In the past, men’s jewelry has taken a back seat in favor of women’s. Women have long been seen to take greater pride in their appearance than men. From the wearing of engagement rings and piercings to everyday wear like earrings or necklaces, contemporary jewelry has traditionally catered primarily for women. With men’s jewelry items being reserved for special occasions such as weddings and formal events.
Thankfully, times have changed with men are increasingly choosing to wear jewelry that compliments their style and completes their look. As jewelry designers and silversmiths, we wanted to look to the past to see if this has always been the case. Here we share what we have learned and the fascinating evolution of men’s jewelry through the ages!
Although there is no definitive proof, academics believe that the practice of adorning the body began with products of nature – namely, flowers, leaves, branches, animal bones, and stones. In North Africa, prehistoric shells have been found with man-made perforations through the center. It is estimated that these shells date as far back as 82,000 years ago. The ancient Greeks are also known to have worn wreaths around their heads or garlands on their shoulders. The leaves or flowers of which represented different Gods. For example, oak represented Zeus, laurels represented Apollo, grapevines represented Doinysos. Laurels were usually worn by the military and those in public office. These adornments were worn during ceremonies and parades with olive leaves being used for consuls and senators. These men’s adornments were generally seen as an expression of wealth and power. Even in the Bible, we read that a crown of thorns was placed on Jesus’ head in the events leading up to his crucifixion as a way of mocking his claim of authority, and as a further cause of pain and embarrassment.
With the discovery of metal and the advancing techniques of the ancient societies, the next natural progression for body decoration was creating jewelry in metals such as gold, silver, bronze, copper, iron. In Ireland, which was ruled by the Celts for thousands of years during the Bronze and Iron Ages, innumerable examples of this early jewelry still survives. Adornment and pieces of aesthetic beauty were vitally important to them. The Celts were master craftsmen, creating exquisite and intricate pieces that can be admired in museums across Ireland, the UK and parts of mainland Europe to this day. It is believed that the more elaborate the piece, the more powerful the person. During the reign of the Celts, there was little difference between the jewelry worn by men and women. While, the metal used said a lot about your social standing. Gold and silver, being less common, more brilliant, and more difficult to craft, was generally reserved for the most noble and wealthy chieftains, while lesser members of Celtic society settled for bronze, copper and iron.
Celtic jewelry was very distinct and unique and includes pieces far removed from anything we wear today. Only of the most common pieces was the famous Celtic Torc. It consisted of a neck ring that was unclosed, forming an almost complete circle with the open section worn at the front of the neck. Another common piece of jewelry for men and women was the lunula, worn around the neck but much larger than the Torc. It formed a crescent shape, with the narrow ends sitting at the back of the neck. The Celts were also fond of brooches, again much larger than the kind we’re familiar with these days. They are thought to have been fastened their cloaks at the front shoulder.
Middle Age Men’s Jewelry
During the middle ages, some differentiation emerged between men and women’s jewelry. In an increasingly hierarchical society, men became seen as superior to women and exclusively held positions of power (the only exception being royalty, where family ties occasionally won out over gender). Crowns, septres, special brooches and other items were used to define particular roles in societies and countries. The more jewelry an individual could wear, the better. For men, rings were particularly important as they were a way of identifying your allegiances. They often came emblazoned with the symbol or crest of a particular family, used for sealing envelopes or were proudly displayed during social occasions to declare their loyalties publicly.
In the middle ages, we see men’s jewelry become more stylized. Gems and colored stones were used for the first time and design and fashion became increasingly important. Jewels were added to everything, from rings, belts and collars to pins, brooches, headpieces, cufflinks, tie pins, and buckles. With increasing trade between nations and continents, more exotic materials and gemstones became available from far off lands. Naturally these were reserved exclusively for the richest members of society. Again, the upper classes also wore the most gold and silver, while the lower classes had to content themselves with their poorer relatives of pewter, bronze or copper.
Early Modern Men’s Jewelry
From the 17th century onwards, jewelry making techniques became ever more advanced, with ever more beautiful and elaborate results. Gems were cut instead of just polished for added sparkle. The fashion for dark fabrics – particularly with men – meant that all jewelry accessories had to be dazzling. Botanics and bow designs became enormously popular, adding to the opulence of pieces from this era. A wider range of gemstones were used, or if not gemstones, polished enamel with highly detailed artistic depictions of various engravings – animals, family crests, portraits. It appears jewelry designers of the time were also looking back at past eras for inspiration borrowing styles from the ancient Greeks, Romans or Egyptians. They also took inspiration from other eras such as Renaissance art and, of course, the every popular subject of the natural world.
Around this time the industrial revolution was taking place, making jewelry more affordable and accessible to all classes. While at first this was celebrated, with time more and more people came to dislike the homogenous styles and fashions, craving something unique. And so hand crafted pieces became popular again, at first with the upper classes and gradually filtering down as improved working conditions gave people more disposable income. From 1900 onwards, jewelry designers had cast off their usual habits of looking to times gone by for inspiration and instead focused on creating modern, never before seen styles using geometric patterns or influences from the far east.
Men’s Jewelry Fashions
Just like women’s fashion, men’s fashion is ever changing, although perhaps the specific styles of dress don’t change quite so rapidly as women’s fashion. There have, however, been many changes in jewelry wearing habits for men across the centuries. In the late 16th century to the end of the 17th, it was customary for men to wear a single earring on one ear. These would usually be a drop style earring rather than a stud. As fashion in men’s clothing changed, so too did their taste in jewelry. In many cases, men’s jewelry was practical as well as decorative. For example, elaborately folded cravats needed a pin to keep everything in place; hence the introduction of the tie pin. Watch chains came about when the fashion for big voluminous trousers changed to skin-tight pantaloons, and there was no folds or pockets in which to store a timepiece. Cufflinks too served to keep sleeves closed as well as keeping attire tidy and polished!
Embellished weapons, while not exactly practical, were wildly popular from the middle ages right up until the 19th century. The weapons transitioned from elaborate sword hilts to less deadly devices such as pocket knives! In the 20th century, when office work became more and more mainstream, wrist watches became the most popular form of men’s jewelry. In the 1940s and 1950s in post-war North America, luxury watches emerged, creating a huge industry that is still booming. These days, the type of jewelry most popular with men includes cufflinks, tie pins, rings and pendants.
Looking back, styles and fashions over the ages have been incredibly varied and depended on the place, age and personal style. And so, it seems that the recent growth in popularity of Men’s jewelry is not reserved to our modern society but rather a revival of adornment for all genders.
Try our Award Winning handcrafted Contemporary Men’s Handcrafted Jewelry Collection or feel free to contact us directly to create your unique piece of Men’s Jewelry