Symbolism, Masculinity, & Identity: Tracing The Evolution Of Men's Jewellery In India

Left image: a man with gold jewellery Right image: portrait of Nana Fadnavis
Today, Indian men continue to embrace jewellery, reflecting both tradition and modernity in their personal style.L: Simone Gandhi R: Artwork by John Thomas Seton

Last year, after much consideration, my father finally took the plunge and got his ears pierced. He walked out of the jewellery store beaming with pride, sporting little silver earrings. He told me it made him feel both connected to our culture and youthful, like he was 20 again. We shared a laugh, but it also made me reflect on how many men still shy away from wearing jewellery. That is because, more often than not, jewellery is associated with women, but the tradition of adorning men, especially in India, has a rich and ancient history. Across various regions and cultures, Indian men have worn jewellery for centuries, symbolising status, wealth, and cultural significance. So, shall we embark on another little journey, delving into the history and evolution of jewellery, but this time men's fashion?

Left image: a man with gold jewellery Right image: portrait of Nana Fadnavis
From Ancient Rituals To Modern Identity: The Cultural Significance Of Piercings In India

The tradition of men's jewellery in India is not a recent trend, but a practice that dates back to ancient times, almost as old as Indian civilization itself. In those early days, men adorned themselves with materials like animal skins, shells, threads, crystals, and pebbles, each carrying a symbolic meaning of dominance, leadership, and respect. The Indus Valley era marked a shift, with the introduction of metal jewellery crafted from semi-precious materials like turquoise, carnelian, and agate, showcasing the early mastery of Indian artisans.

Later, the Mughal period marked a significant evolution in Indian jewellery, which was worn by rulers, warriors, and nobility as a symbol of power and social standing. They introduced the Kundan technique and intricate inlay work. The Taj Mahal Emerald, a gem carved with detailed flowers, demonstrates the exquisite craftsmanship of the era. The Mughals also popularized the jadau technique, where pure gold is heated to create malleable frames adorned with precious stones.

Each region in India developed unique styles of male jewellery, reflecting its specific cultural and historical context. For instance, men's jewellery displayed opulence and grandeur during the Mughal era. Emperors like Shah Jahan and Akbar adorned themselves with intricately crafted jewellery, including armlets, turban ornaments, necklaces and rings, showcasing their affluence and authority. This period combined Persian influences with Indian craftsmanship, creating exquisite and elaborate designs. Men even proudly adorned earrings and noserings, often for cultural, marital, and religious reasons. 

Men's jewellery frequently holds significant cultural and religious significance. Numerous pieces showcase symbols such as the Om or the Swastika, which are revered for their auspicious and protective qualities. In various traditions, particularpieces of jewellery, like nose rings, signifies a man's marital status. Traditional jewellery is pivotal in Indian rituals and festivities, adorning individuals during weddings, religious observances, and cultural celebrations. Certain ornaments, like Rudraksha bead necklaces, are worn for their spiritual importance and are believed to offer protection and enhance one's welfare.

European influences in the 19th and 20th centuries brought new styles and craftsmanship to Indian jewellery. Renowned brands like Van Cleef & Arpels, and Cartier began creating pieces for Indian royalty, incorporating traditional Indian designs. Today, traditional jewellery remains highly valued, especially at weddings, where it symbolizes the bride's transition into her husband's family. 

In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of men embracing jewellery, influenced by hip-hop culture, trends, and evolving fashion norms. Modern men are more willing to experiment with various styles, breaking away from traditional notions of masculinity. Men's jewellery has continued to evolve while blending traditional styles with contemporary aesthetics. Many men now prefer minimalist jewellery, such as simple gold chains, understated rings, and elegant bracelets, which add a touch of sophistication without being overly ornate. Contemporary designs often combine traditional elements or gemstones with modern aesthetics to create unique and stylish pieces. Many designs draw inspiration from specific states or communities, celebrating India's diverse heritage and combining metals like gold and silver, allowing for versatile styling options.

Men's jewellery in India is a testament to the country's rich cultural and historical heritage. From ancient times to contemporary fashion, these adornments have evolved while retaining their cultural significance. Today, Indian men continue to embrace jewellery, reflecting both tradition and modernity in their personal style. This ongoing tradition underscores the timeless appeal and versatility of Indian jewellery, making it an integral part of men's fashion and identity.