By the end of the 19th century, precious gems were being imported from previously untapped sources—opals from Australia , rubies from Burma, sapphires from India, and diamonds from South Africa. Men were quick to buy them for women but slower to wear them. By the end of the century, however, emeralds and diamonds were appearing with color-coordinated enameling.
The fin de siècle saw the British arts & crafts and French art nouveau design movements arrive on the scene. In England , this meant cufflinks from Liberty & Co. with silver and enamel Celtic swirls, and in Paris, opalescent plique à jour enameling and Lalique’s sensuous nudes in carved glass.
Meanwhile, the house of Fabergé was perfecting what has become a perennial favorite, the guilloche cufflink—rich translucent enamel over a symmetrical engine-turned pattern. It was the same process Fabergé used on its famous eggs and involved a simple but well-kept secret process that other jewelry houses eventually picked up. Guilloche designs became increasingly intricate.
When the dashing King Edward took the English throne in 1901, his taste for bright colors (especially red) at neck and wrist soon caught on. The Edwardian era (1901-1910) brought a sophisticated playfulness to menswear, and sapphires, emeralds, and, above all, rubies and diamonds began to appear in cufflinks.
Art deco introduced a casual elegance and symmetrical, modernist designs. In his shop in New York‘s Trump Tower, Stephen Russell favors links from the Jazz Age. “Victorian cufflinks are harder to find,” Russell says. “And they were not as tailored as deco ones. Most of the cufflinks here are from the ’20s and ’30s. Everybody then wore cufflinks and studs. Asian designs were popular. Big houses like Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels used motifs like the yin-yang symbol—black and white, very clean—or the Chinese symbol for good luck, back-to-back ‘Cs.’ ”
The Depression made the cufflink primarily an article of the leisure class. For the first time in a century, links and studs no longer were required at every social function. Yet the Jazz Age produced some of the most coveted and timeless
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