Franck Marty likes jewelry. And not just on his wife. Marty, a rugged 52-year-old French television producer, figures he spends about €3,000 ($4,162) a year on silver rings and other baubles. The Parisian says jewelry carries greater significance when worn by men and helps set him apart.
Not for much longer. Rings, neck chains, and bracelets "for him" are becoming more popular as convention is abandoned in some parts of the world and showing status gains importance in others. Sales this year of men's jewelry priced above $700 will probably rise 9.9 percent to a record $2.54 billion, more than four times the gain forecast for all luxury goods, researcher Euromonitor International estimates.
"It's a sign of power," says Philippe Pascal, who was in charge of watches and jewelry at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton for 10 years until early March. "The kings of England and France used to wear jewelry bigger than Liz Taylor's." At LVMH's Chaumet, which designed Napoleon Bonaparte's imperial sword, and its Fred jewelry unit, which made the ruby and diamond necklace Julia Roberts wore in the film Pretty Woman, rings and bracelets have become the hottest-selling men's goods.
Euromonitor estimates sales of men's luxury jewelry rose 8.7 percent last year and 3.8 percent in 2009. This year's forecast is about double the gain seen for women's high-end jewelry and men's luxury watches. Once associated in Europe with gay and macho men, "it's becoming far more the norm that men are wearing jewelry without being stereotyped," said Fflur Roberts, head of luxury goods research at Euromonitor.
Just as women have adopted male styles such as trousers and suits, more guys are now experimenting with clothing and accessories often associated with women, according to Irish designer Jonathan William Anderson. Donning jewelry is an extension of that, he says. "Wardrobes for men and women have become homogenized," says Anderson, who sported a leather jacket, T-shirt, and half a pleated skirt over jeans as he showed his women's collection during Milan's Fashion Week.
Growth is fastest where jewelry is already ingrained in male culture. Sales in India, where wealthy men have worn pendants, armbands, and bracelets for centuries, will surge 59 percent, to $194.4 million, in 2011, Euromonitor estimates. The increase means India will vault ahead of the U.S. to become the world's third-largest market for men's jewelry, behind China and the U.K. As European jewelers like Cartier and Bulgari, which LVMH agreed to buy this month, open stores in India, a new generation of affluent consumers "wants the brand as well," Roberts said.
China will extend its lead as the largest market for men's luxe jewelry this year, Euromonitor predicts. Demand follows a surge in new wealth: The number of Chinese worth more than $150 million rose 50 percent a year between 2000 and 2010, according to brokerage CLSA. Affluent Chinese are younger than their counterparts in other countries and have a greater desire for status symbols, CLSA says. Gold is the favored metal, and Cartier, Bulgari, and Montblanc are the most popular jewelry brands among China's new millionaires, the brokerage says. Sales there are set to rise 14 percent, to $570.7 million, according to Euromonitor. There "will be significant demand for jewelry by men from the Pacific region," says Andrea Morante, chief executive officer of Italian jeweler Pomellato. "We have to get ready."
The bottom line: Sales of men's high-end jewelry are expected to far outstrip the growth of the luxury goods industry overall.