Why Don’t More Men Embrace Fine Jewellery?

Our style columnist Christopher Riley makes a case for the finer things in life.

Article by Christopher Riley

Throughout history, male jewellery has dipped in and out of fashion like a yo-yo, suggesting we weren’t always so averse to adornment, says Christopher Riley. Photography by Levi Elizaga.

It’s hard being a columnist during lockdown. Sure, our plight is hardly that of essential workers right now but hear me out. When you have done little more than sit in your dressing gown and refresh Covid statistics for several weeks, there’s really not much material on which to base a column. Or, frankly, even a conversation. Our ability to inspire or provoke thought is thus severely inhibited.

In an effort to reverse this course, I recently undertook a quick inventory of my life over the past year and a half to discern if there is anything new and noteworthy to report; a sign of self improvement perhaps, or an achievement, however big or small, to help usher me out of said dressing gown and into a state of productivity. After a rather deflating pause, wherein I feared my only post-Covid development would be the new, and rather patchy excuse for a beard now marking my face, I realised I had found what I was looking for: hanging from my neck was a solid gold chain and pendant with a green emerald in the centre. The chain signifies my engagement and thus a simpler time, but more importantly, it gives me something to talk about. Finally!

One week before lockdown — and I’m talking the original one here, not these reruns we’ve been forced to watch in 2021 – my partner and I got engaged. It was a special weekend. Along with several close friends, we rented a house on the south coast (in a completely different LGA — imagine!) and after an elaborate ruse, I surprised my girlfriend and asked for her hand in marriage. We drank Champagne, ate oysters and a week later, forgot it ever happened as the world descended into pandemic panic. Our wedding plans were put on ice and like the rest of the world, we fell into the daily abyss of life in lockdown.

While it’s not how I had envisaged our engagement panning out, the one thing for which I am grateful is the fact I opted to buck the trend and join my girlfriend in choosing a piece of jewellery to mark the occasion. She got a ring, I got a necklace and in a year defined by the things we have lost, it has remained a constant source of joy. Not only does it have the capacity to enhance even the drabbest of WFH ‘fits, there’s something inspiring about owning, and wearing, an object so completely devoid of function; something that so clearly exists purely for beauty’s sake. Somehow, it gives me hope.

That’s the encouraging part. The disappointing element is the fact so few men are willing to express themselves via fine jewellery. Chunky signet rings and the like are common, but not when it comes to the more elegant side of things. The trouble is, too often we men define ourselves by what we don’t do — we don’t display weakness, we don’t fail, we don’t show vulnerability — that we deprive ourselves of many of life’s joys. Women don’t appear to have the same problem. From a full face of makeup, to lingerie and jewellery, they have a whole range of opportunities to shake themselves free of the daily struggle and feel beautiful for just a second. What do we have? Somehow, wearing a watch doesn’t have the same appeal.

It’s not always been this way. Throughout history, male jewellery has dipped in and out of fashion like a yo-yo, suggesting we weren’t always so averse to adornment. Pirates, for one, couldn’t get enough of the stuff. They apparently wore big hoop earrings not only for the aesthetic appeal, but as an insurance policy: if you were killed on a voyage, your ship mates would sell the gold from your earrings to pay for your funeral. Smart thinking. Noble men of past centuries also rocked fine jewellery with abandon, believing it the “workmanship of God”.

So, when did things change? The likes of Harry Styles, Pharrel Williams and A$AP Rocky are reviving the trend, blending masculinity with elegant jewellery, and Tiffany & Co. recently launched a line of men’s diamond engagement rings. You may be thinking it’s all well and good for Harry Styles and co. to wear whatever they want, but what about the mere mortals among us? Well, I’m here to tell you, the timing has never been better.

If some reports are to be believed, we will soon enter a post-Covid era of flamboyance and decadence reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties. Just as we emerged from the First World War and the 1918 flu pandemic with a renewed sense of optimism and carpe diem, it makes sense that we will emerge from our current predicament with a desire to dress up simply for the heck of it. To wear elaborate outfits that scream joyously, This is not a dressing gown! To stay out late just because we can.

If this sounds tempting, I’d encourage you to follow my three golden rules:

Start Simple

A delicate silver or gold chain is a good place to start. It’s subtle, won’t break the bank and will add some personality to your ensemble.

Pick a Colour

You haven’t lived until you’ve paired a pop of colour in your clothing to a stone in your jewellery. This range at Mr Porter has some great options with green emeralds or sapphire.

Find Meaning

Like my engagement chain, pinning your purchase to a special event or person, will make it more than just an object.

Soon, the question will no longer be: how did you spend lockdown? Instead it will become, how did you emerge from lockdown? And I for one, won’t be leaving women to have all the fun.

I’m thinking of a tiara next.