It’s only fair: in the past few years, women have stolen boyfriends’ jeans, watches and tuxedos, so we can’t blame men for grabbing a traditional female adornment – the brooch – in return. Worn on a jacket lapel in the evening, on the daytime tux, as seen at Dolce & Gabbana’s tailoring show in Milan, or – as Karl Lagerfeld does – on a wide silk tie or cravat, the carefully considered, perfectly positioned brooch takes on a whole new sophistication, masculinity and modernity.
Elton John often wears an opulent Chopard high-jewellery creation – a colossal South Sea pearl surrounded by pink sapphires and diamonds. David Beckham wears a discreet gem-set ship’s wheel or crown motif. But it is Pharrell Williams who set the seal on the man-brooch trend, when he stepped onto the red carpet at this year’s Oscars. Wearing top-to-toe Chanel – including a long, layered black and silver necklace and Pluie de Camélia brooch (price on request), fizzing with diamonds and pearls, from its fine-jewellery collection – he gave the brooch, often considered old-fashioned, staid and stately, instant style credibility. Our own Sharpener columnist, Tom Stubbs, who thought the look was “brilliant”, believes the brooch “could be a move to raise the black-tie formula a couple of notches while dropping the tie and pushing the evening envelope”.
Maybe the rise of men-in-brooches is part of today’s gender fluidity, but it seems the wider appeal lies more in its versatility and powers of expression. As a brooch doesn’t have to fit or sit on any particular body part, it gives designers the greatest freedom of all jewellery forms: they can let their imaginations run wild and serve up an endless feast of ornamental forms, materials, themes and motifs.
Dolce & Gabbana has drawn on 19th-century references and the traditional button to create a lapel jewel specifically for men – a cross between a brooch and a Victorian stick pin. It focuses on lusciously three-dimensional stylised flowers, one finely crafted in emeralds and diamonds (about £6,785), another in shades of orange and brown quartz, madera, smoky quartz and citrines. It’s a brooch that not only enables men to dip into the glamour of high jewellery – it also offers the opportunity to flaunt individual style and indulge in measured flamboyance or a touch of eccentricity.
At April’s Chaumet World event at the Rosewood hotel in Beijing, the Chinese “influencer” Zhang Yixing (known as Lay) showed how it’s done, wearing a naturalistic gold and diamond ear-of-wheat Moissons sous le Vent brooch (price on request) to dramatic effect. The Culachy collection by recently launched brand Jorie also looks to nature to make an impression. Its stag skull brooch (£19,950), composed of deer tusks – collected from founder Jorie Grassie’s estate and those of her neighbours in Scotland – and set in rose and yellow gold, with a smothering of diamonds, is satisfyingly masculine but unapologetically glamorous.
Adrian Sassoon, a dealer in contemporary art and antique porcelain, who represents the Italian artist-goldsmith Giovanni Corvaja, refers to the male brooch as lapel art. Corvaja agrees: “Art should not be limited to the home; a beautiful brooch can enliven a classic dinner jacket, converting it instantly to red‑carpet glamour. I enjoy working with metals of different colours to create movement, transparency and lightness in a piece that can look fabulous on a man or woman.” Corvaja’s masterful abstract compositions (Circular brooch, £44,500) of enamel and impossibly fine threads of gold, platinum, silver and other metals make just the right statement, combining contemporary conceptual art with awe-inspiring technique.
Designer-jeweller Cora Sheibani also takes an art-inspired conceptual approach, but with a childlike wit and charm that speaks volumes on a lapel. She recently sold a set of her stylised gold bird pins (from £300), a flock in flight, to a female client as a gift for her husband. Her Clouds with a Silver Lining would definitely appeal to men, especially the set of small, blackened-silver clouds (from £10,000) – either worn alone or as a trio – each dripping white diamond droplets.
