I have always been fascinated by two things in my life, one is history, the other is jewelry. So, to me, the history of jewelry is something other-worldly. I know, I am a geek.
One of the coolest pieces of jewelry a man can wear are cufflinks. Me being the history geek, I always thought that cufflinks were being worn back in the Medieval courtier days, by knights after they took off the armor of war, embellished with sparkling jewels, but unfortunately that is only in my imagination.
The first cufflinks appeared in the 1600s, but 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.
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.
By the mid-19th century, the cuff had evolved into the plain single-folded or double-folded ‘French’ versions that we know today. At the same time, link types diversified and grew to include push-button connections and swiveling bars, and machines were developed for die-stamping and electro-plating base metals such as alloys and brass. It was boom time for cufflinks as this is when the modern cufflink became popular.
Colored 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, popularized colorful Fabergé cufflinks in the 19th century. During this time cufflinks became fashion accessories and one of the few acceptable items of jewelry for men in Britain and the U.S.
This development continued into the early 1900s, with more cufflinks worn than ever before. These were available in every type of form, color, and material, incorporating both gemstones and less precious stones and glass in cheaper copies. Intricate colored enameled cufflinks in every conceivable geometric pattern were especially popular. All of these were of equal value, as Coco Chanel had made fashion jewelry acceptable for men to wear.
Flash forward to a time following the end of shortages related to the Second World War, into the 1950s a gentleman liked to adorn himself with a whole range of accessories, comprising of items such as a cigarette case, lighter, tie pin or tie bar, watch (now worn mostly on the wrist instead of the pocket), ring, key chain, money clip, etc., an ensemble that also included a wide range of cufflinks.
In the 1970s cufflinks lost popularity in much of middle-class fashion as it was dominated by the Woodstock generation, with shirts primarily manufactured complete with buttons and buttonholes.
Unfortunately, many fine heirlooms were reworked into earrings.
The 1980s saw a return to traditional cufflinks, as part of a general revival in traditional male dress but these days, cufflinks are a rare sight in the casual hoodie and flip flop world we live in.