Cuff Links

Larter and sons cufflinks 130-1-75b.jpg

Larter & Sons Celtic Designed 14K Two Tone Cuff Links c.1920.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Cuff links are a decorative double button device used to connect the sides of a shirt cuff. The buttons can be connected with bars or chains, or may be one sided with a levered mechanism.

Historically men have worn shirts as a sort of protective garment to provide a buffer between the skin and outer clothing. Following the Middle Ages shirts began to take on decorative features such as ruffles and fancy embroidery. Ruffles at the edge of sleeves eventually morphed into shirt cuffs. These cuffs or wristbands were often tied closed by the use of a thread or ribbon. As men adopted fancy buttons on their coats and shirt fronts they came to the realization that they could also display these fancy buttons on their shirt sleeves. Gradually pairs of these buttons linked together began to appear on shirt cuffs. Referred to as sleeve buttons or in French as bouton de manchette they didn't catch on immediately but evolved gradually as the wrist ruffles disappeared near the conclusion of the eighteenth century.

Shirt Cuffs.jpg

Shirt Cuff Styles.

Eighteenth century sleeve buttons reflected the jewelry styles of the times. Painted portrait miniatures, paste gems, cut crystals and other signature Georgian styles turned up as sleeve buttons. Somewhere around 1850 the modern shirt cuff, similar to the ones still in fashion today, came into being. A three inch band of cloth, give or take and inch, was attached to the end of the sleeve and fastened with a button or pair of sleeve buttons, sometimes referred to as a barrel cuff. French cuffs - the cuff folded double - also made their appearance at this time. These cuffs and collars were generally starched and very stiff. Searching for a closure that could be inserted easily into these overly stiff cuffs, chain link fasteners became the solution. These link fasteners were popularly known as cuff links. Other variations such as the dumbbell and the lever back cuff link were also popular.

The overall mechanization of the jewelry business provided the opportunity to mass produce cuff links creating a market for them at all socio-economic levels. From that point on cuff links were worn by everyone regardless of status or sex. Women adopted the style with a vengeance. Worn not only by women in the workplace but by gentlewomen of leisure as well. This was a time when fashion trends spread quickly both through the print media as well as by the now very mobile traveling public and cuff links were no exception.

Cuff Links can be found in every style and every jewelry period from Georgian through contemporary. Victorian men were very conservative in their choice of cuff links, wearing precious stones sparingly and only on very formal occasions. Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau and Edwardian cuff links mirrored the aesthetic of the period. By the Edwardian period the taboo on precious stones in men's cuff links was lifted and formal attire was ablaze with gemstones. The post war Art Deco period fashion was alive with glittering precious stones set into all manner of cuff links along side sporting motifs and other whimsical designs. At the same time, the relaxation in formal dress with more casual less starched clothes for day wear began a trend for plain sewn-on buttons for shirt cuffs and relegated the fancy cuff links to evening wear. The Depression and World War II diminished the fashion further. Following the war cuff links in more tailored styles enjoyed a resurgence until the 1960s when casual attire once again quashed the need for cuff links. While still available today, and fashionable for evening wear, cuff links have never again reached the level of desirability that they enjoyed at the turn of the twentieth century.

Victorian Cuff Links 96.jpg

Victorian Diamond, 14K Yellow Gold Dumbbell Style Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Cuff Link Slideshow

Victorian Diamond Cuff Links 99.jpg

Victorian Diamond, 18K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Victorian Diamond Cuff Links 64.jpg

Victorian Diamond Starburst, 14K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Reverse Crystal Intaglio Cuff Links.jpg

Reverse Crystal Intaglio Equestrian Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Marcus and Co Cuff Links 10.jpg

Victorian Marcus & Co. Reverse Crystal Intaglio Duck Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Antique Cuff Links 145.jpg

Antique Red, White & Blue Hungarian Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Art Nouveau Cuff Links 47.jpg

Art Nouveau 14K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Edwardian Pearl Cuff Links 81.jpg

Edwardian Diamond and Pearl, 18K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Enamel Horse Cuff Links 81.jpg

Vintage Enamel, Yellow Gold Horse Racing Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Frances Klein Classic Jewels.

Mother of Pearl Cuff Links 221.jpg

Lambert Bros. Diamond and Mother-of-Pearl Cuff Links c.1920s.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Bulls Eye Agate Cuff Links 90.jpg

Victorian Bullseye Agate, 15K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Arts and Crafts Garnet Cuff Links 69.jpg

Arts & Crafts Garnet, 14K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Art Nouveau Diamond Cuff Links 19.jpg

Art Nouveau Diamond, 18K Yellow Gold Scroll Motif Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Moonstone Cuff Links 214.jpg

Carved Moonstone, 18K Yellow Gold "Man-in-the-Moon" Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Amethyst Cuff Links 113.jpg

Amethyst and 18K Yellow Gold Plunger Mechanism Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Russian Cuff Links 88.jpg

Imperial Russian Enamel Crown and Cross Motif Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

English Cuff Links 79.jpg

Antique English 9K Yellow Gold Foliate Motif Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Art Deco Onyx Cuff Links 184.jpg

Art Deco Diamond and Onyx Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Art Deco Sapphire Cuff Links 55.jpg

French Art Deco Sapphire, 18K White Gold Ribbed Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Jadeite Cuff Links 234.jpg

Mid-Century Jadeite "Pi" Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Malachite Bird Cuff Links 89.jpg

Malachite and 18K Yellow Gold Toucan Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Propeller Cuff Links 219.jpg

18K Yellow Gold Propeller Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Turquoise Cuff Links 193.jpg

Turquoise, 14K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Snaffle Bit Cuff Links 200.jpg

18K Yellow Gold "Snaffle Bit" Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Sapphire Cuff Links 192.jpg

Sapphire, 18K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

U Shaped Cuff Links 198.jpg

18K Yellow Gold "U" Shaped Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Operculum Cuff Links 143.jpg

Vintage Cat's-Eye Operculum Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Schlumberger dumbbell Cuff Links 133.jpg

Tiffany& Co. - Schlumberger 18k Yellow Gold Knotted "Dumbbell" Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Carnelian Intaglio Cuff Links 202.jpg

Carnelian, 18K Yellow Gold "Pegasus" Intaglio Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Lang Antiques.

Diamond Cuff Links 89.jpg

Diamond, 18K Yellow Gold Cuff Links
Photo Courtesy of Frances Klein Classic Jewels.

JE Caldwell Cuff Links 165.jpg

J.E. Caldwell Art Deco Mother-of-Pearl, 14K Yellow Gold Cuff Links.
Photo Courtesy of Frances Klein Classic Jewels.



Sources

  • Gere, Charlotte and Rudoe, Judy. Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria: A Mirror to the World: London, The British Museum Press, 2010.
  • Jonas, Susan and Nissenson, Marilyn. Cuff Links. New York, NY, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1991.