Cufflinks. The sign of a gentleman.

Posted on 03 May 2012

Selected Cufflinks from madaboutjewellery.com

Somewhat surprisingly, the very first cufflinks can be seen in ancient hieroglyphics in King Tut’s tomb – well before the invention of the shirt! However, cufflinks, as we know them were first mentioned in wirting in 1788, although way before that slits were being cut into the clothing of the wealthy classes and luxurious hand-made items, often in silver or gold and studded with gemstones, were replacing ribbons and ties as a means of holding clothes together.

But the major advance came in the 18th century with the invention of enamel cuflinks which could be mass-produced. Suddenly, men’s jewellery was opened up to a wider audience and by the 1840s, the middle classes had also adopted cufflinks.

It was at this point that the french cuff, or double-cuff shirt was invented.  English tailors claim that this was an English invention, however the French also lay claim to this ever-popular cuff stating that French tailors created the style as a direct respose to the description of the shirts worn by the hero in the best-selling novel at the time –  Alexandre Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Christo”.

Another major advance occurred in the 1880s when an American called George Krementz patented a device based on a machine used in the civil war for making cartridge shells.  This machine could produce one-piece collar buttons and cufflinks on a mass market scale and suddenly every US business was commissioning cufflinks for advertising or as gift incentives for clients.

The practice of wearing cufflinks soared during the 19th century as jewellers began to use Imitation gems and gold and silver-plate to make cufflinks affordable to the masses and by the late Victorian period, cufflinks and shirt studs were essential to every gentleman’s wardrobe.

Ancient Cufflinks

A pair of silver cufflinks believed to commemorate the wedding of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662

At this point, cufflinks were still made much as they were in the 17th Century,  with two ornamented faces connected by a link. But by the 1920s things were about to change with the development of the T-post and flip hinges, with snap-together cufflinks following in the 1930s.

The cufflink market reached its peak in the mid 1960s, with top manufacturer Swank Inc, producing 12 million pairs a year. These days the figure is closer  to 200,000 pairs, but cufflinks are making a comeback with sales increasing steadily year-on-year over the past ten years.  The French cuff continues to be the most prestigious type of shirt.

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.


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