Last year, unbeknownst to the vast majority of American style aficionados, eminent Belgian cuff link collector Guy-David Lambrechts organized the first European Cuff Link Exhibition at the beautiful Nottebohmzaal room at the Hendrik Conscience Library in Antwerp.
It took place from May 21st – July 17th and attracted 6,000 visitors.
At this exhibition, Mr. Lambrechts was limited to showing 300 carefully selected pieces from his private collection. While the earliest cufflinks were 150 years old, cuff links were present from every decade up until the 1960’s.
The exhibition also elaborated on the history of cuff links, which provided some unique context for the collection. While a visitor learned a lot about the different materials used, the craftsmanship techniques, and the origins of the cufflinks, one element was particularly special: the placement of Victorian-era links.
Victorian Cuff Links
Even for collectors, it is probably surprising to learn that Victorian cufflinks were rather large, but the main attraction is in fact the way they were worn on top of the cuff rather than the side.
Today, cuff links are either worn with a double cuff (also known as French Cuff) or with a single cuff with two buttonholes. The cuff itself is always a part of the shirt. Sometimes you may find detachable collars for evening, but shirts detachable cuffs basically completely extinct.
During the era, the cuffs were detachable and often starched. White clothing was a luxury only enjoyed by the wealthy at the time, and detaching worn cuffs allowed the wearer to always present immaculately white cuffs without replacing the whole shirt. However, the most elegant men would have some cuffs with lace, and they were stiffened and polished with sugar in order to make them very shiny. Luckily, Mr. Lambrechts was able to preserve some of these cuffs from his ancestors and it is amazing to see these nearly 150 year old cuffs in person. Many of these cuffs were photographed for the book.
For every cuff link, a man of nobility would buy 24 cuffs so he could wear a new cuff each day.
Cuff Link On Top Of The Cuff
Another difference was the positioning of the cufflink – back then, the cuffs were cut in a way so the cuff link would be prominently displayed on top of the cuff! Men of the era were clearly not shy about displaying their jewelry.
Because the cuff was detachable, a smaller stud was required to attach the cuff to the shirt sleeve.
As seen frequently in Downton Abbey,
most men of position had a valet who would help them put on their cuff links. Considering that the cuff had been starched, they were not easy to put on, and therefore they had little button hooks that were similar to the button hooks used for boots.
Fortunately, Guy-David Lambrechts had a video made of the exhibition and he is also the author of the 400 page book Antique Cufflinks 1860-1960 with more than 3800 pictures of cuff links, which I will review tomorrow. So stay tuned, and enjoy!
What do you think about vintage cuff links? Do you own any or do you prefer newer cuff links or plain button cuffs? At the cuff link convention last summer, there were thousands of them.