PARIS — Sitting at a sidewalk table not far from Le Bon Marché, the Paris department store that sells his men’s accessories, Mickaël-François Loir described how he helped start the latest rage in men’s jewelry: lapel pins.
Twelve years ago, while working in finance, Mr. Loir created a mother-of-pearl lapel pin in the shape of a rose — so small, “so discreet I could wear it to work,” he said. Friends wanted one, too.
So Mr. Loir bid au revoir to the world of finance seven years ago, and Le Loir en Papillon was born. Papillon means butterfly in French, and the name of his jewelry and accessory brand honors both the shape of the bow ties that he designs, along with scarves and pocket squares made of Lyon silk, as well as a beloved grandfather who taught him to catch butterflies.
On this autumn day Mr. Loir, 36, had pinned an inch-wide silver bee to the lapel of his natty Berluti jacket. His line includes about 100 designs, all devoted to nature, with birds, bees and butterflies.
“Men really had only a watch and cuff links” to personalize their look, he said. Why not “a jewel for your jacket?”
The British jeweler Shaun Leane, famous for his innovative work with Alexander McQueen, felt the same way.
Lapel pins and larger brooches “make a statement,” he said. “If I wear a beautifully tailored suit and I have a lapel pin, it says I’m different. Jewelry is a powerful but understated way to get your personality across. It gives my tailored suit a different voice; it says there’s something different about me that’s intriguing.”
Wearing a brooch certainly does make you stand out, as Kresimir Penavic experienced firsthand. The New York-based mathematician collects jewelry with his wife. They met Mr. Leane at a dinner a few years ago and became friends and fans; “he’s impish, smart, engaging,” Mr. Penavic said.
When the designer sold some of his jewelry at a Sotheby’s auction in 2017, Mr. Penavic, who was born in Croatia, snapped up two brooches, both based on the Scottish thistle, that had been created for Mr. McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker to wear to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s gala in 2006.
The brooch designed for Mr. McQueen “is too big for a lapel,” Mr. Penavic said, “so I wear it with my collarless Croatian tux. Everybody stands back. Everybody has to ask, ‘What is it?’”
The couple also collect Verdura, the exuberant midcentury designs of Duke Fulco di Verdura, and Mr. Penavic pins one of the brooches — called the Drinking Squirrel — to his blazer whenever he attends a wine dinner.
The fact that Verdura designed the brooch for a woman is beside the point today. The Brazil-based designer Ara Vartanian recently created a diamond and emerald necklace for one of his can’t-name-the-name female clients. But, he said, he was delighted to see that necklace wrapped around the neck of her also-famous musician husband at Grammy events earlier this year. The man has asked Mr. Vartanian to make what the designer called “a kick-ass brooch.”
“I could see someone wear it at the Oscars,” Mr. Vartanian said, “or me on my motorcycle, or on my wife. That’s the beauty of certain pieces.”
There are some items of men’s jewelry that are a bit less adaptable. “I just finished creating a tiara for an art collector to wear to galas and dinners,” Mr. Leane said, describing what sounded like a version of the wreath of laurel leaves that Caesar wore.
But overall, he said, men’s jewelry is benefiting from the “great explosion of fearlessness in men’s fashion. The avant-garde is filtering down into jewelry, and it warms my heart.”
That spirit is adding jewelry in unexpected places. Dior Men now sells logo charms (some with crystals) to ornament a pair of sneakers. Mr. Vartanian added a five-carat diamond to the distressed leather belt he wears with everything: “I get a lot of requests for it.” And Amedeo Scognamiglio has added hand-carved cameos to the front of baseball caps — the CameoCaps, he said, were selling well at Harrods in London.
“Long gone are the days of basic looks,” Mr. Scognamiglio said. “Cool men wear collectible designer sneakers, big watches and lots of jewelry. An Amedeo CameoCap matches the Yeezy/Balenciaga/Off-White type of client.”
While jewelry may be trendy, it’s not disposable fast fashion. Quite the opposite.
“A pleasant surprise for us during the pandemic has been how well high jewelry has performed,” said Sam Kershaw, buying director for Mr Porter. “We’re all dialing in and dressing to impress. Jewelry makes the difference in an outfit. It’s like luxury watches, it’s an investment.”
Speaking of watches, pairing a luxury watch with a bracelet continues to be a strong favorite. Mr. Kershaw said he also was seeing wide cuff bracelets, in gold or white gold, selling well. “It comes back to this idea of investment,” he said, adding: “A lot of these pieces are quite craft driven. What’s growing is this idea of quality and how things are made.”
Earlier this fall Mr Porter introduced a promotion celebrating the artisanry in Italian design, and recently added jewelry lines known for their handwork, including Bleue Burnham and Foundrae. “People are interested about not mass producing, but investing in craftsmanship and keeping skills alive,” Mr. Kershaw said. “They’re caring more about sustainable products, about investing in things that will last a lifetime, that will last forever.”
Evan Yurman, chief creative officer at David Yurman, agreed. “What people want in a down market — which we’re in — is intrinsic value,” he said. “We’re selling a lot of gold, and our core, classic items that are identifiable Yurman pieces,” like cable bracelets and link chains.
“And there’s a healthy trend in people wanting one-of-a-kind pieces,” Mr. Yurman said. “For example, I have a personal collection of antique Roman coins” that he turns into pendants and rings. But such pieces aren’t cheap: Prices can be as much as $30,000 (about the same price for a custom and bejeweled Amedeo CameoCap).
Before hanging up the phone and returning to playing with his daughter, Mr. Yurman weighed in on the future of another jewelry item: the cuff link. Somehow French cuffs just don’t seem necessary if you’re working from home.
So is the cuff link dead? “It’s not a hot item right now, but it’s not dead,” he said. “It’s just taking a nap.”