The style and traditions of the lavishly bejewelled maharajahs live on in men’s jewellery in India, and there’s a distinctly romantic Indian flavour to the brooches trend. Sameer Lilani, director of UK, Middle East and Europe for Indian jeweller Amrapali, has observed more men buying and wearing brooches, and also women purchasing them as gifts for the men in their lives, especially as a replacement for the formal necktie. “Men are now more confident about wearing jewellery, and a brooch on a blazer lapel is a relatively subtle way to express individuality,” says Lilani. Amrapali’s contemporary Indian vibe, channelled through palm-shaped motifs, carved emeralds and misty, flat-cut so-called “polki” diamonds, works particularly well for men’s brooches (£16,500). The traditional turban ornament, with its upstanding feather motif, is, he says, the perfect shape for a lapel: it’s exotic, eye-catching and imperious – a conversation piece.
Brooches have also begun to creep back into major high-jewellery collections. Chanel’s marine-themed Flying Cloud collection, named after a yacht owned by Gabrielle Chanel’s lover the Duke of Westminster, boasts two man-friendly brooches (price on request): Summer Cruise, a rectangular diamond plaque with a sapphire stripe and a single yellow diamond “sun”, and the diamond-set Yachting Day, a more figurative design with a rope looped around an anchor and a sailor’s star-shaped tattoo. Meanwhile, in Chopard’s high-jewellery collection, designed in collaboration with Chinese couturier Guo Pei, a luscious sapphire- and ceramic-encrusted, titanium-set butterfly brooch (price on request) steals the show; a rhapsody in blue, it looks set to wing its way onto a red-carpet lapel.
Jewellers such as Alisa Moussaieff in London or Michelle Ong of Carnet in Hong Kong have a fervent belief in the beauty of the brooch. Of the growing popularity of styles worn on lapels and ties, Moussaieff says, “Skulls used to be all the rage, but now I find animals are popular, as well as geometric designs, pins with initials or emblems, like cars and boats – and, of course, single natural pearls or other precious stones”. She suggests a dynamic, stylised floral spray of aquamarines and diamonds or the Twist brooch (both price on request), which has carved rose-quartz leaves that twist to reveal either lavish rubellite cabochons or more restrained diamond petals.
Ong’s devoted clients include many men who collect her fantasy brooches (from £6,000) – dragons, flowers or floating clouds – as well as couples who share them. “I like the brooch for men in the right proportion and for the correct occasion – usually on the lapel, and slightly lower than for women,” she says. “I’ve created pieces in diamonds, and in multi-gemstones, that perfectly accessorise black-tie or fashion-forward evening attire.” Her recommendations include the Arabesque brooch (£150,000), its openwork swirls and curls traced in brown diamonds; the sculptural Bud (£26,000), referencing the classic flower buttonhole, pavéd in white and black diamonds, with an intense sapphire flower centre, set in white gold and titanium; or, for more discreet tastes, the art-deco-inspired diamond Tulip jabot pin (£150,000).
Among this vast and varied panoply of designs and motifs, a few themes stand out. Stylised flowers, for classic elegance, such as Van Cleef & Arpels’ Rose de Noël (from £14,200), in white or grey mother-of-pearl, or – new to the collection – carnelian and lapis lazuli. Insects and arachnids always seem both sharp and provocative: perhaps a vintage-looking diamond spider (SFr8,000, about £6,460) from Margaret, a private jeweller in Geneva, or the smooth, gold-carapaced, black-legged beetle (£8,500) that Shaun Leane wears on his jacket lapel. Other animals also stand out, especially those with charisma – see Van Cleef & Arpels’ L’Arche de Noé collection of pairs of creatures (price on request) – or talismanic pieces, such as Elizabeth Gage’s noble gold brooches (Archibald pin, £24,300), sometimes designed around an ancient animalier bronze. Finally, geometric forms: bold compositions such as Boucheron’s stunning black and white diamond Plissé brooch (price on request), a witty riff on the bow tie; or, combining two themes, the house’s Arctique brooch (price on request) featuring a polar bear lumbering along the top of an oblong of faceted rock crystal, framed in diamonds, which is cool enough to break the ice at any party.