If you need proof that the old rules of man bling are dead, look no further than the recent dinner GQ magazine held in Beverly Hills for designer Scott Sternberg. Host Jason Schwartzman sported a silver beetle lapel pin with a spot of turquoise that perfectly complemented the shade of his Band of Outsiders suit. A few tables over, a fellow let his French cuffs flap free while his beefy neck supported a chunky sterling silver Chrome Hearts cross. Next to him a thirtysomething sported a silver diamond pave ring (also Chrome Hearts) -- on his middle finger. Two seats away, actor Gabriel Mann fiddled with the pair of thin black leather and silver Marc Jacobs bracelets on his right wrist.
Men's jewelry has traditionally been limited to the functional: watches, cuff links, wedding bands. But today Ashton Kutcher gazes out from the cover of the May Details magazine, adorned with a thin cord and single bead around his neck; Johnny Depp layers on the leather, silver and cloth bracelets at press junkets; Jeremy Piven chews on a Soffer Ari Star of David necklace in Gap T-shirt ads; and Brad Pitt hits the stage of "Idol Gives back" sporting a thin metal chain.
Granted, these guys could probably sling a pair of jumper cables around their neck and make a fashion statement, but they aren't the only men shopping for upscale hardware; U.S. sales in men's jewelry doubled to $6 billion from 2004 to 2006, according to Unity Marketing, a Pennsylvania-based market research firm. Just this month, the 160-year-old jeweler & Co. opened its second and third men's-only boutiques in Japan; the company declined to comment whether it was the beginning of a global rollout.
So what's behind the gold (and silver) rush?
"Men have become more comfortable with embracing fashion," says Michael Macko, men's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Guys are caring more about their appearance, and jewelry is definitely a part of that. David Beckham is a perfect example of a guy who wears a fair amount of jewelry."
At the same time, workplaces and social gatherings have generally become more casual. Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, points out that wearing a strong piece of jewelry "is a serious way of saying: 'Take notice of me.' "
Jay Bell, senior buyer of designer men's collections for Barneys New York, said jewelry sales were up "triple digits" each of the last three years, and at a level of acceptance not seen since the '70s. "I give rap the credit," Bell said. "People like Diddy and Jay-Z started embracing it in the early '90s, which has led to the popularity we're seeing now."
"Necklaces first," he said, ranking popularity. "Then bracelets and then rings. Men are realizing this is an easy way to get instant membership in the fashion club."
Bell delivered his explanation on the terrace of the Barneys New York store in Beverly Hills during the GQ Band of Outsiders dinner, wearing jeans, a white button-down shirt and a black bow tie that somehow seemed more dressy due to the presence of a sterling silver pinkie ring the size of a 25-cent piece emblazoned with a gothic letter B surrounded by diamonds. It lent a certain gravity to an otherwise unremarkable outfit.
Yet, as Macko pointed out, "women tend to buy jewelry to go with an outfit. If a man buys a piece of jewelry, first of all it won't be costume jewelry, and second, it will be more as a talisman."
What kind of talisman? Think God and country: "There are few motifs that have the sustainability of dog tags and crosses," he said. "We do incredibly well with both of those. We also have these spiritual beads by David Yurman, glass beads on a chain, in both necklaces and bracelets that are really strong."
Darren Gold, co-owner of Alpha Gear for Gents in West Hollywood, has noticed a similar trend locally. "Buddhist charms, the om [symbol] and anything spiritual like that has been huge."
And, no, there's nothing remotely spiritual about that puka shell necklace you've been holding on to forever, so don't even think about it.
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LORD OF THE RING
If you haven't worn a necklace since your disco fever days, Jay Bell of Barneys New York offers a few pointers:
Rings: Only one per hand, including the wedding band.
Necklaces: Be discreet. "It shouldn't be something a person 20 feet away can make out clearly. It's between you and the person a foot in front of you."
Bracelets: Layer them on. "This is an area you can have a little more fun, layer up to two or three -- but keep it to one wrist."
Gold: Limit it to a single piece. "A necklace, a ring or a bracelet. With sterling silver, you can layer it on and mix things up, but you should treat gold a little bit more seriously."
Earrings: If you're the kind of guy who wears them, then almost anything goes. "But no swinging chandelier earrings, unless your night job involves a Diana Ross impersonation."