September 2, 2020

The Cufflink – An Endangered Element of Fashion

Cufflinks are items of fashion that have been used for several centuries to secure the cuffs of dress shirts. They are designed only for use with shirts which have cuffs with buttonholes on both sides but no buttons. I have several in my jewelry box but since I rarely wear a tuxedo these days of halcyon retirement, my cufflinks have become fashion items of neglect.

They can be items of great beauty and value and are often manufactured of precious metals like gold and silver and of glass, stone, leather with the front sections are often decorated with precious and semi-precious gem stones, inlays, inset material or enamel and designed in two or three-dimensional form. Cartier offers them in silver obsidian, malachite and sodalite with bars made of 18K gold or palladium plated sterling silver.

Cuffs are designed in either single or double-length (“French”) cuffs and may be worn either “kissing” with both edges pointing outward, or “Barrel-style”, with one edge pointing outward and the other one inward so that its hi is overlapped. In the United States the “barrel-style” was popularized by a famous 19th-century entertainer and clown, Dan Rice. “Kissing” cuffs are usually preferred.

Cufflink designs vary widely. The most traditional the “double-panel” consists of a short post or more often chai connecting two disc-shaped parts, both decorated. Whale-back and toggle-back cufflinks have a flat decorated fact for one side, while the other side shows only the swivel-bar and its post. The bar is placed vertically (aligned with the post) to put the links on and off, then horizontally to hold them in place when worn. Links of knotted brightly colored silk enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1990s, joined by an elasticated section. Pearl cufflinks have been popular for white tie affairs. Traditionally it was considered important to coordinate the metal of one’s cufflinks with other jewelry such as belt buckle, tie bar or rings.

In 1904, the famed Paris shirt maker Charvet is credited with introducing the cheaper silk knot cufflink, which is usually two conjoined monkey’s fist or Turk’s head knots.

Cufflinks first appeared in the 1600s but did not become common until the end of the 18th century. In the early 20th century, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, popularized colorful Faberge cufflinks and they soon became popular fashion accessories in Great Britain and America.

My father wore cufflinks that were of a light gray metal surrounded by silver. I have looked for them but find that they have gone missing. My favorite pair are modest in size and made of 14k gold. They are functional for any event.

Before the Second World War, as cufflinks became widely used in Europe and the United States, Ida-Oberstein and Pforzheim were the key centers for cufflink manufacture in Germany. The Ida-Oberstein cufflinks were produced using simple materials for the more modest budget. The Pforzheim jewelry manufacturers produced for the medium and upper segments using gold and silver. In Pforzheim premium links are still produced today, some featuring historic patterns, some modern and all using traditional fine craftmanship.

The cufflink’s future is tied to that of the popularity of the dress shirt. To me, the man who wears a suit always looks good wearing a meaningful tie. But anyone wearing a tuxedo does himself a disservice by not wearing a double-cuffed dress shirt and links. And as more women achieve higher and higher status in business and the professions, I predict more and more will favor cuffed shirts with attractive cufflinks featuring inspired designs.

Paul R. Dunn is an author who writes books about Abraham Lincoln. He is reached at:

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