At the very mention of the words “male jewelry,” scary images come to mind: super loaded pizzeria owner, rings gleaming on fat fingers, shirt open down to here, gold chain nestling in a dense forest of dark chest hair.
But you could also imagine a turbo-tanned pimp on Hamburg’s red-light district, or German reality-show star Robert Geiss (think Jersey Shore but with a German nouveau-riche family moving to Monaco). Whatever image you choose, you’re into the total turn-off vibe male jewelry can conjure up.
But that also means that many stylish men turn away from considering the idea of wearing even the most discreet gold adornment. And as a male fashion critic, how can I write male jewelry off without ever having worn any?
The real question is what kind of jewelry. I’m not a rocker type, which means that the whole Heavy Metal category of silver jewelry is out. On the other hand, the Karl Lagerfeld thing – a major offensive combining silver Chrome Hearts (the American luxury brand created by motorcycle buff Richard Stark) pieces with diamond-studded vintage jewelry -- also doesn’t do it for me. Nor does rapper bling.
But I’m not giving up -- so I take myself off to a high-end purveyor: the Berlin branch of French jeweler Cartier.
The operative rule as regards male jewelry has always been that, cuff links and watches (and black tie studs, and perhaps a tie bar) aside, it is quite simply not the done thing. As a consequence, any man with a taste for a little more personal adornment ended up focusing that taste on his watch – and watches became larger, heavily charged, and flashy. Faced with watches like that, to say today that men can’t wear jewelry borders on the ridiculous.
So all that’s missing, really, are the right role models. How else is a man to know just how much or how little jewelry to wear? When a recognized authority like Carine Roitfeld, the former editor in chief of French Vogue, says that she finds men who wear jewelry sexy, it has to be possible to pull it off without looking like a grade-A idiot.
The best model for how gold jewelry can look good on a guy may well be the French 1970s style, half bourgeois, half disreputable (which is how Roitfeld describes herself).
Worn discreetly, in the very best of cases it may come across the way it did on the young Alain Delon, the French actor. In Purple Noon (1960), he wears a gold chain with cross pendant, and in private photographs of the actor from the 1970s he’s seen wearing a Cartier Trinity ring on his pinky finger.
Cartier knows a trend in the making when they see one, and this year revived two jewelry lines from the ‘70s by deceased designer Aldo Cipullo. One of these is the Love Bracelet, which comes with a special screwdriver to close it -- and with designer Tom Ford wearing it, it has become a sought-after piece of male jewelry.
I try on the pavé diamond version of the bracelet (cost: €35,000, or $45,000), and it makes me look less like a rapper than I would have thought. In fact, wearing it in Monaco I’d still seem almost underdressed, although I wouldn’t dare wear it on the streets of Berlin.
Cartier lets me take the gold version of the Love Bracelet and another Cipullo bracelet from the "Juste un clou" line home for a test trial over the weekend. The latter is shaped like a bent nail, and looks better on the wrist than I would have thought. It also doesn’t scream “Cartier” as loudly as the Love Bracelet. It just sort of twists naturally around my wrist and is unexpectedly comfortable. It’s what you would call a “grower” in American fashion slang: it gets ever better with time.
Some of my women friends recognize the design, but the most recognition comes from other men: they notice the bracelet immediately and the fact that it’s gold interests them less than that they find the design cool. But what makes all my prejudices finally melt definitively is bringing the bracelets back to Cartier on Monday -- when I realize just how the “Juste un clou” bracelet has actually come to feel like it’s part of me.