Ah, the humble cufflink! Or not so humble, as it turns out, because whether gold, silver, adorned with gemstones, this well-recognised piece of men’s jewellery has certainly rung in the changes over the years.
The first cufflinks appeared in the 1600s; as the Middle Ages drew to a close, the nobility began to adorn the more visible areas of their boring shirts with frills, ruffs and other embroidery. Cuffs and collars were held together with fancy ribbons, while frills that hung down over the wrists were worn at court and other formal settings right up until the end of the 18th century. The walls of the National Portrait Gallery display some wonderful examples of such human peacocks.
The late 1700s and early 1800s saw revolution sweep the globe (France, America, Mexico, Haiti, almost all of northern Latin America and, finally, India), marking the beginning of the end for the traditional noble classes. As the former splendour of the aristocracy made way for the more practical efficiency of the newly employed and former serfs, men’s wardrobes became highly conventional: dark suit by day, dinner jacket or tailcoat in the evening. Hardly working class, we know, but the result was that the areas of the shirt more prone to wear and tear were made tougher. An unlooked-for side effect of this was that, when clean and starched, the collars and cuffs of the best quality shirts became difficult to secure with buttons. By the middle of the 19th Century, therefore, the first of what we would consider the modern cufflink became popular in the middle and upper classes.
The next revolution was industrial: as cheap mass production became viable, cufflinks were no longer the preserve of the well-off. They became available in myriad forms, colours and materials; some cufflinks contained precious stones, with cheaper glass substitutes available for those on a budget; different patterns, shapes and levels of intricacies abounded. All of a sudden, cufflinks had become a fashion accessory. This tailed off slightly during the shortages associated with the Second World War but, once through these, no gentleman would be seen about town without a whole host of luxury fashion accessories, from cigarette case to tie pin, and from watch fob to money clip.
The counterculture revolution of the Sixties saw fashion dictated by the Woodstock generation, which eschewed conservative norms and saw cufflinks fall from favour for the first time since their invention. Mass-manufactured shirts with simple buttons and buttonholes were the order of the day, and many fine and beautiful heirloom examples of the cufflink disappeared into dusty attics or else were reworked into more flower power-friendly jewellery.
Happily, however, this reversal in fortunes for male dress was short-lived, and since the 1980s cufflinks have again been a familiar sight the world over. From the perspective of jewellery designers such as Van Buskirk Jewellery, cufflinks are some of the most demanding and rewarding pieces to design, since the constraints of size, fit, and complementary button plate appearance necessarily result in some of the most unique and treasured items in our clients’ wardrobes.
If you’re looking to create bespoke cufflinks, get in touch