Lady Gaga flashes her talons / Rex Features


Back in 2007, if you were wearing nail polish and it wasn't chipped, you'd get an A for effort and a gold star if the shade was by Chanel and had sold out in record time. Now, however, manicures are more like miniaturised masterpieces, as the current vogue for extreme nail art shows no signs of abating.

Tomorrow, Scratch, the magazine for nail professionals, hosts its annual awards – and, it's safe to say, the talons of the talented nominees will feature at the very least multi-coloured patterns and crystal embellishments. But when did the humble paint job go extreme?

In 2008, Sharmadean Reid knocked the fashion world's collective socks off with the intricate, funky patterns – all hand-painted – on offer at her London salon, WAH Nails. When Ms Reid started her nail revolution in 2008, nail polish sales in Europe made up just 10 per cent of the colour cosmetics market. By 2012, this had risen to 26 per cent. But, by today's standards, even the WAH version of fashionable fingertips pales in comparison with the artworks favoured by some. When it comes to nailing the look, more is more – especially on the hands of celebrities such as Rihanna, Beyoncé and Katy Perry. The latter's Democrat-themed manicure during last year's US election was particularly creative. Currently in vogue are "stilettos" – long, pointed styles that can even be given a red "sole" à la Christian Louboutin's fancy footwear.

It's not just stars with stylists on hand who favour the painted lady look, though. It's being replicated in real life, and with amazing proficiency too, as proved by Grazia magazine's hugely-popular #ManicureMonday hashtag on Twitter, through which the most intricate patterns and paintings are revealed – often created at home. In fact, the rise of social media and nail art seems to go hand in hand.

A Mintel consumer research report noted that "nail colours are often touted as an inexpensive means of updating women's wardrobes and staying abreast of fashion trends. It may also be considered a relatively inexpensive pick-me-up when consumers are obliged to keep a close eye on their spending."

More and more brands are cottoning on. Polka-dot, denim-effect and chalkboard finishes have recently launched and, surprisingly, rather than cluttering the market, these new offerings are boosting some attractive business figures. In 2012, Women's Wear Daily reported US nail polish sales at a record $768m (£505m).

"We think 2013 will be about textured with embellishment," Julia Goldin, global chief marketing officer at Revlon, told WWD recently. "Nails are making their own statement on [catwalks and in] pop culture …. Women are taking more risks like nail art, since it doesn't interfere with their daily look."

That there are 20 categories at tomorrow's Scratch Stars awards suggests a quick slick of clear varnish may no longer be an option.