New York CNNBusiness  — 

Watch your pearls, ladies. The fellas are coming for them.

Men are wearing pearl jewelry — necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings — and infusing a bolder, tougher flair to the classic feminine elegance of the gem.

Gentlemen are unabashedly donning pearls in all kinds of settings.

Major League Baseball players are flaunting strings of pearls around their necks on the field. Rappers and pop culture icons like Drake and Harry Styles are popularizing them. So are Hollywood actors and male models on the runway.

Jewelry sellers say the trend of men in pearls was emerging pre-pandemic as the fashion industry continues to evolve and embrace gender fluidity. The pandemic helped to bolster the trend further.

“Men’s jewelry was starting to take off pre-pandemic. Then as soon as the shutdown happened and we started to live in this virtual world, it quickly became about how can he wardrobe from the neck up, just the same as the search to find Zoom-worthy jewelry for women,” said Angie Kennedy, vice president of merchandising at Zales, a division of Signet, (SIG) the largest jewelry company in the US, which also owns Kay Jewelers and Jared stores.

Male athletes, rappers and pop culture icons like Harry Styles are popularizing pearls.

Men initially were looking for ways to dress up the neck and play up the face with hoop earrings, she said, and accentuating their look with black and white diamonds.

“In the last baseball season, we saw baseball players come to the field with pearl necklaces on. It just solidified the trend for us,” Kennedy said.

But these men aren’t wearing your grandma’s classic white pearl strand. It’s incorporating diamonds with it, or adding pearls to a gold chain. Some [men] are wearing a matching bracelet as well,” said Kennedy.

Pearl jewelry designed for men incorporates unconventional  materials such as leather.

They’re also wearing pearls in different colors like pink, black or Tahitian pearls, and the styles sometimes incorporate such design elements as skulls, a nailhead or animal claws.

While men may be gravitating to these bolder styes, Kennedy said they’re meant to be gender-neutral. “She might wear it on a Friday night and he’s wearing it out to a game on Saturday. What used to be worn in a much more formal manner can now be worn with a T-shirt,” she said.

There’s another reason pearls are seeing a resurgence in a pandemic.

“When things are scary, people tend to go back to things that are classic or timeless. Pearls have been around for a while and will be around. They almost represent strength in a way,” said Kennedy.

Giving pearls an edge

Mikimoto, the Japanese jewelry company that created the cultured pearl more than 125 years ago, is one of the most prestigious brands in the industry.

Mikimoto's newest Passionoir pearl collection is masculine in its design and appeal.

Last September, the company launched Passionoir, an edgier collection featuring larger Black South Sea cultured pearls strung together on a necklace or a stretch bracelet or set in rings, cuff earrings and necklaces made with black rhodium-plated silver.

Yasuhiko Hashimoto, CEO of Mikimoto America, said Passionoir was created because the brand had noticed the growing interest among men shoppers for pearl jewelry. But he said the collection, which is masculine in its look, appeals to women as well.

The idea of men wearing pearls isn’t new, he said, pointing out that Indian Maharajas and British and European kings have worn pearl necklaces for centuries.

“A pearl was a symbol of power,” he said. “It continues to be timeless and elegant but can also be playful. Men today feel empowered to take risks with fashion and are trying new things.”

Mikimoto's edgier jewelry for men features Black South Sea cultured pearls.

Is this a passing fad? Zale’s Kennedy doesn’t think so.

“Pearls are probably one of the first jewelry categories that we see men cross over into,” she said. “At Signet, we’re looking at every category and thinking, OK, do we have the offering for both him and her? Every idea we come across we’re now thinking about how can we make it more gender fluid.”