Man Metal

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We take a look at the revolution in the male jewellery market.

Real men don’t wear jewellery, or do they? As the market evolves, Kat Slowe looks at the latest trends for guys and asks whether there is an increasing acceptance among men towards wearing these modern accessories.

"We sell to heterosexual people, homosexual people, metrosexual people. So many different types of people are buying our jewellery,” says Thomas Sabo UK managing director Harald Winzer.

Thomas Sabo is by no means the only name to recognise the lucrative opportunities existing in the male jewellery market. Other brands with male jewellery lines – both recently introduced and of long standing – include Links of London, Babette Wasserman, Hot Diamonds, Ole Lynggaard, Montblanc and even Vivienne Westwood.

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Yet, though not alone in producing men’s pieces, Thomas Sabo remains one of the ten largest jewellery companies in the world, operating in 42 countries. The biggest market for the company is in Germany, but the second is the UK, where it already employs 200 people and is seeking to become the number one jewellery brand. Thomas Sabo doubled its business here over the past year, but Winzer says it is seeking to grown another 40 to 50 percent by Summer, 2011.

The brand launched its first unisex jewellery line three years ago. Since the original collection was introduced, it has brought skulls, horse shoes, pirates and a number of other jewellery themes to the market. The unisex line has proved a huge success, with sales over double original expectations. The company’s latest A/W collection on the theme of cowboys was taken on a road show last month, where feedback was described as ‘very positive’.

Due to the line’s unisex label, it is not always easy to identify what percentage of the range is bought by men, by women or by women buying for men. But, Winzer believes that still only around 20 percent of the range is bought by guys buying jewellery for themselves.

“Men’s jewellery will never become as big as women’s jewellery,” Winzer admits. “We are selling twice as much unisex as we had planned, but of course women’s jewellery is always going to be more sexy and popular. Yet, I think we are by far the biggest player globally for men’s jewellery.”

According to the managing director, the type of customer that Thomas Sabo attracts does not fit within a single, defined sector – other than that they will be ‘fashion-orientated people with disposable income.’

“There are many people who won’t wear gold jewellery, but will wear Thomas Sabo,” he explains.

“When women are buying their jewellery, we always try to take care of the men and show them around. We sold a bulls head on a chain to a 72 year old in Liverpool. He was wearing it. He went out of the shop and he was so proud.”

Thomas Sabo recently had a huge party to celebrate its new collection, which it controversially held at St. Mark’s Church in Mayfair, London. Attendees included Madonna’s boyfriend, Jesus Luz, rock chick Coco Summer and F1 driver Nico Rosberg.

In February, 2011, the company will be launching its next watch collection and will hold another evening party, this time with 1500 guests. The publicity is obviously working, but Winzer is still keen to emphasise to jewellery retailers the benefits of carrying a male line. The general manager considers UK jewellers have gradually been getting more up to date in this and other areas since he first arrived in the country, though there is still progress to be made.

“When I first came here, I thought ‘oh my god, there are so many old fashioned jewellery shops and they are very outdated,’” he admits.

“I think that over the past few years that has completely changed. When we put our jewellery into independent jewellers, we sell so much more. And they are selling men’s jewellery. These people are stocking this jewellery and it is working for them.”

Thomas Sabo also recognises the importance of not undermining its retailers or devaluing its jewellery by saturating the market with its products. For this reason, it is careful with the number of retailers it chooses to stock its jewellery. The brand currently has nine stores in the UK and Ireland, and 18 ‘shop-in-shops’, but it will open two more standalone stores and five more ‘shop-in-shops’ by October, 2010.

“If they buy into our brand and they invest into men’s jewellery, we want to protect them,” Winzer says. “If you overdo it, you will lose in the short term and the long term. Mr. Sabo is not a greedy man.”

He may not be greedy, but he obviously sees there is a profit to be made in men’s jewellery and there are a number of other brands who seem to follow with this belief, while holding slightly different interpretations of where the greatest demand lies.

