Faberge, Cartier, Tiffany, Georg Jensen, Jean Schlumberger, Rene Lalique, Josef Hoffmann and Alexander Calder. These are probably names with which you are familiar. They are famous for design, art and style, but did you know each also designed and made cuff links?
The first evidence of the use of cuff links are not actually cuff links at all. In the 1500s well to do and wealthy men wore ruffled shirts many of which had diamond studs and shirt buttons but when they were fashioning their shirt sleeves – it was simple piece of ribbon or yarn.
Throughout the following centuries there were many variations on the ribbon and yarn ties including buttons with chains and painted miniatures in France, but in the mid-20th century, cuff links had their heyday. Think Madmen and mass marketing with the advent of the popularity of television. Everyone was wearing cuff links and manufacturers were happy to oblige. Swank, Krementz, Kum-A-Part and a host of others issued new collections every year for Christmas and Father’s Day. Many were issued as sets with wallets and key chains. Sets were issued as commemorative special editions and every American President in the modern era have had sets made to give away to donors and as ‘thank you’ gifts.
Collectors fall into several categories, but most limit their purchases to a specific category. For example, some only collect Presidential or political cuff links. Others are drawn to specialty cuff links with their favorite pet or novelty cuff links. Some only collect cuff links designed by a specific jewelry maker – such as Georg Jensen (Danish jewelry designer, 1960s) or Tiffany & Co. Some collectors only seek out cuff links for women or cloisonné. As with any collectable there are the fine jewelry versions as well in gold with diamonds, rubies or gemstones.
For the most part, they were relatively simple and inexpensive, but did you know that there are only about 14 types of closures. The cuff link style that most of us are familiar with looks like a swivel or hinged T-bar and was created in 1960. So, if you see a cuff link set and it has this T-bar closure you know the set is post 1960. There are discs with chains, nut and bolt style (1930), cuff links with fixed football ends, hinged football, threaded screw style and even a propeller style where you put the end through the button hole and twist it like the propeller of a plane engine. In England a popular cuff link set had a retractable chain. In general, the simpler the fitting – usually the older it will be. Unfortunately, many older cuff links have lost their mates and single cuff links have very little value.
Cuff links are an easily overlooked valuable item. 95% of modern cuff links are worth $5-10. The more unusual they are the more valuable. For example, there is a category called ‘Doers’ which basically is any cuff link that has motion or is interactive. Examples would be a mini calculator, an abacus with moving beads, skeleton watches, lamps that illuminate, mini roulette wheels that spin, cap guns that make sound, etc. Some of the very expensive examples are elaborate music boxes or automatons with motors.
Many cuff links that are simple discs or ovals from the turn of the century are gold, some have mine cut diamonds and it is very easy to overlook a seemingly under utilized and ‘boring’ pair of cuff links. Be sure to take a second look at any cuff links that look a little different or unique. I once paid $3 for a pair of French reverse painted bulldogs under glass and sold them for $1250.
Be careful – cuff links are addictive and they are quickly making a comeback. Its twin sister – the tie bar – is also creeping back into style with youngers fashionistas looking for a way to differentiate themselves. Men, in general, do not have many options to express style, but lapel pins, cufflinks, tie bars and watches are very good ways to advertise your own fashion sense.
Cuff links have a way of sneaking into your life. A pair or two inherited, a Father’s Day gift, a holiday gift exchange and before you know it you will need a separate box in your sock drawer for the specialty links. You have been warned, but at least you will be trendy! You might as well buy that extra box now! Happy hunting!
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