As men’s fashion gets dapper cufflinks become an important accessory.
The resurgence of the dapper look among gents has led to a fresh interest in unusual and unique cufflink design. Kathryn Bishop hears from the brands and designers bringing the wrist to the fore.
Cufflinks as we know them first appeared in the 18th century as small buttons of gold and silver linked by delicate chains. While one could argue that the basic design of a cufflink has not changed much in the 300 years since then, what appears to be the product’s limitation has not stopped its evolution.
Today the number of cufflink styles, materials and designs available to the shopper – from the high-street to most high-end bespoke creations – is vast and varied. Some brands are working in colourful, lightweight resins, while others are creating solid gold, gem-set marvels that double as playthings for the daydreaming businessman.
One notable shift in tastes today, and one that is filtering down to cufflinks, has been the return to sharp tailoring and snappy dressing. As reported in Professional Jeweller’s September issue, gents are now more particular when it comes to jewellery choices, considering the sartorial relevance of what they are wearing. The signet ring is back, both in an ironic sense and for lovers of genealogy, while wider men’s jewellery design has become understated, with quality is a key driver of sales. But how is this being reflected in cufflink design?
TRADITIONAL DRESSING, QUIRKY CUFFS
Robert Tateossian, founder and owner of jewellery retailer Tateossian, says interest in cufflinks among the masses has grown of late. “There is no question that the audience, in terms of age group, for cufflinks has become larger. Younger generations are now choosing to wear a shirt and jacket to work without a tie, so a pair of cufflinks gives the look an overall polished finish,” he explains.
Ross Jones, director of emerging silver cufflink brand Nine Two Five, agrees that a younger demographic of cufflink shopper has arrived as a result of changing fashion and the influence of pop music. “With the resurgence of the tailored look within men’s fashion, there is an evolving interest from various people looking for cufflinks,” he volunteers. “We are recognising current celebrities as influential style icons. For example, musicians such as Tinie Tempah and One Direction are notable for embracing the dapper look and as a result, the market is expanding due to interest from a younger demographic.”
Family-run cufflink maker Deakin & Francis was founded in 1786 by Charles Washington Shirley Deakin and seven generations later, situated in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, it continues to produce luxury cufflinks, with James and Henry Deakin at the helm.
Deakin & Francis has created more than 1,000 different cufflink designs since its inception, using materials from silver through to platinum, with clients including celebrities and royalty from around the world. The brand specialises in playful cufflinks – everything from hamburgers and Spitfire aeroplanes to enamelled penguins and elephants – while also producing more traditional lines that use vitreous enamel and diamond details.
Henry Deakin explains that the average Deakin & Francis customer has changed, largely thanks to a rise in interest owing to social media and through menswear blogs such as Maketh the Man. “We have seen a shift in the demographic of our customers, especially as interest in our social media profiles has risen,” he says. “Many social media users are younger and much more interested in fashion, with many of them trying to recreate the dapper look.”
MATERIAL, MINERALS AND MAMMALS
In a moment of contradiction, Tateossian notes that as men’s fashion has taken a turn for the traditional, cufflink design has, in his opinion, become more playful and creative. The result has largely been a vogue for cufflinks that are created with tongue firmly in cheek to make an admirer look twice.
“Cufflinks have become less traditional, moving away from the ball and chain convention into more quizzical and unusual pieces,” says Tateossian. “Designs have become more experimental with both size and materials.”
Materials such as resin and perspex have been on the rise at the lower end of the cufflink market, while carved stones, diamond-set racing car designs and bespoke creations have become more daring choices at the higher end of the spectrum.
Simon Carter’s mainline collections, which retail for about £40, feature elements such as crystals and mother of pearl, while designs motifs include seahorses, bi-planes and lacewing insects. Carter says his favourite design is a penguin made in mother of pearl, black onyx and set with red Swarovski crystal eyes – a design that uses gunmetal plating, a first for the brand.
At Nine Two Five, trends have tilted towards all things royal blue, and lapis lazuli has become the stone of choice for its cufflinks, with Jones stating that its lapis jelly bean design is a favourite of its customers.
