The French cuff has become a rarity. It is now reserved for evening dress, or tycoons chairing family board meetings. It is still solid tuxedo territory. Along with it go cufflinks. The double cuff, connected by what was once one of the most gifted items of jewellery for men, is now for special occasions and eccentrics. But that all makes the cufflink more interesting. Whether they are early examples from the 1600s, or something modern, inset with authentic Roman coins from the 1st century, they can bring a story with them in a way that a simple button rarely can.
Alice Walsh is the director of Alice Made This, one of the most popular contemporary brands of cufflinks at Mr Porter and Selfridges. What she makes is small and customarily simple, but there’s narrative in every ounce of silver. “Researching, experimenting, relationship building, and making in small batches build a story and a meaning beyond just a cufflink,” she explains. “Whether it's our Aerospace engineers, our patina artist, our blaster or our silversmith, when you invest in a pair of cufflinks like this, you are investing in the craftsmanship and in the human.”
Sometimes a cufflink can be basic, but as pleasing as anything from Asprey. “I tend to wear simple silk knot cufflinks to match my tie or pocket square,” says Patrick Grant, director of bespoke tailors Norton & Sons and its more casual sibling E. Tautz. “It’s a nice way to add subtle coordination with a dress shirt. But I also still have a lot of my father’s cufflinks which bring an extra dimension of memory with them. He had lots – mostly silver, some gold, with small geometric patterns.” When Grant was involved in an exhibition of Mayfair tailoring in Paris a few years ago along with several of his peers from Savile Row, he commissioned a jeweller to create a single pair of bespoke silver and jet cufflinks for the cuffs on his mannequin, to match the outfit’s silver and jet buttons.
Silver and black are, of course, the key notes of most art deco design, and something from the 1920s, in onyx and contrasting pearlescent or white enamel that speaks to the world of Eileen Gray and Ruhlmann, will always look perfect with a dinner jacket. Ditto, a slightly more colourful arrangement of Bauhaus graphics. In the modern world of athleisure 24/7, any time you reach for velvet and a bow tie, there’s an inescapable anachronism. Bringing a touch of the 1920s to the 2020s can only spark joy, even if it’s just an inch on each wrist.
A cuff for all occasions, from ‘A Gentleman’s Wardrobe: Classic Clothes and the Modern Man’, by Paul Keers
Cufflinks are often heirlooms, and have emotional resonance, but they are most interesting when bona fide historical artefacts. You could feasibly pick up a frock coat belonging to a long-deceased prince at any number of auctions, but even if it’s in good condition, it’s still going to be costume. You might, however, happen upon cufflinks with a royal crest on – a blue silver and enamel pair with the royal cypher of George VI, dated to 1952 (accompanied by an invitation to Her Majesty’s Afternoon Party at Holyroodhouse in June of that summer), came up for auction a couple of years ago in London with an estimate of £60 and sold for £1,300. The term is often used in a comedic manner, but when worn with a suit by, say, Edward Sexton, on a Charvet shirt, they would genuinely be “a talking point”.
When it comes to major marques, the colourful, contemporary, stark pieces by Patek Philippe definitely fall into the category of future heirloom. As do the £14,000 18-carat white gold diamond pieces by Tom Ford that have a sleek knot-graphic element to their bars. And what could be more “tuxedo” than a black gem? Vintage Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels are flashier, but if you’re venturing away from noir gros grain, a few rich (precious) gem colours and some brilliant old-fashioned gold is just the ticket. If you want to feel the weight of serious jewellery on your cuff, look for 19th-century Fabergé diamond pieces, which will cost you around the same as a new BMW 3 Series. Just take care not to lose one down the back of a sofa.
Cufflinks are an opportunity to be discreetly individual, which of course includes the monogrammed versions. Bayode Odowule of the modernist Dover-based tailoring house Pokit follows Patrick Grant’s example and opts for knots of silk, “because you can slip them off without undoing them and throw them in the wash,” he explains. He says he’s been suspicious of anything else for years, because of the 1990s novelty trend (“those tap handles saying hot and cold – I’d rather wear a leather piano tie!”), but he finds a double cuff impossible to resist. “I wear vintage Jermyn Street shirts with my own suits,” he says. “I remember my first real pair of cufflinks which I got from Agnès b when she had a shop in South Kensington. They were the size of a five-pence piece and had Arabic-style motifs around a central onyx circle. They served me well, and now my brother has them. If I’m not wearing silk knots now, I actually use plastic paper tags that I’ve linked myself with cotton. I use them as a private conceit because I have my Rolex underneath.”
Main Image: Picturelux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo