It pains me to admit this, but precious cufflinks really do reek of overindulgence. I realize needs differ amongst men, but if I wear a French cuff, it is only with a suit, and really only a more formal suit for those important, non-business occasions like weddings and charity events. This is a narrow window, which perhaps explains the economic side of why I favor silk knots—the aesthetic one being that silk knots provide that soupçon of modesty that can bring a good composition into harmony. Inexpensive or mildly decrepit accessories often have this effect, but I digress. Precious cufflinks are difficult to justify.
This realization came particularly into focus a few weeks ago a when a good friend, who is getting married in May, asked me to help him navigate the vast market of cufflinks and/or dress sets. Being a particular fellow himself, he had some ideas, but wanted a broader sense of what is appropriate and worthwhile. I began compiling a list of links (the internet sort) to links (the cuff sort) that I thought worked, but quickly realized the results should be fractured in two—the merely correct and the truly fabulous. The former featured links and studs made from gold, silver, onyx and pearl in masculine shapes and modest sizes. Oh, but the other list! It began innocently enough: agate, carnelian, jade—but very quickly spiraled out of control: white gold studded with sapphire, ruby cabochons, diamond encrusted rhodium. It was not long before the twinkle of these rarities had mesmerized my own restrained senses. My mother just happened to phone and I explained what I was up to, proposing that I wondered whether my friend ought not really splurge on something fabulous. Her response: “You can’t show him those—he’ll look like a bloody riverboat gambler!” I decided not to mention that the New Orleans wedding would be taking place a few steps from both river boats and casinos.
The lesson is clear: extravagance won’t be ignored. Not earth shattering, I realize, but certainly a significant maxim when considered within the context of classic menswear—a niche that usually rejects flash in favor of understatement. But where is the line? Onyx and mother of pearl are traditional and unimpeachable choices for formalwear, but how do these differ from other semi-precious materials? The sense of occasion and infrequency with which formal links and studs are worn helps, but my main complaint with the jades, tiger’s eyes, carbuncles and whatever else haunts the dreams of aspiring Dorian Grays is color. Its addition at the cuff is just one more data point with which to contend when getting ready.
Alternatively, I’ve always thought plain gold adds just the correct level of warmth and richness to a cuff. Gold, the color, is anything but neutral, but gold (Au) melts into its surroundings, anointing its wearer with the right level of soft glint. Gold, unlike hunks of turquoise and cabochons of garnet, looks like it is supposed to be holding together a cuff. This is especially true of simple designs—hexagonal placards, modest domes, ovals. My personal grail is probably a curved barbell design with smooth, unadorned orbs at each end. A little etching or engine turned texture is welcome, but anything more—and certainly anything novel, like a face or pair of six-shooters—and we are right back hustling rubes on the riverboat.