The sharp-dressed conservative-styled man: Dark, subtle choices still on trend for men’s jewellery

By Stefan Juengling

Centuries ago, the wealthy and high-class men of society used to don themselves with ostentatious jewellery as a sign of status. But somewhere along the way a conservative ethos crept into men’s wardrobe restricting their jewellery choices to simply wedding rings and watches. Here, with input from eight major players in the Australian jewellery industry, we discuss the state of the modern man’s jewellery styling and the state of the Australian men’s jewellery industry.

Men’s jewellery sales boom throughout COVID recovery

For some of our contributors, COVID hit the men’s jewellery market significantly as lockdowns and crowd restrictions caused wedding delays which meant men’s wedding band orders had to be postponed. Fortunately 2021 has brought considerable success for the majority of them, with strong sales for both fashion and wedding jewellery.

Artifact is a New Zealand-based jeweller who specialises in making titanium and Damascus steel rings, and director Ted Daniels said that the lockdowns impacted his sales, but things have looked better since restrictions lifted.

“It has been good since our last lockdown and people are feeling more confident in planning their weddings now,” he said.

“We see a strong demand for anything with Damascus whether it is full Damascus or combined with titanium and or precious metals and custom rings.”

Chris Scanlan is director of Australian fine jewellery supplier RJ Scanlan & Co, and he said that their Dora wedding ring sales have been on the improve this year.

“It’s hard to compare the two years because of the COVID impact at this stage last year but we have launched new collections and they have been performing very well,” he said.

Another well-known and respected jewellery supplier is Palloys, and their sales manager for Livadi, Tolga Capanoglu, said the introductions of their men’s jewellery collection, Livadi, has netted them substantial increases in sales in this department.

“Livadi’s commitment rings and jewellery focus on quality craftsmanship and uses only ethically sourced materials,” he said.

He said gold and titanium have remained popular in men’s jewellery, but alternative metals are also on the rise, including Elysium and Meteorite.

A third supplier we spoke to was Peter W Beck, and national sales manager Greville Ingham said they have seen strong growth across all categories of men’s rings.

“Particularly we are seeing trends towards the striking darker metals like titanium and black zirconium, particularly in combination with gold and platinum,” he said.

“We are also seeing yellow gold becoming more popular again for men.”

Men’s jewellery and accessories wholesaler Cudworth Enterprises director Darren Roberts said both last year and this year had been positive with strong sales and increased support from the jewellery industry. He also reported casual jewellery such as leather and bead bracelets as being strong-selling categories of men’s jewellery.

Cudworth Enterprises celebrates 100 years of business in 2021 and have been the leading men’s jewellery wholesaler for a century.

Director of Victorian-based alternative metal jewellery company Etrnl Jamie Nadler said that he is seeing men purchase rings not just for wedding bands, but for everyday fashion as well.

For men’s watches, general manager of Australian watch manufacturer Adina Watches Grant Menzies reported that their men’s collection has been selling well, with strong interest across the range, but particularly their automatic models.

The modern man’s love for grey metal and multi-tone rings

Focusing on men’s rings, alternative metal and multi-tone rings appear to be highly popular with men this year. Jamie said that Etrnl’s range of tungsten rings continue to grow in popularity, with a rounded and bevelled finish being the most popular styles.

“I think these rings are popular because of the versatility of tungsten combined with the more subtle classic styling,” he said.

The customers at Artifact appear to favour a gold- as well as a grey-tone on their fingers with Ted reporting that their range of Damascus and their heart of gold rings – which are titanium on the outside and gold on the inside – have been selling well.

Master jeweller Glenn Curtis from Melbourne-based fine jewellery manufacturer Curtis Australia also attested to the popularity of two-tone rings, but also gem-set rings.

“Over the last decade there has been a major shift to two or even three tone gold men’s wedding rings – away from plain bands to more complex textured finishes,” he said.

For our suppliers, the tastes in men’s rings run the full gamut from precious metals to alternative metals, signet to full round. Cudworth only stock sterling silver and stainless steel rings, and Darren said these rings have been performing very well across all styles and colours (thanks to ion plating).

Greville said their team at Peter W Beck have seen two distinct trends emerge in men’s rings recently,

“We continue to see popularity with the traditional signet ring, often with personalised engraving added to the design,” he said.

“Secondly, we have seen a trend for multitone bands, particularly in gold and zirconium combinations.

“The ability for customisation of styles is another area of growth, whether that be simply choosing the metal combination or adding custom engraving.”

Chris said that while some men choose intricate and flamboyant styles, and often RJ Scanlan & Co receive customised orders, they’ve found men are very traditional in their choices, particularly for wedding bands.

“Generally speaking, women like things that sparkle and men like jewellery that enhance their masculinity, so metals that align with this principle will always find a place in the men’s market,” he said.

“Mixed metals are also a popular choice with many gents.”

Black diamonds and onyx the gems of choice for men’s rings

Men appear to like dark stones to match rings, with Chris, Ted, Krystal and Greville all touting black diamonds, and Krystal and Darren lauding onyx as being popular and appealing on men’s rings. Chris said that RJ Scanlan & Co are selling a lot of rings with black diamonds at the moment.

“When black diamonds are set in the right style and metal the effect is impressive,” he said.

At Palloys, Tolga said the majority of sales of ring designs with stones from their Livadi range contain either white or black diamonds.

“In saying this, we have received custom requests for emeralds and rubies, but onyx still remains a popular choice for signet rings,” she said.

