The Connoisseur Series: Cufflinks
Monday, 30 November 2009 08:24
Written by by David Schmeichel
When it comes to mapping out sartorial options for men, they’re the ultimate intersection of fashion and function.
On the fashion side, they provide guys with one of precious few opportunities to dress up their formal wear (or even their casual clothes) with a little much-needed bling. And on the function side–well, they keep your shirt cuffs from flapping around your wrists like a Victorian dandy.
We’re talking, of course, about cufflinks, those anachronistic–but still undeniably popular–pieces of steel, silver and gold that have been holding French-cuffed shirt sleeves together since the late 1600s.
Now obviously, a simple button would do the same job–and cost far less to purchase or replace–so how to explain cufflinks’ latest resurgence in popularity (which was originally linked to the rise of so-called metrosexual culture, but persists, even in the midst of all this economic uncertainty)?
“There just don’t seem to be as many opportunities for men to wear jewelry as women, so it’s a great chance for a man to add that something special to his outfit,” says Lisa Malbranck, a third-generation jeweller from Corydon Avenue’s Diamond Gallery.
“And it doesn’t have to be just a special occasion thing, even though for most people it is. Not all men wear dress shirts or suits to work, but for those who do, it can be a nice, every day, functional piece.”
Clockwise from top left: Anchors, $22.95, skulls, $19.95, and gold bars, $19.95 all from Desart, 117 Osborne St, 284-0823; 18K yellow gold textured knot, $1625, sterling silver with enamel, $495, sterling silver Vancouver 2010, $228, and sterling silver, mother of pearl and lapis inlay, $265, all from Birks, 191 Lombard Ave, 786-7468; Montblanc platinum plated and rubber, $400, sterling silver and white onyx, $400 and stainless steel, black PVD and rubber, $290, all from Dimitra’s Jewellery, 3-1700 Corydon Ave, 477-4653; smokey topaz cufflinks in stainless steel and 18K yellow gold finish, $390, and Italian cufflinks in 18K white gold, $1,279, both from The Diamond Gallery, 1705 Corydon Ave, 488-9813.
Vintage cufflinks courtesy of Ignazio Scaletta and Peter Duke.
Cufflinks can be traced back to 17th-century Europe, where royalty and other members of society’s upper crust would flaunt their wealth over the plebes via matching “sleeve buttons” made of coloured glass (and later, ornate gold and other jewels), and joined together by a short, linked chain. These double-faced models soon gave way to a single-sided variety with a larger, embellished head at one end and a smaller, unadorned metal head at the other.
It’s the latter variation that closest resembles cufflinks as we’ve come to know them today, and which have been spotted gracing fashionable forearms in rising numbers these last few years.
“Cufflinks were really popular a while back–like in the 1980s and even the 1970s–but then for a few years, they were lost, and nobody was really using them,” says George Verras, owner of Dimitra’s Jewellery on Corydon.
“But now they’re coming back really strong. We went through a phase where everyone was dressing casual, but now everyone is dressing up more. And even when guys are dressing casual–just jeans and a shirt–they’ll still wear cufflinks.”
Cufflinks are made from a variety of metals: common lower-priced options include titanium, brushed steel, or a base metal that’s been coated to resemble polished silver or gold. Sterling silver represents the next step in terms of both quality and cost, and over at the opposite end of the spectrum (and in the Diamond Gallery’s display cases), you’ll find your gold cufflinks–the 14-and 18-karat varieties that can cost upwards of $1,000.
As for shapes and styles, the sky is quite literally the limit, though you’d probably do well to steer clear of novelty cufflinks (which convey the same message as novelty neckties–never a good thing). The Diamond Gallery specializes in custom orders (Malbranck’s father, fellow gemologist and certified appraisal professional Allan Malbranck, often sports an especially impressive pair with a lapis and diamond inlay), while over at Dimitra’s, trendy urbanites have been snapping up Mont Blanc’s brushed steel and black rubber models in droves.
“Carbon fibre is another really hot thing right now,” says Verras. “The look and the material comes from cars–originally from aircraft –and now they’re incorporating it into watches with carbon fibre dials and all the accessories that come with it, jewelry and everything else.”
For those looking to stock their wardrobe with just the basics, Verras recommends both a casual pair (see the aforementioned steel and rubber combo) and something shinier (an onyx or obsidian embellishment, perhaps). For those with a bit more money to spend, Malbranck notes that white gold is currently more popular than yellow, though to really be on the safe side, she suggests finding a pair that incorporates both.
“That way you get a punch of both colours, regardless of where the trend is going, or what colour your wedding band is, or any other jewelry a man might have,” she explains. “It’s always good to have something versatile.”
And speaking of weddings, cufflinks are still the perfect gift for groomsmen–or graduates, or the newly engaged, or anyone else celebrating a milestone that bears marking.
But while it’s true they’re now appropriate in both casual and formal settings, there remain a few situations where it’s best to leave them in the drawer.
“You probably don’t want to be working on your car engine while wearing cuff links,” she quips. “They’re not really made for that kind of wear and tear.”