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On the cuff
Hand-made cufflinks are a great way to set off a suit and create a talking point
he next time a sharp-suited Mad Men-style character sidles across a cinema screen, spare a glance at his cuffs. Odds are the links – whether discreet or garish – will have been designed specifically for the performance.
Films, television productions, and the armed forces keep bespoke cufflink craftsmen in business – along with a cadre of discriminating individuals with a taste for the unique.
The fashion accessory –which was once a necessity – has made something of a comeback in the past 20-odd years. Cufflink use nearly died out in the button-cuff, button-down era of the 1970s and 1980s. But the top end of the market has become daring and exclusive on the subject of wrist adornments, with hand-made items costing around £12,000.
But that is diminutive compared to the highest price ever paid for a pair of bespoke cufflinks –– albeit at auction more than half a century after they were crafted. In 1987, a pair of platinum links complete with baguette diamonds owned by the much-troubled Edward VIII was sold for $440,000.
Of course, those cufflinks had history and scandal going for them, as well as uniqueness. They were given to the soon-to-be king in 1935 by his divorcee American lover, Wallis Simpson, before there was any wider whiff of their relationship and abdication loomed. They also bore the initials W and E.
The origins date back centuries to the mid-1700s, when it was fashionable in the court of George II to fasten shirtsleeves with baubles of painted glass or quartz
Wallis Simpson knew a thing or two about fashion and she was right at the edge of the curve in choosing the links. The 1920s and 1930s were the historical heyday in cufflink history.
However, the origins date back centuries to the mid-1700s, when it was fashionable in the court of George II to fasten shirtsleeves with baubles of painted glass or quartz. The Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution brought stiff French collars to the ranks of the middle classes, and the more or less modern cufflink was born.
But typically, it was the US that brought mass production, when in the late-1880s German-born jeweller George Kremenzt invented a device based on a US Civil War cartridge shell that could manufacture cufflinks by the hundred. Some 135 years later, fashion has come full circle. Bespoke cufflinks are the sign for many of ultimate fashion sophistication and individuality.
Still, the opportunities for finding upmarket designs are limited. ‘There are not many people making really nice bespoke cufflinks,’ says Stephen Einhorn, who 20 years ago launched a specialist studio and shop in north London’s Islington.
The business remains niche, with Einhorn crafting with just six fellow designers in his workshop. Tucked away on Islington’s Upper Street they may be, but the design team has a high profile and international clientele.
For example, orders for bespoke cufflinks have come from Benoy, the architects responsible for the centrepiece building at the Ferrari World amusement park in Dubai. For the opening, Einhorn designed cufflinks for the Formula One team and its guests based on the crab-like red building.
‘Some of our clients check our work under a microscope. Crispness of the detail is very important to them.’
Einhorn’s team has also designed cufflinks for Lauren Child, the author of the hit children’s books Charlie and Lola, with the bespoke images based on characters from the series. Other quirky requests have included replicating the design of a 1936 Bentley motorcar, getting the minute detail accurate right down to the original number plate.
Einhorn’s team also produces small bulk orders for film productions. Indeed, movie producers can be the toughest customers. ‘Normally, we retain the copyright in the designs of our cufflinks,’ he explains, ‘except in the case of film production jobs. The film companies make you sign your life away.’
Bespoke cufflink designers use a variety of metals, from the standard to the literally out of this world. Einhorn relates that one renowned astronomer client asked for a pair to be crafted from a piece of meteorite. While a top-flight concert pianist was keen to have a set honed from the keys of a favourite, but redundant old piano.
Einhorn relates that one renowned astronomer client asked for a pair to be crafted from a piece of meteorite.
But standard materials are titanium, silver and gold, with the last of that trio broken down into red, yellow and white pigments. Some designers are also considering using less common purple and green gold.
At the top end of the materials’ chart are platinum and palladium, with the latter being a very light metal for the gentleman or lady who does not fancy being weighed down in the wrist area.
Customers wanting to push the boat out are generally advised to ask for a bespoke design based around platinum or 18-carat white gold, topped off with a diamond or two. Such an effort is likely to cost around £10,000 to £12,000. An average pair of silver bespoke links would be more in the region of £1,000.
However, do not expect to order on a Wednesday afternoon, collect on a Friday and then to be flaunting your latest accessories on Saturday night. Turnaround times for high-fashion bespoke cufflinks run to an average of at least a couple of months. Indeed, Einhorn points out that it took his team the best part of 12 weeks to complete the Bentley pair to their customer’s satisfaction.
Those in pursuit of flamboyant fashion are not the only bespoke cufflink customers. Carl Huxley runs Selcraft in Malvern, Worcestershire, which caters for the thriving trade in crafted links for the armed forces, both at home and abroad.
British military clients tend to be far more conservative in their requests than their counterparts in, say, the Persian Gulf states. Ministry of Defence protocols inhibit radical designs. Yet, reports Huxley, his team can still incorporate personalised variances in standard crests.
‘They can be depicted in different surrounds,’ he explains. ‘Some clients ask for the crest to be in relief, while others ask for the crest to be on one side of the link and something else – a date or a quotation – on the other.
Indeed, just as the Islington designers had to toil for hours over a Bentley design, Huxley’s clients are no less demanding. ‘Military crests seem to be designed to make our life awkward,’ he says. ‘And some of our most particular clients check our work under a microscope. The crispness of the detail is very important to them. Sometimes you get right in one go; other times it takes three attempts.’
One glaring difference between the high fashion and the military markets is cost. The officer class would see their top of the range links hitting just £200.
This article was originally published in Halcyon magazine in 2015