Make no mistake: the Nineties never really left.

It’s there in the influx of sneakers, in the revival of supermodel moments, in the tie-dye T-shirts and the wear-sportswear-everywhere rule that many of us have adopted in the last five years. But it’s not just a fashion thing. The decade — ruled by skate culture, hip-hop and Kurt Cobain — has also been embraced by the world of jewellery, something that now appeals to men as much as women.

Take the chain necklace, for example. A status symbol sported by rappers all throughout the ’90s, the flashy accessory is now a red carpet must-have for celebrities both with hip-hop credentials (A$AP Rocky, Jaden Smith) and without (Jake Gyllenhaal famously wore a gold chain for his entire Spiderman press promo).

The accessory has also dominated the menswear runways by way of the influence of streetwear, as seen at Dior Men, Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton. For the latter, creative director Virgil Abloh unveiled a whole men’s jewellery collection of Cuban links — a type of chain with flat, close-set links — that recalled the preferred bling of Tupac and Biggie Smalls.

The style is also a signature of In Gold We Trust, a Paris-based label that makes jewellery for surviving the apocalypse. Hence, the addition of utilitarian details, like the carabiner that clasps the brand’s necklaces and bracelets in gilded brass and steel. That, and the use of pearls (another significant men’s jewellery trend), set the label’s designs apart from other ’90s-inspired offerings.

Fine streetwear jewellery label AD.iii, launched just last year, looks to refining the accessories of the era instead. Its star product is the ball chain necklace, which was worn by everyone from pro skaters to musicians in ’90s Los Angeles, where designer Aaron Thompson grew up.

(Photo credit: Alan Moncada, courtesy of AD.iii)
AD.iii’s signature ball chain necklaces (Photo credit: Alan Moncada, courtesy of AD.iii)

Thompson updates the street style staple with luxe materials, namely 18-karat gold chains and diamond-embellished clasps. It was enough to get the attention of Moncler, who tapped on AD.iii to design a range of ball chain necklaces for its 1952 line for Fall/Winter 2020.

But nobody else is mining Nineties nostalgia quite like Martine Ali, a Brooklyn-based silversmith who cut her teeth at a DKNY internship. On top of Cuban links and ball chain accessories, she also offers lock chokers, ID bracelets, wallet keychains and even dog tag necklaces — no doubt referenced from MTV’s TRL show that she grew up on.

What makes Ali’s bold, handmade pieces contemporary is that they’re designed for anyone; Ali doesn’t have a specific customer in mind. No wonder that her genderless jewellery designs have won over celebrities as diverse as the likes of Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga.

You can expect that group to expand as our obsession with the past persists, and ’90s kids — now ’90s adults — continue to make up the not-so-new style rules for a new generation.

Header photo credit: calicadoo on Unsplash

Pameyla Cambe
Senior Writer
Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.