love manly materials such as flint, bloodstone, or Spiderman jasper. We are always looking for new materials to introduce,” says Webster. “I swear, if there was a stone called testosterone, it would be a winner.”
Matt Conable has catered to that demand for 15 years with hand-forged and engraved steel pocketknives and fountain pens inlaid with exotic woods, mokume gane, and fossil materials. (You may have spotted one of his knives as the winner of a Jewelers’ Choice Award in the Contemporary Metal category.) This month, his Oregon-based company, William Henry, is introducing its first cufflink collection, making it possible for men to wear those conversation starters on their sleeves.
“We built a business around functional accessories made from materials that are beautiful, striking, and tell an amazing story,” Conable says. His big sellers—petrified dinosaur bone, fossilized mammoth tooth, and fossilized coral—have all made it into cufflink form. He has always described his knives as “jewelry for men,” and most of his 400 retail outlets display them with men’s jewelry and watches. “But a knife ends up in your pocket,” he says. “Unless you take it out to show somebody, it doesn’t exist in the world of fashion.”
Charriol’s Zemer predicts men will be buying more of their own jewelry in the year—and years—to come, but with a caveat: Most new men’s collections are sticking to price points below $500 to encourage experimentation. Charriol’s men’s bracelets, for example, average $300 and start at $125 for a bangle of bronze steel cable with 18k gold accents. The idea is to create “a very easy self-purchase,” Zemer says. “If a gentleman spends $200 instead of $2,000, he’s less likely to worry about how often he’s going to wear it.”
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