For Tateossian the use of unusual materials goes one step further. The brand recently launched its USB cufflinks, with 2GB of data storage on each cuff, and also has a creative collection called Pandora’s Box, featuring tiny glass boxes filled with everything from a single coffee bean to bits of mammoth tusk and gold leaf.
Its Gibeon Meteorite is one of Tateossian’s personal favourites. “[The meteorite is] found in Namibia, set in sterling silver, with an 18ct yellow gold signature Tateossian pattern running around the case and limited to only 25 pairs,” he explains. “Slick, cool and in a stylish cabochon shape, they are classic but ultra contemporary.”
At Deakin & Francis, its hero skull design has become the base for several reincarnations. James Deakin explains how at the turn of the century David Deakin, who has since retired, created its skull cufflinks – something he dubs “an exquisite pair of diamond encrusted skulls with moving jawbones”. Today James Deakin is the company’s chief designer and he has developed the skull theme this year, creating a limited-edition run of 12 pairs of Diamond Jubilee skull cufflinks made in 18ct white gold and set with diamonds.
But what comes next, when quirky designs become the norm? For these brands it is all about evolution and keeping the product offer fresh, but also keeping an eye on new routes or new accessories to add to the brand.
Simon Carter has already added watches and a women’s collection of cufflinks and timepieces to his portfolio, but for him the only way is up as he pushes his brand into the luxury realm. “Looking ahead to AW13 I will launch my SuperLuxe range,” explains its eponymous founder. “These will be sterling silver and semi-prceious stones such as opal, labradorite and snowflake obsidian. They will retail for around £250 per pair and are part of my strategy of edging the brand further up market.”
Tateossian already produces 200 new cufflink designs each season but now places more focus on developing its mechanical cufflinks and cufflinks with moving parts, following several successful seasons already. Gold cufflinks with Art Deco inspired styles are also due to follow.
With Nine Two Five only just launching – it made its debut at IJL in September – Jones says that the next step is to launch a second silver cufflink collection, due next summer. Silver will also play a role in the upcoming collections by Deakin & Francis, but it will also be moving into leather goods such as wallets and silver money clips.
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR RETAILERS
For some retailers, cufflinks will be stocked for the sole purpose of offering impulse fodder – they might fill up a sparse display cabinet only to be largely ignored as they tarnish quietly under the heat of the halogen cabinet lights. But this is not how it should be, argue the cufflink makers, who say that their products should be given centre stage. As a cufflink brand they argue that cufflinks offer a wealth of sales opportunities, especially in this renewed era of fashion savvy, smartly dressed gents and shoppers looking for gifts not only for friends, best men and brothers, but also for themselves.
“By stocking cufflinks, retailers can offer their customers a more comprehensive accessories collection, and provide distinctive products that may not have been at the forefront of their minds,” states Henry Deakin. “Cufflinks also make ideal gifts for special occasions such as anniversaries, birthdays and graduations, so by adding them to their store retailers can increase footfall and online traffic for customers shopping for gifts.”
According to Jones, as the men’s jewellery market has developed, so too has the appeal of adding a finishing touch to an outfit, something he believes retailers will soon pick up on. “The men’s jewellery industry is booming at the moment and with the modern man paying close attention to the finer details of his wardrobe, cufflinks are becoming increasingly popular again,” he says. “Retailers will realise the potential in stocking high-quality cufflinks, as well as other stylised accessories.”
The size of cufflinks also helps saleability. While watches can take up a large amount of room in a window display, and men’s leather goods might not be suited to all retailers’ offerings, the ease at which a pair of cufflinks can be elegantly stacked, grouped or shown off in a smart leather box makes them ideal.
“Cufflinks take very little space on the shop floor, yet are a very high-value accessory. The return of profit for a jewellery retailer per square footage of the shop floor would be appealing and beneficial to any retailer,” argues Tateossian. “Another advantage is that they are not a seasonal item so do not need to go on sale.”
With cufflinks offering a range of fresh and fun designs and some of the most exciting innovations in the industry, they might be worth looking at twice, because a fresh swathe of consumers certainly are.
This article was taken from the December 2012 issue of Professional Jeweller. To read the issue online, click here.