The history of cufflinks

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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.