From classic lapel pins to bold statement pieces, explore the history of classic pieces in men's fashion and the evolution of their recent resurgence.
Masculine jewelry in ancient times played a significant role in society, indicating important mores of a culture’s values and rich traditions. Additionally, jewelry has always been a way to symbolize the wearer’s role in their society’s social, political and economic structure. For instance, in ancient Egypt, Pharaohs adorned themselves with intricate gold and precious stone jewelry, which demonstrated their divine authority and preeminent status. In ancient Rome, military commanders and officials wore gold signet rings, which were used to stamp important documents, indicating their rank and importance. In ancient Greece, jewelry was worn by warriors and athletes as a symbol of victory and achievement.
The significance of masculine jewelry in ancient times was not limited to aesthetics, but also had symbolic and practical purposes, serving as a form of currency, religious symbolism and protective talismans. Undeniably, wearing jewelry was also a mark of masculinity, with men adorning themselves with symbols of strength and power.
Take, for example, the pectoral or chest ornament worn by King Tutankhamun, likely worn by the king for important ceremonial occasions, such as his coronation. Not only did this piece of jewelry astonish all archeologists during the tomb’s famous 1922 excavation, but it also continues to fascinate modern admirers.
The solid-gold pectoral features a scarab made of translucent greenish-yellow chalcedony as the body of a falcon with outstretched wings, with hieroglyphic signs in its talons. It is bordered by cobras with the sun's shape on their heads and in the shape of a frame for the falcon's wings. The pectoral also features a gold moon and figures of Thoth, the king and Ra-Harakhty in silver. At the base, blue lotus flowers and papyrus flowers are inlaid with various materials, including carnelian and lapis lazuli. As a complex fusion of Egyptian iconography and grandeur, this piece of jewelry remains the epitome of the New Kingdom's advanced craftsmanship and opulence.
Renaissance EraThe Renaissance era saw the rise of artisanal workshops and guilds that specialized in producing fine jewelry, providing opportunities for skilled craftsmen to showcase their talent and creativity. In bustling cities like Florence, Venice, Amsterdam and Paris, artisan guilds helped encourage mastery and innovations in jewelry craftsmanship.
The first evidence of a mechanical stone polishing tool appears in a rudimentary drawing in a circa 1430 German manuscript called the Liber machinarum (Ingenieurs-Handschrift): Anonymus der Hussitenkriege. The author wrote, “This is a polishing mill like that the grand masters of Venice have, on which one polishes all sorts of stones; it requires three polishing disks, the first is lead, the second is tin, the third copper” (50). These hand-cranked cutting and polishing machines began popping up from Italy to Prague, Germany and beyond. Although they were able to effectively make rudimentary cuts, most precious stones were hand-cut and polished.
Despite the grand manpower required to find and refine these stones, male and female royals alike of the Renaissance era made them a regal priority. Not only did the innovation of jewelry chains make it possible for patrons to wear multiple decorations at one time, but increased global trade introduced new materials, such as ivory, amber and coral, that expanded the range of available jewelry designs. Beyond their function as symbols of wealth and prosperity, masculine ornamentation, specifically in reference to royal order and alliance, became paramount.
One of the most famous jewelry symbols of the Renaissance is the medal representing the Order of the Golden Fleece, established in 1429 by Philippe the Good, the Duke of Burgundy, to celebrate his marriage to Isabella of Portugal. The ornate ceremonial medallion was created to symbolize the Crown’s defense of Christianity and piety. After the Burgundy ducal line ended, the Habsburgs continued to bestow this order in Austria and Spain, where it remained the highest-ranking order in Europe. The badge has four parts, including a ram's skin with wool, a stylized flint producing sparks, an oval motif and a clasp for a red ribbon.
This later Order of the Golden Fleece medal, currently held in the Royal Collection in England, was given to Prince Albert by the Spanish government because Queen Victoria, as a woman, was unable to accept the honor. To add further complication to this arrangement, it was decided that Queen Isabella of Spain, as a woman, was unable to bestow this honor in the first place. As such, it was decided that the Duke of Wellington would act as Isabella’s proxy as a Grandee of Spain and a Knight of the Golden Fleece to bestow the honor upon the price. As a lifetime favored token of the Prince, the opal Golden Fleece badge can be seen in his 1842 portrait by Franx Xaver Winterhalter.
Royals regularly sported elaborate pins on their lapels, hats, belts and coats. This depiction of King James I of England and VI of Scotland illustrates the emphasis on intricate ornamentation in the royal male wardrobe. From collars to earrings to hats, the noteworthy men of the Renaissance approached their ensembles with both creativity and importance.
19th and Early 20th Century
In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution led to the mass production of jewelry, making it more accessible to a wider range of consumers. As the price barrier between jewelry goods began to lessen, in conjunction with the slow rise of a middle class, men began to wear more modest and understated jewelry, such as cufflinks, tie pins and pocket watches, as a sign of their social status and refinement. The all important biannual world’s fair became an important arbiter of brands, taste and fashion, specifically regarding masculine jewelry.
One royalty-inspired piece of jewelry from the 19th century is the "Albert" chain or watch chain. The Albert chain was a popular accessory for men during the Victorian era, named after Prince Albert, the aforementioned husband of Queen Victoria, who was known for his elegant style. This watch chain is typically made of gold or silver and features a series of interlocking links— one end was attached to a pocket watch kept in the wearer's pocket and the other end was attached to a buttonhole on the wearer's vest or jacket. The Albert chain was often worn as a sign of status and was considered an essential accessory for any well-dressed Victorian gentleman. Without sacrificing style for practicality, the chain also kept a watch close at hand, without having to carry it in a pocket or bag.
The 20th century saw the emergence of new materials, such as stainless steel and titanium, which became popular choices for men's jewelry. The rise of popular culture and celebrity culture also had a significant impact on men's jewelry, with celebrities often setting trends and popularizing certain styles. During the Art Deco in the 1920s and 1930s, masculine jewelry designs featured signet rings, tie bars, cufflinks and walking sticks and were characterized by geometric shapes, bright colors and bold designs. This century also saw the rise in renowned luxury jewelry firms such as Fabergé, René Lalique, Cartier and Harry Winston. By using the finest gems and the most refined precious metals, these jewelry houses created legendary masculine accessories that were beloved by contemporary icons and discerning collectors today.
Mid-20th Century to Present
“The fixation with brooches comes at a time where the obsession with men’s jewellery is starting to plateau. With more and more men wearing pearls and colourful gemstones season after season, throwing on a bold necklace or drop-earrings isn't that ground-breaking anymore... Brooches are designed to be eye-catching, so like all the aforementioned stars, your suit needn’t be on the brash side.”
Bellot, Carmen. “The Real Winner of the Award Season Red Carpets? Brooches.” Esquire, Esquire, 13 Mar. 2023,
Justin K Prim. “The Rise of Gemcutting and the Occult in Renaissance Europe.” Medium, Justin K Prim, 26 Mar. 2023,
Pollio, T. N. The Art of Medieval Jewelry: An Illustrated History. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2021.
Richter, Gisela M. A. (1921). "Classical Accessions: II. Jewelry". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. 55–60.