It still appears pretty clear that the average man on the street doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable wearing the pieces making the rounds on the celebrity circuit, where sports role models such as David Beckham or more recently Lewis Hamilton, have been spotted wearing a number of items of jewellery, including earrings.

Ole Lynggaard public relations and communications manager Pernille Møbjerg Knudsen says: “Yes, we have experienced a growth in men’s jewellery, but we still believe that it not about being too ‘over the top’. It is about jewellery that is genuine and provides a ‘touch’ to the personal style, rather than being flashy."

This does not mean that all men’s jewellery has to be understated. While, traditionally, many men have spurned the more obvious accessories as being unmanly, there are those in the industry who believe bolder jewellery statements for men are beginning to come to the fore. This movement involves the introduction of a wider range of ‘macho’ pieces, as opposed to bling, but could act to make the wearing of male jewellery more mainstream.

Babette Wasserman Jewellery founder and managing director Babette Wasserman believes more extreme statements are becoming increasingly acceptable for men. She says: “Men seem to be becoming braver in what they wish to wear. They are wearing bolder watches and this boldness is seeping through into the jewellery industry too.”

She adds: “Mechanical designs and our mathematically themed cufflinks are flying out and proving to be the bestsellers of the season. It’s a combination of sleek and bold. We are using lots of carbon, steel and stone inlays in our current men’s designs.”

The attraction of the mechanical to men is a recurring theme. Speaking at the Company of Master Jeweller’s recent buying meeting in Birmingham, Pranda UK sales director of jewellery David Wood-Smith claims the company has also seen a growth in demand for men’s jewellery. A manufacturer and distributor, Pranda’s own brand offerings include male ranges Caï Men and Baldessarini

Wood-Smith says: “Even though it is still a small section of the market, it is a growing section. Men are buying statement pieces, individual pieces they might be wearing all the time. We are doing very well with bracelets, possibly even better than pendants. The quality and finish has to be done just right though. Men seem to be a bit more picky than women. They also like anything mechanical, such as clever clasps.”

Hot Diamonds has been doing its own industry analysis. It recently commissioned a trend study out of Brooklyn, which identified that the market is moving away from androgyny and towards more masculine jewellery, described as ‘men’s jewellery for men’. The report identified some key trends, such as the urban woodsman, gothic and lyrical prep, but Hot Diamonds considered the more macho image was the one to go for.

This decision has caused the company to undertake a ‘complete 360’ from its previous men’s styles, leading it to introduce a collection composed of oxidised silver and leather cords, which is based on shrapnel from a warzone. In keeping with a belief that men are seeking a more ‘aged, worn look,’ it is using black, as opposed to white diamonds, and producing items that are based more on metal than flashing gems.

“The reaction we have is that men who wouldn’t usually wear jewellery don’t feel threatened by it, Hot Diamonds creative director Julie Large says. “It seems to fit in with their style – it almost doesn’t feel like they are wearing jewellery and it is a bit more approachable for them. Traditionally men wear a watch or a wedding ring, but your normal man isn’t necessarily going to wear lots of bling. This gives them an opportunity to wear jewellery, without it being so obvious.”

This more masculine approach so far seems to be proving successful for the company, which claims retailers have been clamouring for the manly styles. This increase in demand has been particularly noticeable, Large states, over the past few months, with men’s jewellery now apparently making up 11 percent of the total jewellery share.

“The men’s jewellery has previously been quite feminine in its styling and appeal,” Large says. “But, every retailer that we meet at the moment is just asking for men’s jewellery.”

Yet, despite this boom, the figures still show that is still mainly the wives and girlfriends who are doing the purchasing, with men only really procuring jewellery themselves when they are online or buying cufflinks, usually as they shop for clothes.

All of this evidence suggests that while bold, masculine jewellery may presently be enjoying a surge, the number of men bold enough in their masculinity to buy it, is growing at a far slower pace.

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