You can bet the Ivy League crowd won’t tolerate more jewellery on a man than a watch and a signet ring. Men and jewellery are considered incongruous in the more traditional circles. Yet within prescribed limits men’s jewellery portrays powerful status symbols. The signet ring for example with its engraved escutcheon is the upper middle class translation of what was once the reserve of a feudal lord to authenticate legal documents. The feudal lord being primarily an agrarian had far too robust a character to admit to literacy (an effeminate trait peculiar to the clergy and lawyers). Even the deportment of the jewellery was significant. The signet ring was normally worn upon the left pinky on the theory that the right hand was dedicated to the manly business of unencumbered hand shaking. Pocket watches (often adorned with expensive gold fobs) enjoyed the same blazing pronouncement as the bejewelled sgian-dubh of Scottish Highland dress.
In the minds of some people jewellery on men says as much about them as tattoos which is often a small compliment. The more vulgar display of large and expensive jewellery is frequently associated with disadvantaged people who have nonetheless acquired the trappings of wealth through suspected nefarious means. Even if the cost of the items inspires secret admiration, its prominent exhibition is viewed as lower class. This distortion has undergone main-stream modification at the hands of celebrities who often sport exceedingly large and preposterous watches.
The diamond ring is normally associated with the engagement of women for marriage; however it has come to be an important feature of men’s jewellery symbolizing success and wealth. In such conventional but hedonistic venues as the Empress Hotel, Victoria it is nothing to see a parade of usually elderly men sporting a diamond pinky ring. The once refined and utilitarian signet ring has made its mercantile jump to static symbolism.
As office attire has relaxed so too has the jewellery standard for men. The most common articles of fashion for men are now necklaces and bracelets. When gold was still affordable most jewellery was made of it; however, it is not uncommon to see the same pieces made of silver and even leather or other base metals which are embellished with gaudy stones or synthetic crystals. Wearing more than one necklace or bracelet at the same time has become both routine and fashionable, a habit cultivated in particular by popular musicians.
For the serious man wrist watches remain the domain of important and exclusive jewellery. Here a man can indulge in virtually limitless expense while maintaining the deceit of modesty. Additionally the complicated watches satisfy the aficionado’s appetite for mechanical intrigue not to mention the consumption spin-offs of engraving, automatic watch winders and jewellery boxes.
There is a set of men who get an honest thrill from metallic substances. For those with trained sensibilities the feel of different metals can be very appealing. Items made of platinum for example provide the indisputable reward of weight and inherent durability. The luscious appearance of 24K gold is equally moving. The buttery feel of .925 silver is likewise appealing. And because jewellery is always an accent, one mustn’t discount the combined effect of the colour of different jewellery against the skin of the wearer. Platinum though generally less sparkly than silver imparts a very rich flavour when worn against the darker skin of a Latino. The import of a clear diamond against the milky skin of a Protestant octogenarian is an indisputable statement.
While most men’s jewellery is worn about the fingers, neck or wrist there is an evolving realm of jewellery worn about the waist. The incremental return of clothes resembling the zoot suit has brought with it the featured watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket. Until the complete absorption of that fashion, some men are hanging from a belt loop an expensive and highly artistic key chain manufactured for example by Mont Blanc.
Men’s jewellery formerly associated with evening dress (shirt studs and cuff links) has taken a hit because of the downgrading of formal wear generally. Meanwhile there is a culture of jewellery for men of every class and station. Inevitably there are gross distortions of what were once subtle adornments. Sometimes the evolution is clever such as the large battery-powered watches which synthesize the sweep hand of a manual automatic watch. It is hard to argue with the ingenuity of such jewellery which has a stand-alone attraction apart from its affordable price.
As with almost everything else the purchase of men’s jewellery has undergone significant change as the result of internet on-line retailing. The whimsical appeal of jewellery is quickly satisfied with a mere click. The web-based merchants have tapped into the resources of off-shore manufacturers who drastically lower the price of even once prohibitively expensive items. Niche marketing to men is common (for example the appeal of skull and bones jewellery for bikers).
Whatever the choice or cost of jewellery the fact remains that men and jewellery are all about appearances. And I think the imputation of an underlying psychological function is also warranted. The symbol portrayed by individual choices is as unique as the person who wears the jewellery.