In bygone eras, the powerful men of the realm adorned themselves with a lavish array of jewelry, challenging the contemporary perception that such embellishments are exclusively feminine. The Renaissance stands out as a prime example, where monarchs like Henry VIII flaunted opulent necklaces, rings, and earrings, all covered in jewels, turning portraits into declarations of power and affluence.
It wasn’t mere vanity; it was a strategic display of wealth. This trend extended beyond royalty, as courtiers and explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh embraced the elegance of pearl earrings. Rings, too, held significance, not just as symbols of prosperity but as markers of allegiance, bearing family crests or sealing wax envelopes.
Even armor, though impractical for battle, became a canvas for decorative flourishes, reinforcing the wearer’s status and might. This penchant for male jewelry was not confined to Europe; diverse cultures worldwide practiced it, from the Ainu in Japan to the Maratha Empire in India.
The penchant for conspicuous consumption persisted through the ages, with even modern royals, such as King George VI, adorning themselves in symbolic jewelry. This leaves us to ponder if the resplendence of male jewelry might re-emerge as a symbol of status in the future.
Top image: The Tudors were lovers of male jewelry. Left; Henry VIII of England wore rich opulent fabrics adorned with beads. Right; Sir Walter Raleigh donned pearls in his ears. Source: Hans Holbein / Public Domain; National Portrait Gallery / Public Domain