Cufflink use peaked during the 1960s; one jewelry manufacturer was producing 12 million pairs a year. After the ’60s, menswear became increasingly casual, and cufflinks seemed headed for the realm of nostalgia.
But a few years ago, even as workplace dress codes were becoming looser than ever, jewelers began reporting a strange phenomenon: sharp increases in cufflink sales. These days, collectors of antique cufflinks are encountering stiff competition. “It’s so odd, because men are dressing down, going to the office without shirt and tie,” says Safro. “Yet the demand for cufflinks is stronger than ever, and many more companies are making reproductions of old styles.”
Klompus has been tracking demand since he started his own cufflink collection 50 years ago. “Demand tends to run in 30-year cycles that correspond with peacetime and prosperity,” he explains. “Right now we’re in a high-fashion period for cufflinks—ironically, in a period of ‘business casual’ but high prosperity.”
Perhaps because the pressure is off to dress formally in the workplace, men are having more fun when they do dress up. “Shirt manufacturers are finally catching on and pumping out French cuff shirts in a variety of patterns, styles, and cuff widths,” Klompus says.
The category enjoying the biggest demand seems to be novelty cufflinks. “Novelty and whimsical cufflinks are extremely popular—more than ever,” Klompus says. “There has always been a segment of cufflink wearers looking for novelty, but today it’s a major part of the market. It has to do with the casual workplace. You don’t want to be over-formal, so what better compromise than showing up in working watch cufflinks—or hot and cold faucets?”
In department and jewelry stores, people are seeking out graphics that spell “stop” and “go,” “left” and “right,” and “yes” and “no” as well as symbols like the bear and bull and hobby and sports emblems such as tennis rackets and sailboats. Safro reports that links in the form of gold pipes or Leica cameras from the 1950s and golf clubs and balls from the 1930s are popular, as are a classic double-sided Victorian pair with the theme of “the four vices: wine, women, song, and gambling—naughty men’s pursuits.”
Wearing one’s heart (or humor) on one’s sleeve dates back to the earliest cuff buttons. Painted miniatures were a fad in the 18th century, and some of the earliest surviving cufflinks feature tiny portraits under faceted crystal. Double-sided wedding portraits—the groom on one side, his bride on the other—were a popular wedding gift.
To be continue … watch for next posting.
Cathleen McCarthy, a Philadelphia freelance writer, specializes in articles about jewelry design, collectibles, retailing, and travel.
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