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Cufflinks are used to secure French button cuffs and are also an item of jewellery for men. In their simplest form a double, coloured silk knot with rubber band is used (nowadays typically made completely from rubber). Cufflinks can be manufactured from a variety of different materials, such as glass, stone, leather, metal, precious metal or combinations of these. Securing of the cufflinks is usually achieved via toggles or reverses based on the design of the front section, which can be folded into position. In addition, there are also variants with chains or a rigid, bent rear section. The front sections of the cufflinks can be decorated with gemstones, inlays, inset material or enamel and designed in two or three-dimensional form. Cufflinks are designed only for use with shirts which have buttonholes on both sides but no buttons. These may be either single or double-length ("French") cuffs, and may be worn either "kissing," with the ends pinched together, or "barrel-style," with one end overlapping the other. The "barrel-style" was popularized by a famous 19th century entertainer and clown, Dan Rice; however, "kissing" cuffs are usually preferred.
Cufflink designs vary widely, with the most traditional the "double-panel", consisting of a short post or (more often) chain connecting two disc-shaped parts, both decorated. Other types have a flat decorated face for one side, while the other side shows only the swivel-bar and its post. The swivel bar is placed vertically (aligned with the post) to put the links on and off), then horizontally to hold them in place when worn. The decorated face on the most visible side is usually larger; a variety of designs can connect the smaller piece: It may be small enough to fit through the button hole like a button would; it may be separated and attached from the other side; or it may have a portion that swivels on the central post, aligning with the post while the link is threaded through the button-hole and swiveling into a position at right angles to the post when worn. Links of knotted brightly coloured silk enjoyed renewed popularity in the 1990s, joined by an elasticated section.
The visible part of a cufflink is often monogrammed or decorated in some way, such as with a birthstone or something which reflects a hobby or associaton. There are numerous styles including novelty, traditional, or contemporary. Cufflinks can and have been worn with casualwear, informal attire or business suits, all the way to very dressy styles such as semi-formal (black tie or Stroller), and formal wear (morning dress or white tie), where they become essentially required and are matched with shirt studs. While whimsical or ornate styles can be worn to casual or informal events, formal wear has stricter expectations, with pearl cufflinks being preferred for white tie events1 Traditionally it was considered important to coordinate the metal of one's cufflinks with other jewelry such as watch case, belt buckle, tie bar or rings. Sartorial experts prescribe gold to be worn during the daytime and silver for evening wear, but neither expectation is considered as critical as it once was.2
An alternative type of cufflink is the cheaper silk knot which is usually two conjoined monkey's fist knots. The Paris shirtmaker Charvet is credited with their introduction in 1904.3 They became quickly popular: "Charvet [link] buttons of twisted braid are quite the style" noted The New York Times in 1908.4 French cuff shirts are often accompanied with a set of colour-coordinated silk knots instead of double-button cufflinks. They are now often not from silk, and consist of a fabric over an elasticated core. Owing to the popularity of this fashion, metal cufflinks shaped to look like a silk knot are also worn.
Although the first cufflinks appeared in the 1600s, they did not become common until the end of the 18th century. Their development is closely related to that of the men's shirt. Men have been wearing shirt-like items of clothing since the invention of woven fabric 5,000 years BC. Although styles and methods of manufacturing changed, the underlying form remained the same: a tunic opened to the front with sleeves and collar. The shirt was worn directly next to the skin, it was washable and thereby protected the outer garments from contact with the body. Conversely, it also protected the skin against the rougher and heavier fabrics of jackets and coats by covering the neck and wrists.
After the Middle Ages the visible areas of the shirt (neck, chest and wrists) became sites of decorative elements such as frills, ruffs and embroidery. The cuffs were held together with ribbons, as were collars, an early precursor of neckties. Frills that hung down over the wrist were worn at court and other formal settings until the end of the 18th century, whilst in the everyday shirts of the time the sleeves ended with a simple ribbon and were secured with a button or a connected pair of buttons.
