One of my most vivid memories of my grandfather, Sam Peskowitz, was of his pinky ring. Grandpa Sam was a man of few words, which worked out well because Grandma Ada had more than enough for them both. We could tell enough about his moods and opinions by the tapping of that ring on the kitchen table of their home in Brooklyn. It was sort of like Morse code delivered by a large star sapphire in a hand hammered silver mounting. When he passed, I asked my dad if I could have his ring, but unfortunately it was lost to us. My dad was never really the men in diamonds type, but I am. Especially pinky rings. I guess the love of jewelry skipped a generation.
Mine is not the only family where men’s jewelry skipped a generation; there were many years when a man wearing anything but a watch or a wedding ring was uncommon. It’s no wonder so many contemporary men’s jewelry is reminiscent of classics from the ’50’s and the ’60’s, since by the late ’80’s men in diamonds was the provenance mainly of subcultures. But since the mid Aughts there has been a resurgence—maybe even a renaissance—as precious stones and metals have become central to a man’s image. I’ve participated in many aspects of the fashion and luxury industry over the last two plus decades, and I’ve watched the men’s jewelry space with interest. First as a stylist and magazine editor, later as a department store fashion director, then as an independent store owner and executive. Fashion, jewelry and self-expression have only become more important to men.
“Great jewelry is either precious or has a story. In the case of natural diamonds, it can be both.”
My jewelry has been bought while traveling, been made by friends (I’ve got talented friends) or given to me as gifts. While there are designers and brands that I admire, and love to see other people wear, my stuff is mostly vintage. Making fine jewelry is inherently labor intensive and many pieces are one of a kind. Diamonds and other precious stones cannot be made by any means other than time, heat, and pressure. It takes millions of years, and each stone is unique. That alone makes jewelry intensely personal.
Men in Diamonds on the Big Screen
As a teenager in the ’90’s, my jewelry tastes were influenced by old movies and new music. Paul Newman and Biggie Smalls both contributed to my love. As well as the jewelry from movies like Goodfellas and A Bronx Tale which depicted the ’50s and ’60s. Chaz Palminteri’s character Sonny “had five fingers but he only used three”. One of those was his beringed pinkie.
Sam Rothstein, played by Robert De Niro in Casino, loved not only wearing diamonds but also giving them to Sharon Stone’s character Ginger McKenna.
Men in diamonds really re-entered the fashion landscape with the ascendance of hip hop. Since its early days in the Bronx, through its golden era of the ’90’s and onto cultural dominance of today, jewelry has been a constant. Diamonds for watches, rings and especially necklaces (often multiple) have helped define some of the greatest artists of the genre, from Slick Rick to Ghostface Killah to Tyler, the Creator and Westside Gunn. Pharrell Williams used diamonds to create pop art with Nigo in the 2000s and recently wore Tiffany & Co. diamond eyewear. Lil Uzi Vert even got a diamond implanted in his forehead (though the rumored $24 million stone was ripped from his face in a mosh pit).
Music and Diamonds
Accessory maximalism has not been solely the provenance of hip hop. Gucci’s more-is-more approach under artistic director Alessandro Michele’s guidance has made it the fashion turn-around story of the century. With the help of the house’s muses like Harry Styles, experimentation with jewelry styles and the smashing of moribund traditions is at an all-time high. Wearing jewelry is fun, and it should be.
The video shoot for Drake and DJ Khaled’s latest collaboration looked like fun. In fact, just weeks ago, a video surfaced featuring Drake wearing an estimated $3 million of diamonds including matching diamond earrings, a necklace and ring all by New York jeweler Greg Yuna. The Covid-era has been a hell of a strain on most of us, so the urge to show off a little is understandable.
Fashion trends change, and as things have become looser and more tonal, our jewelry choices become that much more important. How do we differentiate ourselves and show our own stories as men? Male birds have their plumes, rams have their antlers, lions have their manes and gorillas have their roars; us humans are forced to decorate ourselves. There is joy and importance in that, and is something that can be passed on from one generation to the next. Even if skips one from time to time.