Glenn has seen more variety in men’s gem choices, and he reported that garnets, rubies, sapphires and diamonds are all rising in popularity at Curtis Australia.

“Coloured sapphires allow a client even more choice, and shapes in favour include emerald cuts and ovals,” he said.

Peter W Beck has seen popularity with their black diamond and zirconium styles, according to Greville, especially when combined with gold to create a striking combination.

“The black diamonds also stand out in yellow or white gold styles,” he said.

Darren said Cudworth does well with onyx rings, however they tend to use carbon fibre and ion plating with their rings rather than stones.

“Cubic zirconia is also popular,” he said.

The subtle and conservative styled gentleman

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, in the past, men used to like showing off their wealth through their jewellery styling. Today, while we do have occasional outliers making extravagant jewellery statements such as Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, on the whole, men’s jewellery selection matches their clothing style: minimalist and conservative.

When probed on this, Greville agreed that men’s styles are generally more conservative, but said there are now departures towards bigger and bolder rings, and led by current popular style icons, there is far more show in men’s jewellery styles than in past decades.

“We observe men being more adventurous with their choice of wedding rings and now often choose titanium, zirconium, two and three tone products and diamonds,” he said.

“Older generations are showing more flair and willingness to show off a key jewellery piece, such as a ring, however they are still a little more conservative than the emerging younger demographic where we are seeing this as a stronger trend.”

Chris was also in concurrence on the conservative front, stating that men will often go for a traditional style of ring and then combine different finishes.

“Polished edges with satin centre for example,” he said.

The philosophy at Adina Watches has always been to produce watches that are relevant to current trends without making watches that will go out of fashion, according to Grant.

“Think James Bond: stylish and functional,” he said. “Ostentatious is not for us as a brand.”

At Curtis Australia, Glenn has found men’s jewellery needs to be more flexible and worn across different occasions, formal and casual, because men generally have fewer pieces they wear more often.

“Men’s jewellery designs are probably more conservative, but there will always be an exception,” he said.

“Most, but not all men prefer a calmer, more refined design, but occasionally we’ll create a ring that defies some of those ideas.”

At Palloys, Tolga said they recognise ring designs as being such a personal choice and so their recent Livadi release caters to every type and style of client, with ranges from the extremely simple, to complex, intricate designs.

“At Livadi, we are experiencing orders across all types of designs, so no, they are not primarily minimalistic,” he said.

Whereas at Etrnl, while there are ornate designs available, Jamie concedes that the majority of their customers opt for a more minimalist approach with black being the most popular ring colour on their website.

Ted admitted that since Artifact’s rings are titanium, they tend to be minimalistic just by virtue of titanium’s limitations as a metal.

Men’s preference in personal timekeeping

As mentioned earlier, watches join rings as one of the only jewellery pieces most men feel comfortable showcasing. So it would remiss of us not to examine how the modern man likes his watch.

Glenn has noticed the trend for two-tone gold rings has also moved into watches.

“Our two-tone solid gold watches are very popular, with designs that cross over from sports into classic, making watches easy to wear at any occasion,” he said.

He said leather straps seem to be more popular at the moment, however Curtis Australia offers gold and stainless steel two-tone bands as well. Whereas at Adina Watches, Grant said their strength is with bracelet watches, but admits that strapped divers are holding their own.

When it comes to dial styles, he said numbered dial watches continue to perform well.

“I remember years ago one our dial makers who has customers across the world rattled off a stat that Australia was the largest consumer of numbered dials per capita in the world,” he said.

In contrast, Glenn said that dial features do not appear to be important other than the ever-popular date function.

“With Curtis watches, our dial designs use a combination of sunray brushed and textured areas, with touches of reflectivity and fine detail to make an attractive and engaging dial.”

Taking advantage of Father’s Day

With Father’s Day approaching, there is a huge potential for the men’s jewellery market leading up to this event, and we asked our contributors how might the astute jeweller prepare for it.

As with any peak selling period, Grant said that to prepare for Father’s Day retailers need to be active both in store and on their socials with a consistent message.

“Father’s Day is one of our strongest selling periods with over 100 of our retailers nationally getting together each year to promote our Country Master Collection,” he said.

“This year we have gone a step further and rolled out sapphire crystals across our Country Master work watch collection which will again reset the bar in terms Adina having the toughest work watch collection.”

Tolga said that astute jewellers can implement several marketing and sales strategies to increase men’s jewellery sales for Father’s Day.

“We recommend the following: allocate a budget to run successful paid advertising; prepare a Father’s Day gift guide; run a promotion in store and online whether this be a sale or a competition; and include more active and longer lasting promotions of varying men’s jewellery in store to increase potential Father’s Day buyers,” he said.

Along a similar note, Jamie recommends jewellers could offer a discount or an extra incentive to purchase.

“Where possible offer some sort of personalisation, whether it is custom engraving or even a change in packaging or a card,” he said.

Continuing the theme of dark metals, Chris said the latest metal in the men’s jewellery market is tantalum: a natural dark metal with a nice weight similar to platinum, hard wearing and 100% hypoallergenic.

“(Plus) the price-point is very reasonable so I’d be recommending this metal as an option for men on Father’s Day,” he said.

For Greville and the team at Peter W Beck they’ve noticed that flexibility and customisation is what consumers are mostly looking for.

“By utilising product catalogues in partnership with designs on offer in-store, retailers are able to present their customer with a range of alternative designs to choose from. Paired with the offer of personalisation such as custom engraving, the customer has a tailored experience to find their unique Father’s Day gift,” he said.