Cufflink History: The Quintessential Male Jewelry

Beginning in the 17th century, cufflinks made their official debut as a symbol of fashion, social prestige, and ultimate luxury. The first cufflinks started out as moderately simple buttons, linked together by a small chain, while the rest of the western world was fine wearing ribbon or ordinary string to fasten their shirtsleeves. These first cufflinks were made of glass, but in the 18th century a new jewelry material made of glass paste was used to create the little gems.

It wasn't until about the 19th century that cufflinks came to be the essential male accessory. The new technique of electroplating and electro-metallurgy allowed for more intricate gold and silver designs to appear on the market in mass production. Once reserved only for the wealthy and socially prominent, cufflinks were now more accessible to the ever-growing bourgeoisie. Metal alloys, especially steel, and imitations jewels were used instead of expensive precious stones and gold. This technological advancement permitted the middle class take part in the cufflink trend. By the 1860's mainstream jewelers like Child & Child in London and Krementz & Co in New York adapted their own spin on the rich man's jewelry by producing more affordable cufflinks, selling them in a price range that made the once elite cufflinks more accessible to the general public.

By the 1840s the double-cuff shirt, or the French cuff, became popular for men, creating an even higher demand and place for the coveted cufflink. By 1887, jewelry designers at the time, namely Tiffany, Cartier, and Faberge, picked up on this growing tread of shirt accessories and began designing an arrangement of styles and creations for every taste. Using materials such as gold, mother of pearl, enamel, mosaics, and precious stones, these respected artistic entrepreneurs were creating wearable art for men. Shirts were manufactured with slits and buttonholes, making the cufflink not simply a decorative piece, but also highly functional.

Cufflinks even began to test the limits of their accessory status, when men would even have a lock of a loved one's hair placed under the glass of a cufflink to display and symbolize mourning. Men would personalize the cufflinks with their initials and even emboss them with abstract art. Cufflinks were used as gifts, especially for royalty, and became apart of many major art movements. And of course, when an art movement is underway, fashion will soon follow. Or is it the other way around? Either way it's evident that with the dawning of the Art Deco movement in the early 20s and 30s cufflinks started to display irises, profiles of women, and garlands, all which adorned the enameled tops of cufflinks. Soon the top fashion forerunners like Cartier, Chaumet, Mellerio, and Boucheron all followed suit and designed even more Art Deco inspired cufflinks. Cufflinks became wearable artwork putting a new spin on the expression “arm candy”.

In the 1920s the Boyer establishment invented the rolling button, or the rod-type cufflink system, which we still use today. It consisted of a stud linked to a rod that swivels along its whole length between two stems. The Boyer establishment even created tiepins and more art inspired enameled cufflinks, furthering the evolution of male shirt accessories. But the cufflink craze wasn't only reserved for men: women began wearing cufflinks as well starting in the 20th century. The freedom and fashion forward energy of the roaring twenties allowed women to partake in their share of dazzling their sleeves with jewelry. It no longer was just an accessory for men, but women could also take part in the fashion frenzy.

However, the cufflink industry did hit a rather low point in sales during the beginning of the 20th century with shirt companies' mass-producing buttons already attached to the cuff. But this only furthered the artistic designs of jewelry and fashion giants to produce elegant, regal, and one of kind cufflinks. Cufflinks were still to be the epitome of business and evening style for men. Van Cleef & Arpels come up with another inventive design for cufflinks, which exhibits stones without any visible metal support. This was called the “channel setting” and happens to be the way most jeweled cufflinks are still manufactured today, creating a perfect looking piece of wrist jewelry.

Even music had a place in the cufflinks industry. In the 1970's, rock and roll inspired cufflinks were seen on the market, putting a new spin on elegance and musical identity. Cartier picked up heart shaped cufflinks, Bulgari mastered diamond heart cufflinks with a blue enamel background, David Webb even created miniature animal designs, and Dinh Van brought a “zen” look into the mix. There was literally a cufflink to adorn any which whim of style one would imagine.

Today tourists, historians, and cufflink connoisseurs alike can visit the Cufflink Museum in Conway, New Hampshire to take in the colorful history of cufflinks. The museum boasts cufflinks from over 212 countries and happens to be the most famous cufflink museum in the world, displaying over 50,000 cufflinks. One can see there the way cufflinks have evolved over the centuries through technology, art, music, and fashion.

Whether used to display individual style, taste or agenda, one can always find the right cufflink to suit their needs. Cufflinks have been excellent wedding gifts, business incentives, anniversary presents, and collectors' items. Cufflinks will always be the indispensable wrist accessory for men, adorning the sleeves of shirts for many years to come.