A pair of silver cufflinks believed to commemorate the wedding of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662.)

As I make Cufflinks I started to wonder about the who, where and why of CUFFLINKS.  It’s really very interesting!

A pair of silver cufflinks believed to commemorate the wedding of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662.)

A pair of silver cufflinks believed to commemorate the wedding of King Charles II to Catherine of Braganza in 1662

The word “cuffe” used to mean the bottom of the sleeve and has been found in literature as far back as mid 14th Century.  It is believed that it first meant  ” hand covering, mitten, or glove”.    There is evidence also that in 1520 it meant a band around the sleeve and hem of trousers.

Cufflinks of black glass & paper slither

Cufflinks of black glass & paper slither

The term “cuff” was then used as a verb from 1690s, presumably because it refers to a clout delivered by the hand.

Interestingly, off the cuff  was used extemporaneously in American English from around the late 1930s, referring to an actor or speaker reading from notes jotted on his shirt sleeves rather than learned lines.

How interesting is that?  I wonder how many actors actually write their lines on their cuff? Of course, the curiosity of this little linguistic tit-bit is that speaking off the cuff now refers to NOT needing notes!

Green and silver dichroic glass cufflinks

Green and silver dichroic glass cufflinks

In the 1640s the word “cuff” was used to describe a decorative addition to a sleeve;

By the way, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php, is a great site where you can find the derivation of anything you want.

Prior to the introduction of CUFFLINKS, tailors used buttons solely as decoration, and men kept their clothes together with pins, laces and straps.

During the 13th century, tailors began using buttons as fasteners. The development of the worked (stitched) buttonhole during the Renaissance aided in the button’s popularity.

In the post-Renaissance period (1600s)  that two ornamented buttons, attached in the middle with a link of chain, became de rigeur among the upper classes of Europe, especially Great Britain, as per the cufflinks at the very top of the blog.

Jewelers began turning out what they called “sleeve buttons” in silver and gold, with etched or stamped designs, and often encrusted with precious gems.

Every royal family commemorated weddings and other special events with them, and the wearing of cufflinks became the mark of a gentleman. Funnily enough, their popularity is again soaring today, as they and the associated “French cuffs”(see later) are considered tres chic!

Glass buttons appeared in the late 17th century as a gaudier but lower-cost alternative to diamonds.

During the 18th century, a new jewel material – glass paste – made of ground-up glass and resembling faceted gems, came into widespread use. Paste became a popular material for covering cufflinks and buttons. The English fashion spread to France, where it became popular among the nobility.

Bright blue dichroic glass cufflinks

Bright blue dichroic glass cufflinks

It wasn’t until 1788 that the first known record of the word “cufflink” appeared.

In the late Napoleonic period, Faberge perfected kiln-fired enameled jewelry, and began exporting it around the world.

The-Count-of-Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

The derring do of the Count of Monte Cristo

In 1845, the French claim to the double shirt cuff was made explicit with Alexandre Dumas’s hugely popular novel, The Count of Monte-Cristo, which describes Baron Danglars’s elegantly adorned cuffs thus: “…the owner of so splendid an equipage must needs be all that was admirable and enviable, more especially when they gazed on the enormous diamond that glittered in his shirt, and the red ribbon that depended from his button-hole.”  How do you like the exquisite language?  This must be the most amazing description of a cufflink ever written!

Wikipedia french cuff pic with knotted button

Wikipedia french cuff pic with knotted button

It has been said that the turned-back sleeves of Dumas’s characters inspired French tailors to begin making doubled-over, or “French” cuffs. The National Cuff Link Society, however, cautions that it may not be the shirt’s true origin. Regardless of which country invented it, the French cuff has remained popular for 150 years as a vehicle for cufflinks and is enjoying a surge in popularity.

The practice of wearing cufflinks spread and became ubiquitous during the 19th century. Imitation gems such as glass paste, micah and crystal, as well as gold- and silver-plate and base metal alloys were all employed by jewellers to make cufflinks affordable to the masses.

Bright red cufflinks with matching tie pin

Bright red cufflinks with dichro (this set has a matching tie pin, which can always be created)

In the 1920s, jewllery designers invented the T-post and flip hinges. Snap-together cufflinks followed in the ’30s. Low-end manufacturers turned out millions of inexpensive cufflinks in standard designs from the 1930s through the 1960s.

the button down collar

the button down collar

The buttondown shirt’s popularity in the 1960s and 1970s dampened the demand for cufflinks as buttoned cuffs suited the overall look of the shirt more.

However in the 1980s and again during the past five years, French cuff shirts again returned to men’s wardrobes, and are now popular, especially with young professionals trying to stand out in a sea of “business casual” attire.

If you want to know about ordering a unique pair of handmade glass cufflinks for yourself or someone you love, just drop me a line.  [email protected]

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1 Comment
  1. Great article on … er, cufflinks. (Yup, you read that right.) « Well, This Is What I Think 10 years ago

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