After all these years, I think you’ve gathered that I’ve always had a magpie’s eye for jewellery. Over the years I’ve progressed from writing about fine jewellery in the FT and the old International Herald Tribune to styling the pictures in my next Thames & Hudson book Jewellery for Gentlemen. Though the book isn’t published until 2018, gentlemen’s jewellery has somewhat taken over my thoughts.
In recent months I have been choosing an edit of men’s jewellery with the best of British designers for The Wedding Gallery at No 1 Marylebone. Both the book and The Wedding Gallery have confirmed a thought in the back of my mind that men’s jewellery is at the same position as Savile Row ten years ago when I weighed in to promote and protect a craft I believed in and still do.
The momentum gathering behind men’s jewellery is strong. I only have to look at the now-ubiquitous tattoos on the streets of London to understand that there’s a desire for individual embellishment. Whereas a tattoo is ostensibly for life, a piece or pieces of jewellery can express personality but crucially can also be removed. No emotion lasts forever and our tastes evolve. This is the main reason I never had a motif inked on my skin.
Researching Jewellery for Gentlemen taught me a lot. I have always been a servant to what I perceive to be good taste. This in itself is an extreme statement. I would think nothing of wearing a baroque pearl, diamond and ruby butterfly pin from the late Victorian era with a City suit but I would never wear a fist-full of rings.
I’m all for the single piece of jewellery but have come to appreciate the men who can wear rings, earrings, pendants and bracelets with an edgy informality. I’m thinking of Brazilian jeweller Ara Vartanian, David Yurman creative director Evan Yurman, Shaun Leane, Bespoke Banter founder Scott Wimsett, model Lucky Blue Smith and F1 idol Lewis Hamilton.
The difference between these guys and the silver rock ‘n roll dudes or heavy metal Hip Hop gangstas is a sophistication in the choice and combination of pieces. What we’re seeing is the death of obnoxious bling. There is something so elegant about Ara wearing a pendant half-set with black diamond beads or Scott wearing a heavy 19th century yellow gold fob watch chain as a necklace. Shaun can wear one of his pavé set diamond fender rings for day and it looks utterly right.
When I went to New York earlier this year to interview Evan Yurman we discovered a shared love of mixing it all up: an Ancient Roman silver intaglio ring, a Neo-Renaissance carnelian signet ring, a mid-Century David Webb cufflink and a contemporary David Yurman meteorite pendant.
I will never pile it on but have of late taken to wearing my grandfather’s rose gold fob watch chain as a double-link bracelet and never leaving the house without setting a jewelled gold stick pin in my lapel. A lot of my writing has been about learning from the past and I believe antique men’s jewellery deserves a place in the mix if worn with a new point of view.
Can’t even look at a fine jewellery collection now without thinking how best to adapt pieces for a man’s wardrobe. Thus was the case at the Cartier exhibition a couple of weeks ago when I spotted a diamond, onyx and emerald Panthère brooch/pin that absolutely belongs on a grosgrain peak lapel of a dinner jacket.
As a journalist then an author and curator, I suppose promotion and preservation were the underlying results of all the work. I suppose I have sold myself indirectly but have never taken an idea and turned it into business selling something tangible. Well that’s about to change.
Doing a business plan has been rather a stretch and certainly concentrates the mind on commerciality which is not, as it turns out, a dirty word. Working with The Wedding Gallery has in many respects been a masterclass in business. I’ve never had to think about units and gross and profit margins before but it’s high time that I did.
Granted the people who make Bond villain money sell commodities that the world needs rather than the elite wants: petroleum, pharmaceuticals, orange juice cartons, moisturiser, whatever. Either that or they provide addictive tech that people lived perfectly well without for thousands of years.
Does the world need jewellery for gentlemen? I would surmise that in an increasingly virtual world, commodities in precious metal and gemstones might well become more trusted than Bitcoin. Jewels are what saved the Romanovs and the Indian Maharajas from abject poverty following disaster. Humans have a visceral connection to precious objects that dates back to the dawn of civilisation.
There has to be a revolt against fast fashion and bulimic mass consumerism where tat is hoovered up then emptied to make way for more. It is only sensible to buy infinitely less that will be yours for life and accrue value. In this respect, antique jewellery is a great investment. There is only a finite amount left ergo as the decades go by, it will increase in value.
I moved into the promotion of Savile Row when I recognised that global luxury brands were no less morally questionable than Primark. The million pound handbag or the billion pound villa in the South of France make me distinctly queazy. Financially the world is so out of kilter that bitterness and resentment on a global scale reigns.
The concept of Britain being a nation of shopkeepers appeals to me and I’d like to contribute to that economy not the world where men who juggle finance like a card sharp on a Harlem street corner inherit the earth.