It was at a dinner hosted by the shirting brand Turnbull & Asser at Mark’s Club in London earlier this year that I was first struck by the number of men, around 95 per cent of those assembled, who had decorated their fingers with trinket-like riches. While they clutched their tumblers of bourbon, the low-level lighting refracted as much from the array of precious metals around as it did from the cut glass in each hand.
Styled with a definite Alessandro Michele vibe (Gucci’s creative director wears one on nearly every finger), these rings were big and brazen – the perfect accessory for adding personality to the black-tie dress code. According to Ben Carr, a buyer at MatchesFashion, rings are “the next logical step forward in men’s accessories” – an evolution from the jazzy cufflinks that “men have been wearing for years”. Today, he says, “men are buying more rings than ever before”. The site’s buy has increased by 170 per cent in the past year and, increasingly, the multibrand business is seeing a surge in demand for more opulent styles, particularly those featuring stones.
Men’s cocktail rings are the toast of the town. Bulgari recently introduced a new B.Zero1 Rock range – a bolder interpretation of its bestselling ring collection, replete with stud-like details and black ceramic inlays that were inspired by hedonistic rock ’n’ rollers. While the collection is unisex, it’s been most popular with men “who love to dare”, says Lucia Silvestri, the maison’s creative director of jewellery. Smaller jewellers are also stepping up to cater to the demand. London label Duffy is mixing precious metals with pearlescent abalone shell for its psychedelic signets, Tom Wood offers weighty signets in onyx and tiger’s eye, and Emanuele Bicocchi’s curb-chain bands are reminiscent of those worn by Hollywood’s Italian mobsters.
Dolce & Gabbana has rings as audacious as its clothes. Gold stackable bands decorated with three-dimensional crosses and studded with rubies and diamonds, they look like something pulled from Henry VIII’s jewellery box, and are perfect for wearing on the pinkie. Meanwhile, Dover Street Market has a ring to suit any style: head there to find designs by The Great Frog, a brand whose signature motifs include Pirates of the Caribbean-style skull rings and which has collaborated with bands like Motörhead and Iron Maiden. Men make up some 45 per cent of its customer base, according to the brand’s creative director Reino Lehtonen-Riley; they buy them to “signify momentous occasions, much like getting a tattoo,” he says. “Men are natural show-offs. We’re all repressed peacocks, really.” Initially hand-carved from a lump of wax, each ring can take anything from one day to two months to create.
Castro Smith hand-carves his intricate rings with man-friendly motifs, the phoenix, dragons and flamingo heads engraved into signets studded with diamonds, or else chiselled to look like lumps of molten rock. “In that 2cm oval we can hide a lot of complexity,” says Smith, whose rings are also sold by Dover Street Market. “Men are going through a transition of wearing jewellery as a status symbol – they’re definitely getting bolder in their choices,” he says. “Men have so much more fluidity in what they wear today.”
It’s certainly true of 30-year-old menswear designer Scott Fraser Simpson, who wears myriad silver rings across his fingers. While his label offers contemporary versions of 1950s designs – think retro Italian knits, woollen donkey jackets and high-waisted, pleat-front trousers – he thinks the signet’s refashioning is down to the “1990s movement that has come back into fashion… Those big medallion coins are cool again.” In Simpson’s latest lookbook, the models, all twentysomethings, wear weighty gold rings and chunky signets with jet-black stones.
Lehtonen-Riley says that this booming market isn’t entirely new, however. “Sixty years ago, Ringo Starr garnered his nickname due to placing a few rings on his mitts back when it was only acceptable for a man to wear a wedding ring. Then, even a wristwatch was for the slightly more daring dandy.” He believes the flashy ring’s resurgence as the accessory of choice is down to the current economic and political climate. “In challenging times, people like to buy investment pieces, so we’re seeing a huge trend in gold. People like to treat themselves and support craftspeople,” he says. “You can have fun with your style and express your personality, views and allegiances [on your finger]. It’s like wearing your heart on your sleeve.”