Should gentlemen wear jewellery?

The author of a new coffee-table tome speaks in praise of masculine adornment

Images courtesy of Andy Barnham. Above: dress set made in the Fabergé tradition by Theo Fennell

“It is a rare CEO or hedge-fund tycoon who doesn’t wear a wristful of friendship bracelets that demonstrate a life outside finance,” writes James Sherwood, the style journalist and author of Jewelry for Gentlemen.

His publication is the first to be dedicated to this otherwise neglected subject. Jewelry for Gentleman is a treasure trove of contemporary designers, its pages furnished with exquisite close-up photography tempting its readers to don lavish jewels.

Historically, men of power have always draped themselves with finery – picture an Egyptian Pharaoh covered in precious metals and minerals, a 20th-century Indian Maharaja heavy with Cartier diamonds or Henry VIII as painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, complete with a medallion and rings full of gemstones.

Ring by Gemfields

Though Sherwood uses royals as his starting point, he nods to “young tastemakers” including Pharrell Williams, David Beckham, Jared Leto and Alexander Skarsgård, whose appearances wearing diamond studs and lapel pins on the red carpet have stylishly reinvented what it means to be a man in jewels.

“Men are getting bolder and there’s a new level of peacockery that’s rather satisfying,” says Theo Fennell, who established his jewellery business in 1982.

It is a man with a certain chutzpah who might be attracted to Fennell’s vibrant colours and motifs of crosses, keys, skulls and bees. His collection includes a ring holding a portrait of Oscar Wilde, surrounded by diamonds and motifs inspired by Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations of Salome; a diamond bracelet etched with the skyline of a client’s favourite cities; and, most extravagant of all, a series of jewelled, enamelled yellow-gold ‘Sic transit gloria mundi’ brooches depicting monarchs with their faces carved as mammoth bone skulls.

Ring by Wright & Teague

For a more cautious gentleman, Wright & Teague may be the answer. The husband-wife duo now based in London’s Spitalfields are sparing with gemstones, preferring to work their metal into unusual shapes, and using texture and lyrical inscription to create their distinctive pieces. 

Sherwood notes that Julius Caesar, Pope Paul II, Emperor Napoleon I and JP Morgan “all amassed famous collections of carved gemstone rings”. His delightful collection of modern-day sparkles may just entice a self-declared ‘gentleman’ to do the same.

‘Jewelry for Gentlemen’ (£25.95, Thames & Hudson) is out on 30 August.

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