Cufflinks have long been an underrated and underutilized accessory in many wardrobes. A bold statement of elegance and style, cufflinks have witnessed a resurgence in today’s fashion.
“Cufflinks are one of the few versatile men’s jewelry accessories that can add a touch of flair,” says Ian Klopfer, Staff Gemologist in Fine Jewelry and Timepieces for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. These customizable accessories can incorporate precious and semiprecious stones and are often inspired by themes such as animals, flowers, and hunting. With styles ranging from classic to playful, cufflinks can be found to fit any occasion. Below, delve into the history of cufflinks, key designers, and important collecting tips.
The Evolution of Shirt Cuffs
Cufflinks are a product of the evolution of shirt cuff fastenings, which also took the form of strings, ribbons, and jeweled sleeve buttons at one time or another. Although rare, early examples from the 17th and 18th centuries can still be found at auction.
The development of the modern button-up shirt in the 19th century most notably propelled the popularity of cufflinks. From the mid-1800s, the button-up was a clothing staple among upper and middle class men. Within female circles, the shirt style gained popularity for working, active women including suffragists and office clerks. It was during this time that starched cuffs appeared and along with them the cufflink, usually in the form of a metal chain or link fastener.
A variety of cufflink styles were introduced during the 19th century, including push-button connections and swiveling bars. Decoration and materials became more flamboyant towards the end of the century, and, during the 1920s and 1930s, more designs proliferated in dazzling array of colors and materials.
After the 1930s, the use of cufflinks gradually declined with the development of leisurewear and the ready-sewn buttons on shirt cuffs that began to appear in the 1950s. In the 1990s, younger generations “rediscovered” cufflinks as an accessory, bringing them back to mainstream fashion. Today, cufflinks are still part of our casual and dressy wardrobes.
Key Brands and Makers
Child & Child
London-based jewelry house Child & Child is known for their Art Nouveau designs and enamel work. For collectors, it is worth noting that cufflinks in their the original boxes are generally of increased value.
Deakin & Francis
Since 1910, Deakin & Francis has produced high-quality and luxury cufflinks. The above example represents the “Holy Grail” of cufflink collecting, known as “the Road to Ruin.” These solid gold cufflinks are enameled with images of the “Four Vices”: a cocktail glass or champagne bottle, a racehorse, a can can dancer, and playing cards.
Tiffany & Co.
At the turn of the 20th Century, luxury jewelers like Van Cleef & Arpels, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co. began to develop intricate cufflink designs. According to Klopfer, these designs were meant to “command premium prices relative to their unsigned counterparts.” With the inclusion of expensive materials like diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, cufflinks outgrew their strict utilitarian status. In 1956, Jean Schlumberger joined Tiffany & Co. His visionary creations were “signed” by the designer himself, further increasing their value.
Enamel cuffs designed by famed Russian house Fabergé were highly sought-after throughout the world as an alternative to cufflinks made with precious stones. Those designed before the Russian Revolution are particularly popular at auction.
Iconic Mid-Century American designer David Webb applied his love for nature to cufflink design. Webb’s other designs embrace knots and texted details to heighten the dynamism of a seemingly unassuming accessory.
For many jewelry houses, cufflinks are way to extend their brand’s signature. For example, Bulgari’s integration of ancient Roman coins into their cufflink designs reinforces the italian ancestry of the brand. Limited edition collections and specialty collections are popular among collectors.
Styles to Look For
The above cufflinks by Chaumet are a good example of the “Whale Back” style, which is probably the most common type of design on the market. Whale Back cufflinks have a flat face and a “whale tail” closure that flips back.
Stud or button-style cufflinks have no hinge mechanism. Stud style cufflinks are popular for tuxedos and other formal wear.
Ball return cufflinks have a curved post with a small, heavy ball opposite the decorative head. When made in precious metals, these type of cufflinks can be extremely valuable.
Specialist Ian Klopfer’s suggestions on how to maintain condition and spot counterfeits:
- When stored, always try to keep cufflinks separated so they don’t scratch each other.
- If you have a larger collection, you can purchase inexpensive cufflink boxes that hold up to 36 pairs.
- With set gemstones, always be sure to care for them as you would that particular gemstone, e.g. don’t leave opals out in sunlight and don’t place emeralds in an ultrasonic cleaner.
- Ask the advice of a professional jeweller if authenticity is in question and familiarize yourself with hallmarks.
- Look for imperfections or poor craftsmanship. Cartier, Tiffany & Co. and other luxury designers are meticulous in their work. Things such as crude or out-of place-stamps, poor finish, or low-quality materials can indicate a lack of authenticity.
Investment aside, cufflinks and other accessories are a matter of personal taste. Klopfer notes that the “search for unusual, antique, or signed cufflinks and stud sets” is about filling holes in your collection and wardrobe. When in doubt, start with the classics.
About Fiona McKay & Xenia Capacete
Fiona and Xenia are fashion curators and exhibit makers, and founders of White Line Projects, a curatorial and creative studio based in London. White Line Projects curates, designs, and produces a diverse range of outcomes including exhibitions, installations and digital experiences, and websites for a wide range of clients in the fashion and cultural sectors. Fiona, Xenia, and the team at White Line Projects bring a diverse combination of skills and background experience ranging from visual communications and 3D technologies to architecture, art history, and exhibition design to theater design and performing arts.