a fixation for fine jewellery and a collection of diamond cufflinks, said to exceed 150 pieces. His style was mimicked by members of the French royal court, and soon by aristocrats across Europe.
Come the 19th century and the spread of wealth in the emerging Victorian middle class and the ingenuity of makers, aided by mechanisation as the century progressed, saw Victorian fashionconscious gentry and leaders of industry vying with each other to sport the most gold about their persons.
Watches and chains strung across ever-expanding bellies, heavy and ornate signet rings, lapel posy holders, gold-handled walking canes and 18-carat shirt studs and cufflinks were de rigueur, especially when dressing for dinner or for a night at the theatre.
Cufflink styles reflected the mood of the country and its fashion. With the rise of the Empire, Indian diamonds and sapphires from Ceylon were the gems of choice to decorate otherwise plain gold links, while Whitby or French jet and black onyx links inset with a single pearl marked Queen Victorian’s period of mourning following her beloved Prince Albert’s death.
In contrast, the sinuous curves of the Art Nouveau period were echoed in cufflink designs at the end of the century, soon pushed out by the angular zigzags and racy symbolism of Art Deco.
Archaeological discoveries such as Howard Carter’s unearthing of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 saw A pair of double diamond and sapphire cufflinks, each link in a bow motif with an old-cut diamond to the centre. Estimate £800-1,200 Roman coins and engravings of pharaohs’ heads and other Egyptian symbols being pressed into action on the face of links, by which time fashion in the Roaring Twenties and the decadent Thirties was in full swing.
Designs became ever more flamboyant, with trendsetters such as Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson together taking men’s fashion accessories to new heights.
The jewels they gave each other documented their legendary love story, among which was a pair of sapphire and diamond cufflinks she gave him in 1935, when their affair was still a secret.
Inscribed on the back by makers Cartier with her reassurance to him to “Hold Tight”, a phrase used often by the couple in their correspondence before their marriage, they sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva in 1987 for $400,000.
Not all cufflinks are so pricey. Just as it is possible to pay hundreds of thousands for the gold and gemencrusted by important makers, it’s also easy to find sets for prices that won’t break the bank.
America took cufflinks to its heart and many 20th century makers made extremely stylish examples in rolled gold that can cost as little as £15-20.
Some novelty cufflinks are cheaper still.
Silver links with enamel decoration are in a slightly higher bracket, while simple 9ct gold sets need not cost more than £200-300.