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Dashing Adornments For The Modern Male(HKTDC Jewellery, Vol 01,2008)

Men's Jewellery

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More and more men are placing a premium on their appearance, with the inevitable result that men's jewellery is finally coming into its own

Gone are the days when jewellery was only worn by women and men contented themselves with a simple wedding ring or staid, old-fashioned tie pins and cufflinks.

Today eye-catching, flattering pieces specially designed to appeal to stylish, fashion-conscious men are being created by jewellery companies around the world in a determined bid to court the male market.

While traditional precious metals such as gold, platinum and silver are still in demand, a wave of new materials - titanium, stainless steel, tungsten, PVC rubber, leather and caoutchouc straps - have taken the men's market by storm.

European brands were among the first to recognise the emerging men's jewellery market, with minimalist Danish brand Georg Jensen introducing a hugely successful men's line of matt-finish sterling silver bangles, rings and pendants - the latter strung on stylish black leather cords - several years ago.

Swiss-based pearl company Golay followed with a daring collection of Tahitian pearl jewellery for men called 20 degrees South, a reference to Tahiti's geographical latitude.

The collection featured single, cultured black pearls in 9-10mm sizes combined with sterling silver and mounted on caoutchouc straps, with each piece containing a single Tahitian pearl and no other gemstones.

These new directions for men's jewellery are far more adventurous than traditional cufflinks and tie pins, which have been standard fare for men for decades.

"Men have their own style now and we think this means the men's jewellery market has great potential," says Bernard Ning, Director of Tico Jewelry Ltd, a Hong Kong company which specialises in jewellery for men.

Established in 2002, the company creates a new theme for its collections every year and is emphasising the combination of titanium and stainless steel for 2008.

Tico Jewelry prides itself on its metallic cyber-style designs, some of which employ black ceramic or black, coffee brown or gold ion plating for a two-tone effect. Onyx, citrine and topaz, along with diamonds, are among the most popular men's jewellery gemstones.

The company's jewellery is designed for men from 25-40 years of age, with the firm producing about 30,000 pieces per month at prices from US$5-100 FOB Hong Kong.

Rings and cufflinks are the company's major strength, although pendants, bangles and bracelets are also available, some in matched sets. "Our style is Western, more Italian-style, but we have some Asian elements too," Mr Ning explains. "We might engrave some Chinese words or the shape of a dragon or a phoenix."

Europe and the US may tend to set the design pace for men's jewellery, but Hong Kong designers are able to absorb these trends while retaining their own sense of style, says Lawrence Ma, Chairman of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council's Hong Kong International Jewellery Show Fair Organising Committee. "Japan also has a bearing on Hong Kong designs, especially in jewellery for those in their 30s and younger," Mr Ma adds.

Rugged, masculine designs are not necessarily the only template for men's jewellery. "In Europe, it's more about being stylish and in China a diamond ring for men is about wealth and status," Mr Ma observes. "I think a lot of men want jewellery that's not too feminine or masculine - something that's simple and tasteful."

Men's jewellery currently accounts for less than 10% of total jewellery sales worldwide, but Mr Ma believes that figure is likely to "double within two or three years".

He notes that the market's current segmentation is based largely on age, with trendy styles and affordability important for men in their 30s and younger.

"Between ages 30 to 50, price is not that much of an issue, so men will look at the materials, the colour and the type of jewellery to see if it's what they like," Mr Ma believes.

"Men over 50 probably want something more classic and long-lasting, like gold or platinum. "He predicts that men of all ages will be willing to experiment more with jewellery in the future.

"As time goes by, younger men who are wearing jewellery now will get older, and older men who are conservative about jewellery today will want to look younger," Mr Ma predicts.

"I also expect that a wider variety of gemstones and colours will be seen in men's jewellery, not just tried-and-true stones like onyx, turquoise and lapis lazuli."

Hong Kong's Joyfair Enterprises Ltd has found a successful niche with stainless steel jewellery for men aged under-40, manufacturing bracelets, rings, bangles, money clips, key chains and pendants. "Before jewellery, we made stainless steel watch bands so we had the skill to work with stainless steel," says Director Charley Ng.

The hottest looks from the OEM firm have been cable and chain-link designs, accented with black rubber. "Our jewellery can be worn any place," Mr Ng declares. "It can be worn all day or to a party."

With prices below US$5 FOB Hong Kong per piece, cost is a driving factor in the company's sales. "Gold prices are high and even silver is going up," Mr Ng observes. "Stainless steel costs half as much as silver and it doesn't tarnish or change colour."

One Hong Kong company that eschews the metrosexual male and works with precious metals and high-quality gemstones is Cheng & Cheung Co (HK) Ltd.

The company's classic 14K and 18K gold or platinum cufflinks and tie pins are set with diamonds and other gemstones, including lapis lazuli, onyx and mother-of-pearl.

"Our customers are gentlemen over 40 years of age who want traditional jewellery but with a modern, updated look," says Managing Director Edward Cheung. "They are men who have achieved a certain position in society and who wear jewellery as a mark of status rather than fashion."

Unit-priced from US$1,000-5,000 FOB Hong Kong, Cheng & Cheung's best-selling designs are simple and elegant, featuring gold and diamonds.

The firm also manufactures men's bracelets and rings, in matching sets if requested, and exports to diverse markets including Europe, Russia, China and the Middle East.

Cufflinks, in fact, are making a strong comeback among all ages. "Male consumers are pursuing a grand and elegant dressing style," maintains Addy Wong, Chairman of the Hong Kong Jewelry Manufacturers' Association.

"Cufflinks are once again popular and one of the essential accessories for creating a sophisticated image."

At British-based Links of London, the strategy is to appeal both to mature executives with classic cufflinks and younger men with trendy sterling silver and 18K gold jewellery.

The company's new Rogue Collection of casual sterling silver jewellery, which utilises an animal tusk design motif, includes plain rectangular pendants that also offer personalised engraving possibilities.

"Our sales of men's jewellery have doubled in the last two years and we're going to do more collections in the future," declares Public Relations and Marketing Manager Annie Lai, noting that most of those who buy rings, pendants, bracelets and necklaces from the Rogue Collection are younger men who prefer international jewellery styles.

Many in the industry say that unisex jewellery offers another avenue for attracting men into wearing jewellery, especially if a boyfriend and girlfriend buy the same item as a couple.

"Once men get used to wearing jewellery, they can't do without it," concludes Lawrence Ma. "If my wife gave me a diamond ring, I would be proud to wear it."

TEXT BY ANDREA PAWYLNA