Vintage Men's Cufflinks
Collecting vintage and retro gentlemen's cufflinks
Cufflinks are stylistic statements, wearable antiques, and appreciating assets. Above all, they are quite the smartest way to close your cuffs. Being made in a variety of shapes and materials, closed by a variety of methods and capable of bearing a wide range of designs and emblems, they present an almost inexhaustibly rich range for the collector. In addition, they represent one of the few fields of collecting where that which is collected can be used conveniently, and without attracting unfavourable comment, every day. When one adds to this the value some examples can command, whether because of the intrinsic value of their precious materials or the extrinsic value created by their distinctive and beautiful designs, it is easy to see why, well chosen, they make such a good field for the fashion afficionado or collector.
Vintage 1940s/50s Americana - Spread Eagle cufflinks and tie clip set
A fine vintage set of matching torpedo-back cufflinks with handsome retro swivels plus nippy-clip style tie clasp, all featuring a noble American eagle, wings outspread and looking over its right shoulder. The eagles' wings are 1 1/4" broad on the cufflinks, and closer to 1 1/8" on the tie clip. There are no makers' details but the set is believed to be US-made, probably in the 1950s. Sourced in the USA, this is a handsome set which would really set off any suit and tie combination, especially one favouring the narrower Madison Avenue/Mad Men shading into Ivy-League look.
Cufflink types - a primer
Cufflinks come in a variety of shapes and sizes, within the limitations determined by their essential purpose, which is to keep a pair of French/double cuffs closed in the most stylish manner possible!
Leaving aside bachelor's buttons (a different matter, which I hope to cover in a subsequent piece), cufflinks may consist of two pieces, like or unalike, connected by a chain, two pieces (again alike or unalike, connected by a bar, two like faces connected by a snap or popper arrangement, or a single face piece with a torpedo/swivel back linked to it by a post
Each style has its strengths; the chain link is a respected, traditional form which offers, via its two face pieces, the maximum scope for ornament, although some find it the hardest style of link to put in. The snap link offers similar scope for ornament, is easy to leave in one's shirt should that be desired, and facilitates the turning back of cuffs for washing the hands, and so forth. Although its mechanism is relatvely more complicated, and can fail, most examples (it is largely a vintage style of link) have survived well. The swivel or torpedo back link is relatively easy to put in and, as the face does not pass through a buttonhole, can be relatively larger than the double-face chain link, thus carrying a different type of design. Some, however, find its swivel back ugly and argue that the large single face fails to respect the aesthetic of cufflink design.
Clearly any collector or wearer will make up his own mind as to which type or types he prefers, although my own personal preference is for the more traditional double-face chain link and snap styles, examples of which I hope to illustrate here.
Photo Gallery - cufflink collectionClick thumbnail to view full-size
A brief summary
Cufflinks can be made from a wide variety of materials, including metal, carved stone, plastic or other synthesised materials and fabric, according to the intended use and depth of the wearer's pocket. For many, the definitive cufflinks are those made of precious metals; gold (typically of 9 or 18 carat) has always been a popular choice, as has sterling (.925 fine) silver, and, to a lesser extent, platinum, although that seems to have been more used for ornamenting gold links. These materials lend themselves particularly well to links of the double-face variety, linked with chains, and can be plain, bordered, or engraved with geometrical, floral or heraldic designs.
Cufflinks of brass and other base metals, plated or otherwise, are often seen. These materials lend themselves to all types of cufflinks, and can be used on their own or with a variety of decorative finishes, enamel being amongst the most effective, along with various engraved designs and semi-precious and faux stones.
Cufflinks of carved stone are less common and come in two main types, those made solely out of one piece of stone and those which use metal mounts to link or display the stone components. Of the former, Mother of Pearl is the most often seen, and makes a highly attractive link in a variety of shapes. Other stones, such as jade, malachite and bloodstone, look highly effective when produced as solid cylindrical or rectangular bars linked together with silver or gold chains, or indeed as cabochons in contrasting mounts.
Good cufflinks including plastic cufflinks are rare, although celluloid-covered cufflinks in attractive shapes are sometimes found, as are links with materials such as lucite and other early plastics mimicking real stones, acting as crystals with incised designs in them, etc.
Fabric cufflinks are principally represented by the eponymous "silk knot" cufflinks, so-called because of the shape of the knots which are their determining feature, rather than because of their material, which is fabric-covered elastic in a variety of colours. Whilst scorned by some they can be a useful and appropriate adjunct when wearing a double-cuffed shirt informally, or as a way of inexpensively beginning a collection. They also, owing to the bright and variegated colours which are available, make a handsome and effective display when stored in a glass jar on dressing table or in wardrobe.
