Man, Oh Man!

Today’s move to more casual dressing at work as well as play offers new sales opportunities for an often overlooked jewelry category

Real men do wear jewelry.

In ancient times, pharaohs festooned themselves with gold, Roman emperors’ robes were encrusted with jewels and the high priests of Israel wore colored gemstone breastplates whose symbolism inspired modern birthstone traditions. Indeed, until Victorian times brought somber styles, jewelry was required regalia for male power dressing.

Today, jewelry is mainly a woman thing. Women wear most of it and, increasingly, buy it, too. Men’s jewelry represents a very small percentage of the overall jewelry market and occupies little space in many jewelry stores. When we recently asked the JCK Retail Jewelers Panel about men’s non-bridal jewelry in the past two years, we found sales were up for only 22%, down for 20% and about the same for 58%. But many jewelers who do present a good selection of men’s jewelry find it adds nicely to the bottom line.

Laurie Harris, fine jewelry buyer for Tapper’s Diamonds and Fine Jewelry, West Bloomfield, Mich., says designer cufflinks such as those by John Hardy and Elizabeth Prior blow out the door almost as fast as she can get them in. “Last week I sold four pairs of cufflinks and a stud set. That’s unusual, because we’re not specifically a men’s store, we’re a jewelry store. Men used to get cufflinks or something as a gift, but now they’re buying for themselves.”

Casual or casualty? Men’s fashion usually changes little from year to year. Lapels get wider or smaller, suits are worn double- or single-breasted (often depending upon the wearer’s physique rather than any style dictum) and buttons shift up or down a tad. Fabrics may trend toward a certain color or muted print, but the rules for acceptable business style and color don’t leave much room for experimentation or change.

Women’s Lib brought pants into the workplace for women but no skirts for men. Nor do men have women’s color options. They can’t wear, say, orange, or chartreuse, or fuchsia, or flower prints – except in their less conservative ties. The only real shift in men’s fashion news has been the onslaught of Casual Friday, Casual Monday or Casual Everyday, as is now the case at once gray-flannel bastions like IBM.

But casual dressing has rules, too. While men may appreciate a chance to ditch the suit, many worry about what to don instead. Indeed, “business casual” means different things to different men.

Diane Mattioli, watch and jewelry manager for GQ magazine, suggests that men consider it a chance to express their own personal style. “On Friday,” she says,”I always look around the train platform as I’m going to work. It’s really interesting to see the different interpretations of casual day. One man might be wearing Levi’s Dockers and a barn jacket from Eddie Bauer, while another might be wearing an elegant cashmere sweater with a pair of corduroys.

“Casual day doesn’t mean jeans and a Beavis and Butthead T- shirt. But when men don’t have on their blue power suit and red tie, they need something to make a strong statement. Usually it’s their watch.”

Laurie Harris of Tapper’s says, “Watches are now a men’s jewelry item. Men own six or seven watches and change them with their outfit the way women do earrings. It used to be they got a watch for their bar mitzvah or graduation, and when it broke, they got another one. Now watches are promoted in the media and it’s really caught on.”

(Indeed, JCK Panelists list watches as the runaway bestselling category in men’s jewelry and accessories, far outstripping bracelets, the nearest contender.)

A recent article in GQ outlined the perks and pitfalls of casual dressing. It identified appropriate dress choices (watches and good belts were cited as particularly important accessories), as well as some major fashion faux pas. (Sweatpants, shorts or sneakers are inappropriate office gear, no matter what day of the week it is.) A general rule of thumb seems to be: “Remember it’s Friday, not Saturday!”

Mattioli says the new dress codes mean men need to change the way they accessorize, or even begin to accessorize in the first place. This is new to many men, but explains why casual fashions, despite what you might think, actually offer greater opportunities for jewelry sales.

Men’s jewelry at the counter: Who buys most jewelry for men? Women, according to members of JCK’s Retail Panel.

Major buyers of men’s non-bridal jewelry % of JCK Panelists
Women buying gifts 61%
Men buying for self 33%
Men buying gifts 5%

What are they buying? Panelists list the best-selling products, in descending order, as:

  1. Watches

  2. Bracelets

  3. Necklaces

  4. Rings (non-pinky)

  5. Money clips

  6. Cuff links

  7. Tie tacks

  8. Pinky rings

  9. Belt buckles

  10. Earrings

  11. (tied) Collar bars and stud sets

  12. (Tie clips, which seem to be rather out of fashion, come in last.)

Panelists say gold is most popular with customers. Silver and platinum rank far behind, but jewelers see the latter gaining ground, especially given men’s preferences for two-tone watches.

Marion Halfacre, owner of Traditional Jewelers, Newport Beach, Cal., had just sold a platinum watch and a platinum/18k combination watch when JCK called. He says his customers, who tend to be very traditional and conservative, are beginning to buy platinum combined with gold to “get their feet wet, then go on from there.”

Laurie Hudson, president of the Platinum Guild International USA, says men are attracted to platinum’s strength; its steely grey look also holds design appeal.

“In focus groups, men said they were attracted to platinum because of its masculine attributes. We’re also seeing some interesting experimentation with different finishes, such as matte sandblasted looks. Men’s jewelry is still not a big category for platinum, but with more and more executives buying cuff links and such, it’s growing.”

(The World Gold Council’s current marketing efforts focus toward women’s self-purchase; it has no statistics about men’s gold jewelry sales.)

