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The Evolution and Etiquette of Men's Jewelry

Updated on July 17, 2015


'Better a diamond with a flaw, than a pebble without', states an old Chinese proverb. The thought finds resonance with the Greek concept of hamartia.

Hamartia is also known as the ‘tragic flaw’ of a great person that is both his boon and his bane, thereby declaring that greatness cannot be perfect and yet it is worth striving for, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Ancient Cultures

Traditionally, across tribal society chieftains or Roman civilization leaders, greatness of stature and power was marked by pieces of jewelry, according to an article in The New York Times. In the most obvious sense, the crown that marks sovereignty is also an exquisite piece of jewelry. In societies where power was ascribed to physical prowess, the rarest of jewels remained the prerogative of the strongest of men. In the earliest forms these were made of shell trimmings, bones and stones and then with the development of mining, metals, especially gold came to symbolize power.

If jewelry was a marker of power, so were the finer arts. The men who held power also had the prerogative to dictate the arts of the time. This is why when we look at sculptures across the world, we find powerful men decked in precious jewels. From the funerary statues of the Pharaohs of Egypt with their gold headdresses to the Benin bronzes of West Africa depicting warriors adorned in gold, and the Native American bronzes depicting chieftains sporting strings of beads to the Gandhara sculptures depicting Bodhisattvas bedecked in regal jewels, all depict excellent craftsmanship patronized by men of power.

Add to this the Greco-Roman depictions of Dionysus/ Bacchus and you have a strong case to prove that art across the world bore witness to the fact that while aesthetics preferences differed, men across time wore jewels as talismans or to signify their social status.

Monarchy and Colonialism

When monarchy gave way to colonialism, countries that were rich in jewels and gold were targeted. Queen Victoria was not the only one to have adorned Asian diamonds at the time. Gregorian antiques are still in circulation in the auction markets! The engagement ring given by Napoleon Bonaparte to his would-be wife in 1796 was sold in March 2013 for more than $948,000 at an auction in France, according to an article in Forbes.

The Renaissance saw jewel encrusted buttons, fob watches, tie pins, cufflinks and brooches as some of the more practical forms of men's jewelry that were sported by noblemen, while the signet rings remained popular among the aristocracy. Over time, a more subtle taste in jewelry began to be appreciated as a marker of class.

Modern Times

There was a period of lull before men's jewelry would become popular in the West again. Colonialism had also left with it, a taste for western subtlety in the erstwhile colonies and the most men would be seen sporting on a usual day would be rings and a watch. Civil society did not call for external show of wealth by men, even though the rules remained pretty much unaltered for women. There was a slow comeback of men's jewelry in the West from the 1940s leading up to the 1990s where body jewelry came to be popularized by instituted brands.

Etiquette of Sporting Jewelry Today

Men's fashion has largely been codified by rules and this is especially true of wearing jewelry. It said that as a general rule, one should prefer to err on the side of understatement. When you wear a tie-pin, do not overcrowd the region with a lapel pin as well and if you choose to wear multiple rings, try stacking them on the same finger. Most of all, for men’s jewelry, you can follow the rule that “for men, the key is that they have meaning,” said an article in The Wall Street Journal. Tag necklaces, personalized bracelets and inscribed rings, all of which when received as gift, adds substance to a man's jewelry in this day and age.


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