Photo Gallery - Snap CufflinksClick thumbnail to view full-size
Vintage chrome green and silver snap cufflinks
A handsome pair of vintage Art Deco style snap cufflinks with strong geometric designs in a classic period chrome green on a silver ground. Minor wear to the paint finish and tarnish to the inner surfaces where the individual links snap together, slight wobble to the snaps, otherwise very good
Vintage Art Deco Snap cufflinks in a geometric design
A handsome pair of vintage Art Deco style snap cufflinks with strong geometric designs in red on a silver ground. Minor wear to the paint finish and tarnish to the inner surfaces where the individual links snap together, otherwise very good
Vintage brass and gilt snap cufflinks
A very sound pair of brass and gilt snap cufflinks with a subtle relief design, Lion Brand, a classic British brand of snap cufflinks. This pair (and a spare) are probably 1940s in date. The faces are circular, with an interesting toothed design in high relief with a bark-like background for depth and contrast, in what looks like either gilt or gold plate. They are in nice condition, the gilt very bright and the snaps in the pair tight (in the “spare” less so, but then it is only a spare!) A nice example of a rare type of vintage British cufflinks.
Photo Gallery - Mother of Pearl cufflinks - Variations on a themeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Mother of Pearl cufflinks
Simple, classic and effective
An excellent place to start a cufflink collection is with a simple pair of Mother of Pearl round chain-link cufflinks like these, which offer both discreet elegance and versatility. They can be sourced on eBay relatively cheaply, although fairly difficult to find new. A nice collection could be built up by concentrating just on the various shapes, mounting and decorative treatments of Mother of Pearl alone.
Classic style - Mother-of-Pearl cylinder cufflinks with silver chains
The double-cylinder arrangement is a popular way of showing-off the aesthetic qualities of semi-precious stones and materials, the chosen one in this case being Mother of Pearl, aptly accompanied by a sterling silver chain mount. Whilst these examples are modern, the style is a timeless one and effective in a variety of social contexts.
Vintage Mother of Pearl and blue marble cufflinks
An unusual form of torpedo back cufflinks
A rather interesting pair of cufflinks - possibly 1950s - in a handsome barrel shape, gilded(?) brass mounted with interesting swivel back design, different from the run-of-the-mill rounded fixings one finds, complemented by a combined Mother of Pearl and blue marble or agate stone.
Vintage solid carved Mother of Pearl cufflinks
Simple and classic
A really charming pair of vintage 1930s (?) solid hand carved cufflinks in solid mother of pearl. Handsome, collectable and versatile. Rare and unusual.
Cross-hatched Mother of Pearl chain-link cufflinks
A nice variation on a classic link
A really charming and quite unique pair of vintage 1930s (?)/Art Deco solid carved cufflinks, chain-connected, with 1/2" fronts of mother of pearl decorated in an unusual cross-hatched pattern.
Photo Gallery - enamel cufflinks - An Art Deco favouriteClick thumbnail to view full-size
Vintage gilt and enamel chain-link cufflinks
A charming pair of vintage 1940s-style/Art Deco gilt and enamel cufflinks, chain-connected, with gilt torpedo backs attached by gilt chains to 1/2" fronts of lustrous rich blue and golden-orange enamel. Retailed by renowned Jermyn Street, London shirtmaker Hilditch & Key. In very good used condition with lustrous enamel and gilt, with original box. Handsome, collectable and versatile for formal day wear, or as a gift.
Photo Gallery - gold and precious metals - The classic materialClick thumbnail to view full-size
Vintage Bloodstone and 9ct Gold cufflinks
Classic 1930s style
A beautiful pair of vintage Art Deco solid carved cufflinks, each pair consisting of two 3/4" long solid rectangular bars of carved bloodstone connected with a hallmarked 9ct/.375 gold chain. In excellent, hardly condition. Handsome, collectable and versatile.
Photo Gallery - Early Plastic and Glass CufflinksClick thumbnail to view full-size
Vintage Art Deco style Imitation Mother of Pearl Cufflinks
A handsome pair of vintage Art Deco style imitation Mother of Pearl cufflinks with a strong geometric design of rounded-corner triangles in a delicately pearlescent Lucite or similar, with correct metal shanked bar backs.
Nice 1940s Red celluloid and Mother of Pearl chain-link cufflinks
An interesting example of combining different materials in the cufflink face
This is a charming simple pair of combined material cufflinks, consisting of Mother of Pearl faces accompanied by a bold red celluloid border around the whole, in beaded yellow metal mounts of what I believe is gilded brass. The links have discreet oval backs and are linked by brass chains attached to the faces and backs by d-rings. Both links show moderate signs of use by way of darkening, which might polish out and is not particularly noticeable in wear. A very attractive 1940s link.
Vintage black celluloid oval cufflinks
A formal mourning link
A handsome pair of vintage 1930s (?)/Art Deco black celluloid cufflinks, chain-connected, with 3/4" long fronts of a black celluloid or similar material, in a stylish narrow oval section, over backs of what appears to be gilded brass. In good used condition, minor surface scratching and one larger scratch visible with the use of a strong light and magnifying glass, plus a small "bubble" on one, but nothing noticeable in wear. Handsome, collectable and versatile for formal, evening or mourning wear.
Vintage gilt & celluloid horse cufflinks
For the equestrian
A nice pair of vintage 1940s (?)/Art Deco celluloid cufflinks, chain-connected, with gilt torpedo backs attached to 3/4" long fronts showing a horse design in celluloid in a bright gilt frame, in a stylish narrow oval section. In very good used condition, minor marks of wear visible with the use of a strong light and magnifying glass, but nothing noticeable in wear - the gilt is nice and bright and they almost look like new old stock. Handsome, collectable and versatile for informal day or country wear, or as a gift for a rider/horse enthusiast.
