Men's Jewelry: A Recession-Proof Luxury

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From left: Image Source / Getty Images; Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

The luxury market took a beating in the down economy. No surprises there. But one segment has unexpectedly doubled since 2007: the men's jewelry market. Spending on men's jewelry now accounts for 20% of consumers' high-end-jewelry expenditure. "Men are buying jewelry to show they pay attention to their appearance. In this competitive work environment, it's a necessity to stand out," says Pam Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing. Her company's "Personal Luxury Report 2010" found that while affluent consumers' purchases of women's jewelry increased 6.5% from 2007 to 2009, men's jewelry buying increased 10% in the same period. Unity surveys a sample of the top 20% of affluent Americans, with an average annual income of $220,200.

What's more, men are in most cases buying themselves the jewelry. "Men's jewelry is not a popular gift choice. So it's not wives buying jewelry for their husbands. It's men buying it because they like a piece," says Danziger. Unity's research has shown young affluents — under 40s — are the fastest-growing and most voracious consumers of luxury brands. In essence, the perception that masculine men don't wear jewelry has lost out to the metrosexual era.

For Saverio Mancina, owner of a public-relations firm, spending close to $1,000 on a "statement piece" — Bulgari men's ring designed by Anish Kapoor — will be an "investment." When he walked into the flagship Bulgari store in Manhattan last weekend, it was love at first sight. After spending just under a week deliberating, Mancina says he can't wait to purchase the ring as soon as he decides which finger he's going to wear it on. According to him, the steel-and-pink-gold accessory is "a masculine piece of art" that complements "professional work as well as casual wear."

Unity's study found that rings accounted for 51% of men's jewelry purchases made last year, excluding wedding bands. The fastest-growing accessories, however, are bracelets and necklaces — up 23% and 21% respectively, from 2008. Cufflinks come in at No. 4. (Watches are a separate category.) "All men's luxury purchases were up — from suits, to watches, to briefcases. Jewelry is a natural complement to overall grooming," adds Danziger.

The news on men's jewelry is a glimmer in an otherwise struggling industry. More than 10% of all jewelry stores shut their doors over 2009. Men tend to buy in discount stores, department stores and luxury-brand stores, according to Unity's study. "We have seen a huge sales increase of the men's rings in the past three years, particularly in markets such as New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Miami," says Francesco Trapani, CEO of Bulgari. "Our 2009 visual campaign featured celebrities like Ben Stiller, Jason Lewis and Ronaldinho, which made more people aware that Bulgari sells men's rings."

First-quarter results for publicly traded jewelry companies were among the highest in luxury retail. Bulgari's jewelry sales alone were up 11% in the first quarter of 2010, while Tiffany's U.S. sales were up 22% from the previous quarter.

Despite the uptick, conspicuous spending is still a no-no — men are instead buying in the under $1,000 range. "Even though the market is growing, all the activity is at the lower end of the high end," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group. Cohen also cautions that although the trend is encouraging, luxury sales were so depressed in the recession that these numbers alone are not enough to signify a long-lasting trend.

It's not only the rich who are spending. "We're seeing a growing trend in men going to stores like H&M and Macy's to pick up a pair of cufflinks or bracelet," says Michael Fisher, men's editor at Stylesight, a trend-forecasting agency. In a recession men won't splurge on a new wardrobe. "But an accessory to express their individuality? Sure," adds Fisher. Cohen also points out that men tend to buy accessories at the end of the recession to show that they are in recovery mode.

Scott H. Rauch, who co-founded Simmons Jewelry Co. in 2004 with rap mogul Russell Simmons could testify to that. His company's Simmons and SHR lines cater exclusively to men and grew more than 20% last year. "Men are conscious of the recession, so most of the action is under the thousand-dollar range, but hip-hop bling has trickled down to Middle America," he says. The company is working on a 9-to-5 range to complement work wear to capture the trend in young professionals sporting jewelry. According to Rauch, the market is still largely untapped, a view backed by Joshua Neckes, chief operating officer of the marketing and branding firm Thunder 11, who just bought an "ostentatious pinky ring" at Bloomingdale's. "In a way, we're returning to the time when royalty used jewelry to show their importance. It's part of an ever evolving definition of masculinity," says Neckes.