This topic piqued our curiosity as to when did it stop being acceptable for men to wear fine jewels or jewellery. Turns out that for the most part male jewellery has had a place in history, however, jewellery standards have changed over time.
A brief history of male adornment
Although there is no definitive proof, academics believe that the practice of adorning the body began with products of nature – namely, flowers, leaves, branches, animal bones, and stones. The ancient Greeks are also known to have worn wreaths around their heads or garlands on their shoulders. With the discovery of metal and the advancing techniques of the ancient societies, the next natural progression for body decoration was creating jewellery in metals such as gold, silver, bronze, copper, and iron.
In Ireland, which was ruled by the Celts for thousands of years during the Bronze and Iron Ages (3000 BC to 300BC), innumerable examples of this early jewellery still survives. The Celts were master craftsmen, creating exquisite and intricate pieces that can be admired in museums across Ireland, the UK and parts of mainland Europe to this day. It is believed that the more elaborate the piece, the more powerful the person. During the reign of the Celts, there was little difference between the jewellery worn by men and women.
During the middle ages (5th – 15th century), some differentiation emerged between men and women’s jewellery. In an increasingly hierarchical society, men became seen as superior to women and exclusively held positions of power (the only exception being royalty, where family ties occasionally won out over gender). Crowns, sceptres, special brooches and other items were used to define particular roles in societies and countries. The more jewellery an individual could wear, the better.
Kings had rubies sewn into their clothes and ropes of pearls draped around their necks, showing off their wealth and power. Male jewellery was especially popular during the Renaissance (15 – 17th centuries), when men with earrings became a fashion trend. It was an age of conspicuous consumption, and nothing made the practice more visible than men's jewellery.
Just like women’s fashion, men’s fashion is ever changing, although perhaps the specific styles of dress don’t change quite so rapidly as women’s fashion. There have, however, been many changes in jewellery wearing habits for men across the centuries. In the late 16th century to the end of the 17th, it was customary for men to wear a single earring on one ear. These would usually be a drop style earring rather than a stud. As fashion in men’s clothing changed, so too did their taste in jewellery. In many cases, men’s jewellery was practical as well as decorative. For example, elaborately folded cravats needed a pin to keep everything in place, hence the introduction of the tie pin. Watch chains came about when the fashion for big voluminous trousers changed to skin-tight pantaloons, and there was no folds or pockets in which to store a timepiece. Cufflinks too served to keep sleeves closed as well as keeping attire tidy and polished!
Royalty donning jewellery and expensive clothes to impress didn't die out. A famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, shows him wearing coronation robes with a necklace that represents the Order of the Garter. The sceptre in his right hand represents ruling, and it's also a pretty fancy piece of jewellery. The Imperial State Crown, which contains the famous cushion cut, 317.4 carat Cullinan II diamond, sits on a table behind him.
Looking back, styles and fashions over the ages have been incredibly varied and depended on the place, age and personal style. And so, it seems that the recent growth in popularity of men’s jewellery is not reserved to our modern society but rather a revival of adornment for all genders. We think we can expect to see many more men donning jewellery and we plan to add men’s jewellery to the Covett platform in the coming months.