Throughout the history, men wore this form of personalized adornment for the purpose of displaying social position, wealth, affluence, status and less for aesthetic purposes. According to archaeologists, the very first forms of “jewellery”, dating back 75,000 years ago, before Christ, in Africa, consisted of perforated seashells and egg shells. However, established jewellery-making occurred roughly 7,000-5,000 years ago, when copper, silver and gold jewellery denoting social, political or religious significance were worn by men in ancient Egypt, Rome and Mesopotamia.
Pheonician and Egyptian men considered gold jewellery as the ultimate symbol of power and social rank in their society and the quintessence of luxury. The size of a piece of jewellery was proportional to the magnitude of their official status ( leaders wore larger pieces). Precious and semi-precious colored gemstones were incorporated for their magical powers (green gems for instance were the symbol of fertility).
The history of men s jewellery is nevertheless culture-related and the significance of each piece of jewellery discovered is strongly connected with its cultural origins. Due to the fact that jewellery were an intrinsic part of their lives and they were also used in religious ceremonies, Egyptians pharaohs ( such as Tutankhamun) and Assyrians were even buried with them. In Mesopotamia, heavy necklaces, ankle bracelets and rings studded with various gemstones ( lapis lazuli, agate, jasper) were worn as amulets or talismans, in order to ward off evil and protect men from harm during wars, because warriors considered jewellery as having mystical powers.
Ever since 1600 BC, the jewellery handcrafted by ancient Greeks included engraved precious gems such as emeralds and amethysts, by employing cameo carving. Ancient Greeks did not wear jewellery on a daily basis, instead they wore imposing pieces of jewellery on special occasions, when they appeared in public for displaying their social position, wealth and power in the state. Many men also believed that jewellery made from silver and gold set with different gemstones and ivory had supernatural powers and protected them from the evil eye.
Men from different cultures wore magnificent rings, ankle and hand bracelets, earrings, nose and lip rings, large perfume-filled pendant necklaces, chains and brooches. In ancient Rome, almost 2000 years ago, men with a higher rank in society used diamonds imported from India, amber, emeralds and sapphires from Sri Lanka in their jewellery. Common men typically wore at least one finger ring with an engraved gem, which was usually used together with wax to seal official documents.
Byzantine signet rings with various designs and patterns were the most common pieces of male jewellery during the medieval ages. As opposed to Roman jewellery, these seal rings incorporated light-weight gold leaf instead of solid gold and they were worn by noblemen and kings alike. In the Byzantine empire, men were also buried with their jewellery.
During one of the most impressive cultural movements known as the Renaissance, back to the 17th century, men s jewellery consisted of an amalgam called Electrum ( gold and silver) studded with a large variety of precious mineral gemstones such as topaz, Columbian emerald, chrysoberyl, Persian turquoise, amethyst, garnet, Brazilian amazonite, Red Sea peridot, Bohemian opal and Indian ruby. These extravagant pieces of jewellery denoted opulence and power and they were especially worn by wealthy Italians such as the Medici family which dominated the economy and politics of Florence.
In France, men s jewellery became very popular after Napoleon was crowned emperor in the early 1800s. The sets of various items of matching jewellery, known as parures increased in popularity throughout Europe and included diamond bracelets, rings, hair ornaments, brooches and pendants, symbolizing political power, strength and status.
From the late 18th century, starting with the Romanticism period, superior artistic craftsmanship was incorporated in men s jewellery, which were handed down a few generations. In 1837 Tiffany & Co. was founded, in 1847 Cartier and in 1884 Bulgari.
Historically, Indian men considered diamond jewelry as the ultimate symbols of fidelity in exchange for protection and concessions, because they were usually given as gifts. India started mining diamonds ever since 287 BC and Indians emperors regarded diamond jewellery as the expression of eternal life. They used to engrave their names and social status onto these diamonds to ensure their immortality and to this day, diamonds play a key role in Indian social, political and religious events.
During the modern times, men s jewellery regained popularity with the rise of 1980s hip-hop and rap culture, when men started wearing large gold chains and pendant necklaces and thus, the term “bling-bling” was coined. While today Western men typically wear wedding rings and rings with religious connotations, Asian men consider that wearing rings with their birthstone attracts good luck in their lives. Thick silver chains, cuff links, expensive watches studded with diamonds and other precious gemstones, imposing rings tie pins, buttons and diamond earrings are very popular nowadays with men and they are worn regularly, for aesthetic reasons in particular and less for showcasing their wealth.