Men's cufflinks are practical and stylish fashion accessories
that have come into their own this century and are now
keenly collected by a small band of enthusiasts.
Cufflinks, or sleeve buttons as they were once known, date from the 18th century when they were often simply a
precious stone or a paste stone backed by foil, with a plain bar connection.
They were not particularly common, nor were they especially easy to wear and few of them now survive. In fact, it was well into the 19th century before cufflinks were made in any quantity. Many from this period were strictly utilitarian, being little more than linked buttons, but as the century progressed the newly affluent middle classes demanded more exciting designs.
Serpents and hearts were popular motifs often made in richly coloured enamel, inset with one or more stones. Towards the end of the century, novelty cufflinks became fashionable and sporting gentlemen might commission gold or silver pairs in the shapes of salmon or foxes' heads, or enamelled ones with dogs' or horses' heads. By this time the link was in the form of a small chain.
Cufflinks enjoyed their greatest vogue from about 1910 through to the 1960s when the turned 'French' cuff - with one or two holes on each side for fasteners - was standard on shirt sleeves.
The simplest kind were of silver or gold, often engraved with the owner's monogram. For evening wear more fanciful ones were produced, sometimes as part of a dress set comprising links, buttons and studs.
Cartier was the leader in this field, followed by other classic jewellers such as Boucheron, Van Cleef and Arpels and
A pair of Cartier cufflinks from 1910, for instance,
feature iridescent pink enamel set in gold and encircled with tiny diamonds.
In the 1920s and 1930s millions of cufflinks were made using popular deco motifs. The most common were enamelled in contrasting
colours and of geometric design, although heavily engraved links in silver, gold or platinum, often set with a ruby or emerald, are also seen.
In the 1940s and 1950s bolder, heavier designs became fashionable and from then on the baton-style link with swivel mechanism
was more commonly used than the chain link. In the days before buttoned cuffs were common, cufflinks were a necessity and were made in huge quantities, in a wide variety of materials.
Mother-of-pearl, brass and nickel were all used, as well as precious metals. Although examples by famous jewellers are the most sought after, there are still thousands to be found fairly cheaply in all kinds of designs.
One of the lovely things about cufflinks is that they are a collectable that should be worn to show them off to their best
effect. They will often attract admiring comments.
CUFF LINKS COLLECTOR'S NOTES
You can find a wide variety of cufflinks in junk shops and general antiques shops, as well as with dealers in antique jewellery and in the salerooms. Examples by famous makers such as
Cartier come up quite frequently at jewellery sales but you will have to pay a hefty sum for these. Much more affordable are stylish art deco cufflinks and silver or
gold ones in plain classic styles.
Novelty cufflinks are sought after, as are any with royal connections but, even so, none of these will cost a lot of money since cufflinks are generally small items. Gold and silver ones will have hallmarks, although not necessarily on both links.
Cufflinks with monograms, initials and even coats of arms on them can be surprisingly cheap, often fetching little more than the value of their precious metal. This is because they were so obviously personalized for the original owner. If, though, your interest is in building up a collection of cufflinks, rather than buying them as items to wear, this can be a good area in which to start.
Condition is extremely important when buying cufflinks. Most would have been worn by their owners again and again and may well have been caught or knocked on several occasions. Check the faces for cracked or chipped enamel or for damaged stones. Serious damage to such small items can make them virtually worthless.
Most subject to strain and wear are the chains that connect the two links. If these look thin and worn, be wary. Although the chains can in many instances be replaced, this will be an added expense and in some cases replacement chains can detract from the value.
There are fakes and imitations on the market. The most notable fakes are of Cartier pieces. Cartier signed nearly all his pieces with
his name in full, either in script or in capital letters; later pieces have the initials JC incorporated in the hallmark.
Faked pieces, even with a signature, will not be as finely detailed or as beautifully finished as the real thing.
Imitations of Edwardian and art deco pieces have been widely produced in the Far East. Many of these are attractive and are certainly inexpensive but they are fairly shoddily made when you look closely at them. The quality of the stones will be poor and the settings and mounts will probably be flimsy.
Cuff Links, by Susan Jonas and Marilyn Nissenson