Groomsmen's Blog

Cufflinks

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By Howard K. Brodwin


Crave some groovin' groomsmen gifts? By now, we've all been exposed to the renaissance of those halcyon days of bachelor pad swinging-ness - pork pie hats, tie pins, French cuff shirts, swing dancing, Martinis, "you're so money!" and all that other jazz. All the "cool cats and kittens" may be behind us now, but fellas, we've been left a legacy thought to be lost with pops or granddad. Cufflinks are that readily available accoutrement needed to give the razor sharp suit you're sporting a touch of subtle sparkle. So when you're pondering groomsmen gifts, keep them in mind.

These miniature works of art run the gamut from small and discreet to oversized and outrageous, from traditional and refined to trendy and whimsical. Cufflinks often express the wearer's success-jewel-encrusted precious metals, dollar signs and moneybags. Exclusive social, religious and political logos, and indulgences such as cigars, cannabis leaves, playing cards, dice and liquor bottles are popular themes. Diminutive versions of carpenter tools, typewriter keys, the NY Stock Exchange logo, stamps and coins hint at one's occupation or hobbies. Basically, these versatile groomsmen gifts celebrate everything guys love!

Such cufflinks look best on a French Cuff Shirt. What is a "French cuff" shirt, you may ask? This simply means that there are no buttons on the sleeves - the cuffs fold over once, doubling the material at the four matched up holes that your cufflink passes through and fastens. Men's shirts have been through numerous metamorphoses over the centuries, at one point covering not only the arms, but most of the hands as well. The sleeves were usually loose fitting, often ending with a flourish of lace ruffles.

Today's French-cuff shirt wearer is likely a more devoted cufflink collector simply because he's made the decision to make his links a "necessity" rather than an "accessory." Help your other friends catch on with these gentlemanly groomsmen gifts!

According to the National Cufflink Society, there is evidence of cuff fasteners in ancient hieroglyphics and even in King Tut's crypt. The introduction of the French cuff in the mid 1600's moved the cufflink from the realm of practicality to personal adornment, as royalty commonly wore these decorated cuff fasteners. In the late 1700's, new link styles appeared and were soon adopted by the middle class and tradesmen. By the 1840's cufflinks were usually found in the form of gold, silver, or pearl buttons held together by metal, often brass chain. That means guys could have been giving cufflinks as groomsmen gifts centuries ago!

During the Industrial Revolution in the 1860's, the development of precious metal electroplating afforded the masses a look that was formerly beyond their means. In the 1880's, around the time removable starched cuffs and collars were introduced, George Krementz patented a device adapted from a Civil War cartridge shell-making machine that produced one-piece collar buttons and cufflinks. Almost every major U.S. business company during the first half of the twentieth century commissioned cufflinks either for advertising purposes or as gift incentives for employees or executives.

The Roaring 20's were probably the height of cuff-link invention. Manufacturers created a variety of devices and designs to do one simple thing: allow a man to insert and remove his cufflinks with a minimum of difficulty and a maximum of security. Now there are a wide variety of mechanisms for open and closing cufflinks - some feature the classic flip-hinge, there are designs that twist off and some that screw apart. There are little chains that link the two sections together and the one-piece dumbbell type, in which the same design is repeated in a smaller s ize on the ball that passes through the cuff. Hey, why not get creative and set up a "speakeasy" in which to hand out these twenties-era groomsmen gifts?

Cufflink use may have had its peak during the 1960s. According to Arthur Gately, a senior vice president for cufflink manufacturer Swank Inc., "In the late 1960s, we were producing 12 million pairs of cufflinks a year." Even though these were aimed at the lowest end of the market, retailing for an average of $2.50 a pair, that still adds up to a lot of men wearing French-cuff shirts. Now Swank makes about 150,000 to 200,000 pairs a year.

The resurgent popularity of cufflinks in recent years inspired businessman Claude Jeanloz to open The Cufflink Museum in Conway, New Hampshire, in the late 1990's. Jeanloz, who obtained his first pair as a confirmation gift from his godmother, began collecting cufflinks in the mid 1960s. After amassing a large number of them, he decided to establish the Cufflink Museum, which features over 70,000 pairs on display in 10,000 square feet - by far the largest collection in the world.

Though it's difficult to precisely date the pair, the museum's oldest links are from the late 1700s. Also on display are cufflink memorabilia such as vintage cufflink ads, photos and even album covers featuring performers wearing cufflinks like The Beatles and Bob Dylan (take a look at the cover of his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home...) as well as photos of famous politicians, including John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev at the United Nations, both wearing cufflinks. Needless to say, this is your chance to give groomsmen gifts with some culture behind them.

Perhaps the most famous and expensive pairs of cufflinks-they sold at auction for $440,000 in 1987-was a gift from Wallis Simpson to Edward, the soon-to-be king of England. As recounted by Susan Jonas and Marilyn Nissenson in their book Cufflinks, the diamonds set in platinum, with baguette diamonds forming the initials E. and W., were custom ordered by Simpson in 1935. An accompanying set of buttons and studs were inscribed with "Hold Tight."

We know at this point you've forgotten all about groomsmen gifts and just want to get some cool cufflinks for yourself. If you'd like to know more about cufflinks, check out the National Cufflink Society at www.cufflink.com. Get on board with fellow "linkers" (a term that cufflink buffs often use to refer to other collectors), learn about how to start collecting, the history of cufflinks and (pardon the pun) links to sites all about, well...links!

Howard lives in Los Angeles, CA and owns 4 pairs of cufflinks - his favorite ones feature a miniature 1963 MG TDC convertible.

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