A piece from Foundrae's men's range

LONDON — From the rise of men’s grooming to gender-fluid fashion and accessories, the men’s market has been seeing radical shifts in the last few years.

Now, men are wanting in on fine jewelry, too, and looking beyond watches to well-crafted, one-off jewels to complete their looks.

London-based retailer Browns, whose customer base is known for taking risks and always looking to discover something new, said it has been flirting with the rising trend for a while. Having seen its growth potential, the retailer is gearing up to introduce a fine-jewelry category to its men’s wear offering.

“Today, men are wanting more than just a watch, be it a simple pendant or a statement piece of jewelry. Trends are very over-the-top at the moment and that runs across all categories, from chunky sneakers to audacious jewelry,” said men’s wear buyer Thom Scherdel. “It’s still a small business compared to our women’s offering but it’s definitely showing significant signs of life, which has given us confidence to invest in this category.”

The retailer is approaching the jewelry space from a carefully considered, niche point of view, looking for exclusive labels customers are likely not to have even heard of before.

“We want this category to champion independent brands that have a real point of difference. The designers we stock will be new to you, but that’s the point. Once you invest in these pieces it’s very unlikely you will be seeing them on other people, giving it that exclusivity factor,” Scherdel said.

A piece from Foundrae's men's range

A piece from Foundrae’s men’s range.  Courtesy Photo

To debut the category, the idea was to keep the offer “luxurious and special,” only featuring pieces in 18-karat gold by buzzy, independent labels including Laud, Foundrae and Fernando Jorge.

Unlike the approach taken by e-commerce giant Yoox Net-a-porter, who is banking on luring major labels such as Cartier, Vacheron Constantin and Baume & Mercier, to a dedicated online luxury watch destination on Mr Porter, Browns is putting the focus on labels that are less widely distributed and have a story to tell.

It has also taken on the watch category from a new and ultra luxurious angle, partnering with the independent watch customizer Mad Paris, which offers one-off, completely customizable pieces by the likes of Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.

Prices for the watches start at 15,000 pounds.

A customized Rolex watch by Mad Paris

A customized Rolex watch by Mad Paris.  Courtesy Photo

“We look for labels that don’t have representation anywhere else,” added Scherdel. “Everything from the design to the packaging of these brands is bespoke. It’s all about the narrative surrounding these stunning products.”

He also pointed to the appeal of Laud’s sustainability commitment, of using fair-trade metals and Ghanaian gold and to the spiritual meaning behind Foundrae’s jewels: “The idea of a continual evolving journey of discovery is something we can all subscribe to.”

Despite the niche appeal, Scherdel added that by maintaining a clear point of differentiation in the fine-jewelry space, the company is also creating an attractive business opportunity.

“It’s something we feel that we can really deliver on, as nobody is sourcing jewelry from the places we are, so we can really pull together a unique assortment. Fine jewelry will be a big focus for us for 2019 and it’s a category with no limitations,” said Scherdel, also pointing to customers “defying retail patterns in terms of online versus off-line shopping,” interacting with fine jewelry across both mediums and being willing to make online purchases for high-ticket items.

For the brands, Browns’ foray into men’s fine jewelry offered an opportunity to expand their own businesses and act on ideas they’ve been entertaining for a while, sparked both by consumer demand and personal instinct.

A piece from Foundrae's men's range

A piece from Foundrae’s men’s range.  Courtesy Photo

“Women’s fine jewelry has become way more exciting and desirable over the past decade. Men are gradually catching up with that, putting more value on craftsmanship and the longevity of fine jewelry,” said Fernando Jorge, the Brazilian, London-based jeweler who is best known for the fluid, sculptural shapes in his work, inspired by the human form.

Jorge said he adopted a similar approach for his first men’s collection, but put more emphasis on the structure and weight of each piece.

“I had an impulse last year to design pieces I could wear myself. I wanted to make sure these were undeniably fine-jewelry pieces for men, stemming from the same sensual aesthetic of my existing women’s body of work,” added the designer. “The pieces are based on the cushion shape, which to me is reminiscent of a man’s body. The pieces are simple in design and have a substantial weight in gold, which is something men appreciate in a piece of jewelry.”

Foundrae’s Beth Bugdaycay quickly discovered that the spiritual and mythical symbols on her signature pendant necklaces and cigar rings were appealing to both men and women, so a dedicated men’s range was a natural progression for the label, which quickly amassed a following and a network of key global stockists since its launch last year.

“It was a real wake-up call to me that the conversation that I wanted to have with our customer was a conversation that appealed to people of all genders,” said Bugdaycay. “People are feeling more comfortable with their ability to express themselves in all aspects of their lives, including the way they style themselves. So perhaps in the past, men felt more boxed into what was considered ‘manly’ or women felt obligated to dress within the prescribed rules of ‘feminine dressing.’ But now we have female customers purchasing our guard chains with pen knives to clip onto their belt loops, as well as male customers that stack their wrists.”

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