The Collier de Patiala is one of Cartier’s most extraordinary creations. Crafted in 1928, it features 2,929 diamonds in five extravagant tiers, culminating in the magnificent, 234 carat De Beers yellow diamond. Its owner was the 37-year-old Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh, who, as was fashionable among India’s royals during the Art Deco era, transported his gems to be reset in Paris. Turns out, it’s precisely this period that inspired the latest, gender-neutral Boucheron high jewelry collection. In one image, a male model showcases an emerald and diamond pinky ring; in another, he sports a pavé diamond bow tie, one of several transformable unisex pieces.
“We always apply high jewelry sketches to images of women to imagine how pieces might be worn, and this time we did it on men too,” explains creative director Claire Choisne. “It was natural, elegant and gave more strength to certain designs. We realized the collection is genderless, like ranges such as Quatre or Jack de Boucheron, which are popular with male and female clientele.”
Choisne’s androgynous diamonds represent a new mood in jewelry for men. Though gemstones were prized by kings and rulers for centuries, by the late 20th century they’d become a men’s style sidenote. Liberace’s diamond-dusted showmanship gave way to ostentatious displays of wealth in the 1980s and ‘90s, when hip-hop stars and rappers popularized blinged-up chains and watches. Diamond stud earrings were ubiquitous among wealthy young sportsmen in the aughts, but had limited wider appeal.
In today’s gender-fluid fashion era, men’s fine jewelry is subtle and sophisticated—a marker of taste as much as a timepiece or bespoke suit. “As men’s fashion has become more experimental, there’s more freedom of expression for male adornment,” says British jeweler Shaun Leane, whose pavé diamond Talon earrings and interlocking rings are his most popular designs among gentlemen. “For my male collectors, it’s not about scale; it’s about execution, longevity and chic design. They want pieces that incorporate gold, diamonds and gemstones in an understated way.”
Celebrities have led the move towards more rarefied bling. At last year’s Oscars, Timothee Chalamet embraced high-low dressing by pinning a vintage Cartier brooch to his Prada bomber jacket. At the Golden Globes, Ansel Elgort paired his Tom Ford suit with a diamond butterfly by Tiffany & Co, while at the Grammys this March, the only thing more dazzling than host Trevor Noah’s grin was his gold, platinum and diamond Schlumberger Apollo brooch, also by the American jeweler. Antonio Banderas, John Legend, Alexander Skarsgard and Jason Moma have also all demonstrated the suave appeal of a diamond-studded pin on the red carpet. Broad-framed and unshaven, nobody could describe Moma as effeminate, despite the Cartier diamonds on his lapel.
For a more pared-back route than colorless stones, black, brown and cognac diamonds are more complementary to the typical male wardrobe. Fernando Jorge sets cognac diamonds in curves of gold in his newest men’s pieces. “The appeal of diamonds goes way beyond their sparkle. They are incredibly hard and virtually indestructible; qualities that resonate with feminine and masculine audiences,” he says.
Leane is also drawn to cognac stones. “One of my favorite commissions for a man was an eight-carat pear shape cognac diamond set with black diamond pavé. The clean, strong lines of the design and subtle colour meant he could wear a beautiful, important stone with confidence and sophistication. I’ve been trying to source a similar diamond for myself but to no avail; it was so rare.”
Jorge and Leane are among the designers to feature in the men’s fine jewelry edit at Matches Fashion, which launched for autumn/winter 2020. “The reaction has been fantastic,” says Head of Menswear Damien Paul. “A piece of fine jewelry instantly elevates a casual look. Many men layer diamonds with wood or beads; they express themselves through these finishing touches.”
Paul points to Le Gramme’s brushed gold ring, its inner circumference set with baguette-cut stones, a discreet way for men to wear diamonds every day. Stephen Webster, who launched his first men’s collection in 1999, also notes the appeal of baguettes. “The linear, Art Deco look is immediately more masculine,” says Webster, adding that his younger clients like layering yellow-gold ‘everyday’ jewels embedded with a single diamond. “Adding a diamond makes a piece more precious, special and desirable. Men are drawn to that.”
Male celebrities have pushed the boundaries further by wearing pieces usually reserved for their female co-stars. At 2019’s Met Gala, Nick Jonas almost out-dazzled his wife in over 100 carats of Chopard diamonds. The king of red-carpet bling, at the 2020 Golden Globes nobody could describe Billy Porter as understated in a 40-carat Tiffany diamond necklace and brooch, or a diamond rivière necklace and 20-carat yellow-diamond Oscar Heyman cocktail ring for the Vanity Fair Oscars after party in 2019. That same year, Pharrell layered an elegant diamond and gemstone Jacob & Co necklace over his crisp white shirt; a world away from his gargantuan, glittering chains of the noughties.
“I no longer differentiate between jewelry for men and women,” says Brazilian designer Ara Vartanian, whose Mayfair man-cave/showroom is all exposed concrete, rare whisky and vintage vinyl. He styles diamond-tipped, brushed-gold rings and black diamond necklaces with leather jackets and jeans. “Men are wearing delicate necklaces, earrings and rings that were technically designed for women and they’re looking great.”
Vartanian has also noticed increased demand for diamond necklaces—especially in the form of extra-long chains—worn with t-shirts or tuxedos. Confirming this trend is Messika founder Valerie Messika, who in 2016 created a men’s version of her signature Move bracelet in graphite and black titanium. “Men aren’t afraid to wear diamonds every day; they see them as something personal to keep close to their skin,” she says. “They are often drawn towards pieces from the ‘female’ collections, wearing necklaces created for women. I’ve realized that there’s an appetite for more daring designs.”
It may be some time before Billy Porter-style diamond necklaces become commonplace, but lockdown has given men more time to experiment. “Twenty years ago, guys found it intimidating to look through bracelets, necklaces and rings,” recalls Webster of his pioneering Rayman collection. Back then it was unimaginable that he’d showcase jewelry to an all-male audience at a private villa, as he did last year. “Nowadays there’s space for them to experiment, way beyond the tribes of rappers, footballers or rock stars. Straight, gay, it doesn’t matter—you can incorporate diamonds however you want to, and that’s incredibly exciting.”