Cufflinks, whether they're cuff buttons, flats, chain links, snappers, kum-
aparts or one-piece links, are elegant accessories that lend a sparkle to
any suit or formal wear.
These miniature works of art actually predate the shirt. According to the
National Cufflink Society, evidence of their use can be found in ancient
hieroglyphics in King Tut's tomb. But cufflinks as we know them were first
used during the 1700s.
No one knows exactly when the cufflink arrived. Its first mention in
writing was in 1788, but for sometime before that buttons had ceased to be
decorative and cuff-fastening slits were being cut into clothing. The
ribbons or tape ties of the past were replaced with luxurious items, often
made with gold or silver and set with gemstones. These were an extravagance
reserved for the wealthy classes and were all hand-made.
It wasn't until the mid 18th century and the invention of the steam-driven
stamping machine, electro-metallurgy and the Tour a' Guilloche machine,
which could mass-produce enamel cufflinks, that men's jewellery was opened
up to a wider audience. By the 1840s what we now know as the French cuff,
or double-cuff shirt became popular - and unlike most fashions it's
remained so since. The middle classes adopted cufflinks, but unable to
afford the silver or enamel cufflinks they used replicas such as fake
diamonds and gold-coloured alloys with foil backing instead. A hair of a
lost loved one was traditionally placed under glass on a man's cufflinks as
a sign of grief.
During the 1880's in America, George Krementz patented a device based on a
civil war cartridge shell-making machine that could mass produce one-piece
collar buttons and cufflinks. Suddenly every US business was commissioning
cufflinks for advertising or as gift incentives for clients.
During the 1920s the enamel cufflink became the most prevalent style. In
Russia, the communist revolution forced the luxury artisans of Faberge to
emigrate across Europe and often to America, where they taught their
enamelling skills to others. Their designs often reflected the art
movements of the day, but by the 1930s low-cost production of plastics led
to a decline in the use of enamel. But these enamel cufflinks remain
highly collectable; especially the hand-made ones.
Cufflink use peaked in the mid 1960s, when Swank Inc, a popular
manufacturer, was making 12 million a year. These days the figure is closer
to 200,000. But cufflinks are making a comeback, with gross sales having
increased consistently over the last ten years, while the French cuff
continues to be the most prestigious type of shirt.
You can trace every significant movement in art through the design of
cufflinks. Perhaps the best place to do this is the Cufflink Museum in
Conway, New Hampshire, which proudly displays over 70,000 pairs.
The most expensive cufflinks ever sold were a pair given to the soon-to-be
King Edward VIII by his later wife Wallis Simpson. These featured diamonds
set in platinum and sold at auction for $440,000.
Article by Dave Nixon