In May, Evan Yurman climbed into the driver's seat of a 2007 Porsche GT3 and drove from New York City to New Orleans. The trip was a promotional tour Evan designs the men's collections for his father's jewelry company, David Yurmanbut it also turned out to be a source of inspiration. "It was a buckle trip for me," says Yurman, 25, of the trek that took him through Graceland. "There were old guys in buckles they may have won in a rodeo back in the '50s or '60s." Now the question is, Will men buckle up? For the past few years, the men's jewelry business has been touted as the coming gold rush in luxury. And while it's shaping up to be more of a long-term dig, there are signs that men are starting to accessorize with titanium bracelets, pendants and even diamond rings.
"You haven't seen tremendous consumer receptivityuntil recently," says James Hurley, a luxury analyst at the New York City-based Telsey Advisory Group. The men's business at Yurman's reportedly increased 25% last year. At the Tiffany flagship on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, men are coming in asking for specific pieces that they've researched on the company's website. "We were amazed at the counter at how many times men came in and said, 'I want the 1837 pendant in galaxy titanium,'" says Jon King, an executive vice president at Tiffany. Next month Tiffany is scheduled to launch its first men's-only shop, in the Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Japan. There are currently no plans for similar outlets in the U.S. But, says King, "all eyes will be on this boutique in Japan." Neiman Marcus, one of the first major retailers to offer a serious selection of jewelry for men, will not disclose specific sales figures. But Colby McWilliams, the chain's director of men's fashion, says jewelry for the other half is one of the fastest-growing parts of the company. There are now about a dozen designers offered on the sales floor.
Today men's jewelry, not including watches, represents 6% to 8% of the U.S. market for fine jewelry, according to Hurley. What's notable, though, is the upside: "15% would be a steady state," he says. That translates into about $5 billion in untapped market potentialand, increasingly, many more choices for men. David Yurman is turning out rings with unusual materials like Pietersite stone and dinosaur bone. There are black-sapphire dog tags from John Hardy and pieces from fashion houses like Yves Saint Laurent, which recently introduced brass chokers inspired by the designer's travels. Last fall Harry Winston signed on menswear designer Thom Browne to create a line of rings, tie clips and cuff links that will debut in October.
The key to changing consumer perception and behavior, says Hurley, will be the leadership of companies like John Hardy and David Yurman that have a big distribution network and a long history in the men's business. In other words, Evan Yurman may be in the driver's seat of more than just a Porsche.