When gems are used: Men give a slight edge to jewelry without gems and far prefer tailored styles to more ornate looks. Designer jewelry – which can include any of these categories, as well as Masonic and other emblematic jewelry – is gaining favor.

When gems are used, black onyx is a perennial favorite. Men also can wear pearls, says Devin Macnow of the Cultured Pearl Information Center. He thinks most men’s pearl jewelry is bought strictly for formal wear, conceding that pearls aren’t a great candidate for Casual Day.

“Pearls are white, lustrous and unobtrusive,” he says. “You can’t get much more understated than a white pearl stud on a white shirt.” Black pearl jewelry for men is an untapped area; Macnow thinks the steely look would make fabulous studs and cuff links.

Henry Hoenig, vice president of New York-based Lindsay & Co., says lapis, hematite and diamonds are always popular sellers, as well as onyx. Ruby and sapphire aren’t.

Cheryl Pellegrino of the Diamond Information Center says DIC has not been stressing the Diamonds For Men category. (National Family Opinion’s diamond jewelry market surveys show the category’s unit and dollar sales both declined from 1987 to 1994.)

The bold look: Men buying jewelry for themselves seek substantiality, say jewelers and manufacturers; they want a piece with some “heft” to it, notes Lindsay & Co.’s Hoenig. Jewelers say men are much harder than women on their jewelry, which needs to be bold and strong enough to take a bit of a beating. They also want designs that are businesslike, serious and not feminine.

Marion Halfacre’s customers go for quality. He can sell 18k much more easily than 14k, for example, but his customers also buy quality silver pieces. Fine writing instruments are a big men’s category for him, with Montblanc and Cartier two favorite brands; many customers prefer to accessorize that way.

Diana Shiel of the Silver Information Center seconds Halfacre’s assessment of quality. Men’s jewelry is a growing silver category, with avant-garde designer lines such as Lisa Jenks’ or John Hardy’s providing most of the growth. Shiel says that men who wear such jewelry tend to be in relatively creative fields such as architecture, advertising or film, and long have had rather “corporate casual” and individualistic wardrobes. Women are the primary purchasers of men’s silver jewelry, just as they are for women’s silver.

Still, some jewelers just don’t like men’s jewelry. Stuart Moore, who has galleries in New York and Newport Beach, Cal., doesn’t wear it or go out of his way to sell it. Yet he gets a fair number of requests for custom pieces and sells a lot of unique designer wedding bands for men.

“I feel that the ’90s are less showy than the ’80s,” says Moore. “I try to make things more architectural and quiet than loud and showy.” He himself now prefers a Niessing watch to the Cartier he wore in the ’80s.

Aspirations and achievements: GQ’s Diane Mattioli sees two predominant targets for men’s jewelry and fine watches. One is an aspirational customer – a younger man who buys a watch for the job he wants, not the job he has. The other is an older man who is confident and secure in his achievements and his style, who buys a watch or piece of jewelry simply because he wants it. Both markets, she says, have room for growth.

Two thirds of JCK panelists say men between the ages of 30 and 49 account for a majority of their male self-purchasers; most are married. The next largest group (17.5% of panelists) list 50- to 65-year-old self-purchasers, with twentysomethings coming in third. Few panelists say teenage boys or men over 65 are the most likely to buy jewelry for themselves.

White-collar men are major buyers for nearly three-quarters of the JCK Panel members, with most of the rest (23.9% of panelists) relying on blue-collar buyers. Only a few say that most of their male customers are in the arts.

To help increase men’s jewelry sales, Mattioli suggests you consider changing the way it’s merchandised. Remember that male shoppers tend to be fairly focused, not aimless browsers. If they really need some cufflinks, they’ll come in to buy them. If they don’t need them, they’re unlikely to wander around your store just to see what you have. So try moving men’s jewelry to your watch area where men are more likely to be looking. If they see a pair of cuff links next to the watch they’re considering, they may be tempted to buy them.

Does this work? Mattioli notes that stores (such as Bloomingdale’s) that moved men’s fragrances away from the fragrance counter and into the men’s department found their men’s fragrance sales jumped. Don’t be afraid to visit other stores to see how they’ve done it successfully.

And remember that this isn’t the ’80s, where one wore a Rolex because of the success it implied. In the ’90s, a man is much more likely to wear jewelry or a watch that makes a statement about himself as a person.

HOT MEN’S DESIGN

Top men’s jewelry design trends at retail:

  • Watches, both sport and dress.

  • Gold

  • Onyx

  • Tailored, businesslike styles

  • Jewelry with some weight to it

  • An increase in platinum for men

  • An increase in designer jewelry for men

  • Avant-garde sterling silver lines.

  • Though still not the top seller according to the JCK Retail Panel, jewelers and other retail experts say cuff links are one of the fastest growing sales categories for men’s jewelry.

  • 18k gold ring with sandblast finish and champagne diamonds is $1,560 retail. Susy-Mor Jewelry Design, Miami.

  • Platinum, gold and diamond wedding ring is from the Diana division of Frederick Goldman, New York. Retail: $2,066 unmounted.

  • “David” architectural ring in 18k gold with chrome tourmaline and .21 ct.of diamonds is $2,490 retail. J.A. Bevacqua Designs, West New York, N.J.

  • 18k yellow and white gold bracelet from Toros, New York, is $5,100 retail.

  • Platinum and 18k bracelet with 1.04 cts. of diamonds is $10,044 suggested retail. Christian Bauer, Miami.

  • Men’s solid link 14k gold bracelet from Aurafin, Sunrise, Fla., is $1,200 retail.