In the 19th century the former splendour of the aristocracy was superseded by the bourgeois efficiency of the new employed classes. From then onwards men wore a highly conventional wardrobe: a dark suit by day, a dinner jacket or tailcoat in the evening. By the middle of the 19th century the modern cufflink had made its appearance. At that time collar, shirt front and cuffs were starched. This was popular, as it underscored the formal character of the clothing. However, they were too stiff to secure the cuffs with a simple button. As a consequence, from the mid 19th century onwards men in the middle and upper classes wore cufflinks. The industrial revolution meant that these could be mass-produced, making them available in every price category.
Coloured cufflinks made from gemstones were initially only worn by men with a great deal of self-confidence, however. This situation changed when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, popularised colourful Fabergé cufflinks at the end of the 19th century. During this time cufflinks became fashion accessories and one of the few acceptable items of jewellery for men.
This development continued into the 1920s, with more cufflinks worn than ever before. These were available in every type of form, colour and material, incorporating both gemstones and less precious stones and glass in cheaper copies. Intricate coloured enamelled cufflinks in every conceivable geometric pattern were especially popular. All of these were of equal value, as Coco Chanel had made fashion jewellery acceptable to wear. In a parallel development, however, a sportier style of shirt emerged with unstarched cuffs that could be secured with simple buttons. Fashion-conscious men dispensed with cufflinks in their daytime attire.
This changed once again following the Second World War, as the 1950s gentleman liked to adorn himself with a whole range of accessories, comprising cigarette case, lighter, tie pin, key chain, money clip etc., an ensemble that also included bulky cufflinks.
The swinging London scene of the 1960s brought with it a new male fashion awareness, represented by the Carnaby Street dandies, chief amongst them Mick Jagger. Distinctive cufflinks formed part of a creative and eccentric gentleman's outfit.
In the 1970s cufflinks disappeared almost completely. Fashion was dominated by the Woodstock generation, with shirts primarily manufactured complete with buttons and buttonholes. Even after the departure of the hippies, no-one wore cufflinks any longer. Many fine heirlooms were reworked into earrings.
The end of the 1980s saw a return to traditional values, triggered in part by the filming of the Evelyn Waugh classic "Brideshead Revisited", which exerted an influence on 1980s youth. During this time cufflinks experienced a renaissance that has endured to this day. Even Joschka Fischer, once renowned for wearing sports shoes in the German parliament, wore three-button suits and cufflinks when foreign minister.
Cufflinks fascinate designers due to the challenges that they pose: there is very little leeway for their design, the cufflink must fit snugly and if different motifs are chosen for the four buttons of a pair, these must go well with one another. Today, cufflinks are minor works of art, offering men the possibility to wear their own art on their sleeve. This enables the expression of personality in two different ways: the mere fact that a man uses such an accessory says a great deal about his attention to detail and is an expression of his attitude towards life. The design and materials of the cufflinks represent personal style and can also convey coded messages.
Idar-Oberstein and Pforzheim, Germany, were key centres of cufflink production. Whilst in Idar-Oberstein cufflinks were produced using simple materials for the more modest budget, the Pforzheim jewellery manufacturers produced for the medium and upper segments using genuine gold and silver. In Pforzheim premium cufflinks are still produced today, some of them to historic patterns, some modern, all of them using traditional craftsmanship.
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- Corbett, Patrick (2002). Verdura: the life and work of a master jeweler. Harry N. Abrams. p. 120. ISBN 978-0-8109-3529-7.
- "What new Autumn Blouses are like" (PDF). New York Times. September 20, 1908. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
Jonas, Susan and Nissenson, Marilyn: Cuff Links, New York 1991
Pizzin, Bertrand: Cuff Links, New York 2002
Roetzel, Bernhard: Der Gentleman. Handbuch der klassischen Herrenmode, Köln 1999