Vintage yellow pearlescent celluloid cufflinks
A charming vintage pair of bright gilt cufflinks, oval shaped, with yellow pearlescent celluloid insets.
Vintage honeycomb lucite double-oval cufflinks
With gooseneck shanks
A charming pair of vintage 1940s (?), possibly Russian-made double-oval cufflinks with solid goose neck shanks and brass mounts with what looks like lucite in an attractive amber honeycomb effect. Handsome, collectable and versatile. Rare and unusual.
Fabric cufflinks under lucite in a brass mount
A handsome pair of country links
Vintage 1940s style cufflinks with lucite head in circular brass mount covering woven cloth, possibly silk, in a check design in lustrous autumnal colours of gold, deep green and burgundy, on long goose-neck shanks with narrow swivel torpedo backs. In sound to good condition with a little wear to the brass plating and the odd spot of verdigris or tarnish on the backs. Handsome for country wear in particular.
Vintage 1940s gilt oval-front chain link cufflinks
Simple but effective
This is a nice pair of vintage chain link cufflinks, probably 1940s, in a simple traditional style. The faces are oval, with an incised diagonal band across the face in a ribbon style with triple-ruled borders, in what looks like wither gilt or gold plate, accompanied by narrow oval backs with the same finish, chain linked. They are a little tarnished which may polish away, or could be regarded as patina, and part of the charm of the piece. A sound example of inexpensive traditional cufflinks of the WW2 period.
Photo Gallery - cufflinks with semi-precious stonesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Vintage Art Dec-style Mother of Pearl, Celluloid and Turquoise Cufflinks
This is a highly interesting pair of cufflinks, consisting of Mother of Pearl faces surrounding a central cabochon of Turquoise, with a toning celluloid border around the whole, in dull white metal mounts of what I believe may be aluminium, although stamps on the back of the mounting appear to say "gilt". The links have discreet oval backs and are linked by dumb-bell shanks attached to the faces and backs by triangular mounts. Both links show signs of use by way of dents and dulling and some loss to the celluloid, which is unfortunate but because of the thinness of the border and the shadow effect of the mount, is not particularly noticeable in wear. A very attractive 1930s link.
Simple hand-crafted amethyst quartz cufflinks mounted in silver
A really charming pair of artisan-made silver cufflinks carefully crafted by hand to mount what looks like a neat hexagonal slice-through of a rock crystal spar containing a beautifully rich purple amethyst (or similar semi-precious stone) inclusion. Chain and bar link. No visible hallmarks, but bought as silver. Although there is light surface wear to all parts of the links, including to the exposed parts of the crystal, this is only visible on close inspection and I feel adds to the handmade appearance of the piece! Charming and rather unusual.
Photo Gallery - Victorian and Edwardian linksClick thumbnail to view full-size
Cufflink boxes and cases
The necessary adjunct.
Not the least pleasant part of collecting cufflinks can be finding an original boxed or carded set and noting the efforts made to store and display them. This may be as simple as an original store card with the links clipped to it, bearing a little more information than the links themselves can convey about who made them, for what market, and when, or as complete as a full box, perhaps leather-covered, with the links set in a velvet housing. Each can tell you much about the intended purchaser of the links, their social standing, and the shops they frequented. Illustrated is a links box by a sound British maker, Stratton, probably dating from the 1930s-1950s. From the number of storage holes this was clearly for a dress set of cufflink and shirt front studs (although lacking the space for collar studs and matching waistcoat buttons which would suggest a really high-end production. It is nicely done, octagonal in form with a grained covering which is pleasing to the eye and complements the maroon velvet interior and is itself echoed by the colouring of the Stratton ENGLAND lettering with top-hatted man logo on the inside lid.
Amazon Spotlight Personal Review - Cufflinks, Liaut & Pizzin - A handsome illustrated chronicle of one man's collection
A marvellous illustrated resource, excellent on historical/aesthetic context, this handsome book showcases around sixty different examples of cufflinks from many countries and eras. Beginning with an engaging preface by Karl Lagerfeld, it traces the evolution of the cufflink from the Romantic period to the present day, relating cufflink styles to changing artistic genres and illustrating this artistic dialogue with telling examples of classic links and a nice selection of period illustrations and photographs. The Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods are particularly well handled. The cufflink illustrations are a particular treasure, being large (often half or full page) clear and in full colour. The cover illustration is a good example. The book benefits from a focus on persons as well as things so that we learn not just about famous cufflink wearers and their links - such as Marlene Dietrich's from 'Morocco' for instance - but also makers such as the House of Boyer (inventors of the torpedo-back link, apparently), and the Sicilian Duke Fulco de Verdura, who made for persons as diverse as the Duke of Windsor and Tallulah Bankhead. My take away fact from this book is that Charvet were apparently the inventors of the now ubiquitous 'silk knot' link!