INDUSTRY REACTS TO MEN'S GROWING APPETITE FOR BLING
By Tanika White
First he raided your grooming products. Then he usurped your aesthetician. And now, ladies, not even your jewelry box is safe.
Men are buying themselves bracelets, rings and pendant necklaces with increasing frequency, and wearing their bling with a confidence and flair heretofore unseen in the Western world, according to fashion experts and industry observers.
``From an industry perspective, men's jewelry has been one of the real stars of the last couple years,'' says Brian Nohe, president and chief operating officer of Spectore Corp., a jewelry manufacturer. ``Men are spending more time grooming themselves. That carries over into the men's jewelry market.''
So much so that insiders estimate the industry has seen a 20 percent growth in men's jewelry in the past few years.
Designers such as David Yurman with existing pieces of men's jewelry have started expanding their collections, and many manufacturers, most of whom have focused solely on women, have launched lines aimed at men for the first time.
I.B. Goodman. Konstantino. Nikos. Triton. Fibo Steel.
``In 2005, there must have been at least 20 new brands added in men's jewelry,'' says Jeff Prine, executive editor of Modern Jeweler magazine.
Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is the latest -- and one of the biggest names -- to join the fray, launching the Simmons Jewelry Co. Men's Collection in December.
The collection of bracelets, chains, pendants, rings and diamond earrings has an edgy, urban feel; pieces are made of alternative materials such as rubber and steel, and accented with hip-hop images, such as microphones and dice.
``It's really affordable, and it's really cool and fun,'' says Simmons, who is chairman of Simmons Jewelry Co., adding that the line is a natural counterpart to his wife Kimora Lee's line of glamorous jewelry for women. ``It really fits my masculine, male image.''
Already the brand is a favorite among the celebrity set. Sean ``Diddy'' Combs wears one of Simmons' rubber bracelets in his latest music video, ``Nasty Girl''; actor Adrien Brody wore one to the ``King Kong'' premiere.
Simmons says he knew the line -- sold at Macy's department stores for an average price of about $400 -- would take off. All the men he knows, he says, are big fans of jewelry.
But male-oriented jewelry isn't strictly for the diamonds-in-both-ears hip-hoppers or the fashion-experimental young.
From the ball court to the boardroom, men of all ages, lifestyles and income levels are finding themselves more inclined to throw on a little something shiny.
``There are different segmentations of men [buying jewelry]. Some men are more of the Ralph Lauren set, penny loafers and blue blazers,'' says Nohe, whose company is behind the new and popular Edward Mirell brand of men's jewelry. ``Then you have the Wall Street business types. It has really taken hold in all segments of the market.''
Kieselstein-Cord's ``Vero'' collection of Mexican Day of the Dead-inspired jewelry has caught the attention of such celebrities as Spike Lee and Jamie Foxx.
Athletes' and celebrities' obsession with ``ice'' and ``bling-bling'' filtered from the urban to the suburban market and created a demand for jewelry for the mainstream man, says Mary Moses Kinney, director of the Independent Jewelers Organization, which represents 850 independent jewelers in the United States and Canada.
``These super-masculine guys are saying, `Jewelry's cool, and I'll show you why, because I'll wear it.' So as a result, men are thinking, `Hey, it's OK for me to wear this.' ''
Even non-traditional jewelry manufacturers want in on the growth in this segment of the jewelry industry, they say.
Montblanc, for example, the renowned luxury pen maker, has recently expanded on the practical accessories it was offering for men (cuff links, key chains, money clips) to items made purely for style.
``It really started maybe two or three years ago,'' says Jan-Patrick Schmitz, president and chief executive of Montblanc, North America. ``It really changed rather noticeably. The brand evolved from a functional brand to style -- men's bracelets, rings and these sorts of things. Full-fledged men's jewelry.''
Interestingly, a lot of contemporary men's jewelry is functional, in that it does something other than gleam or complement an outfit.
Many of Simmons' pieces are movable. An abacus pendant has beads that slide back and forth. Dice pendants rotate.
And unlike women, who tend to be mainly interested in jewelry's ``pretty'' factor, men, as a whole, like to understand the things they buy.
``I think that this will actually help women,'' Moses Kinney says. ``What I think will happen is that men will develop a better comfort level about purchasing jewelry, and won't feel so intimidated by the whole jewelry-buying experience.''