Men Wearing Jewelry Could Undermine Swiss Watch Market

Several media outlets have reported that the release of the Apple Watch has Swiss watchmakers on the offensive. But what could really undercut their dominance in the market? “If men widely accepted that they could wear gemstones without a time-keeping pretext,” Sebastian Vivas, museum director for Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet, told The New Yorker for an article in the Feb. 23 issue.

It’s hard to say whether this is an indication that jewelry is actually getting more popular for mainstream men.

Business Insider Australia advised its readers that “Most men should only be seen with three main accessories decorating their appendages: a nice watch, a good pair of cuff links, and, if they’re married, a simple wedding band.”

As business news site Quartz detailed in an article, this masculine code is what prompts many men to buy expensive Swiss watches, rather than using disposable income on other kinds of jewelry.

But as Quartz and other sources have detailed, there have been many periods in history when men have worn non-functional jewelry. A British Museum project, for example, found that between the reigns of Henry VIII and James I, men wore as much or more jewelry than women of the same class. It was used to indicate social and even moral standing, as well as provide purely aesthetic pleasure.

It was only in the Victorian Era that the ideal of men wearing only functional jewelry took hold, and there have always been pockets in which elaborate jewelry has been acceptable for men — two obvious examples being cowboy-inspired Western dress and rap culture, in which performers adorn themselves with glitzy crosses and chains.

In order to hold onto their market, Quartz observes, Swiss watchmakers will therefore have to fight a battle that’s not just technological, but social. After all, as many countercultural groups make their way into the mainstream, their jewelry habits may follow.

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