Dan F. Stapleton
Claibourne Poindexter received his first pair of cufflinks – simple silver square stations from Tiffany & Co engraved with his initials – as an 18th birthday present from his father. A stylish teenager, he was instantly captivated; later that year, when his parents presented him with a pair of vintage citrine and gold cufflinks from Verdura to mark his graduation, he declared himself a collector.
A decade later, Poindexter helps oversee the auction of rare cufflinks as an associate specialist at Christie’s New York’s jewellery department. It may seem an unusual focus for someone so young but, as Poindexter explains, the ever-more-active market for cufflinks has lately undergone a fundamental demographic shift.
“We’re seeing a particularly large amount of [auction] interest from some of our younger clientele, who compete aggressively to acquire examples that they felt best suit their personal style,” he says.
Poindexter reckons men’s luxury fashion and tailoring houses have influenced young men’s tastes in recent years by sending more and more jewellery down the runway. “As someone who is in the world of jewellery, I honestly feel that there is this movement of making jewellery relevant again in relation to fashion,” he says, “and it’s a movement that is being committed to by both men and women.”
Combine that movement with the re-emergence of the French cuff (or “double cuff”) on men’s shirts and the waning popularity of ties in both work and leisure contexts and you have perfect conditions for a cufflink revival.
“The re-emergence of the French cuff certainly has increased demand for cufflinks,” says Gilles Du Puy, founder of mid-market Sydney menswear retailer Déclic. “Today, a young man might opt out of wearing a tie, and cufflinks seem to be filling that gap for something that helps show off your personality and is ‘you’.”
Retailers at all price points say they’re experiencing a sales bounce. According to Stephan Ballarin, director of sales and product at Sydney jeweller Fairfax & Roberts: “We have seen a definite increase in inquiries and sales over the past six months, especially with a younger audience.” Among others, Fairfax & Roberts stocks English cufflink brand Deakin & Francis, which claims to have increased its turnover by 20 per cent this year.
According to research firm Technavio, two-thirds of the global market comprises so-called premium cufflinks, which retail for $US150 ($200) or more. Of this segment, the $US150 to $US500 range accounts for the lion’s share of sales.
Inspired by watches
“Popular brands include T F Est. 1968 and Encelade, both of which come out of Switzerland and take inspiration from the watch industry, imitating different watch movements with moving parts in nearly all of their pieces,” says Ballarin. “Victor Mayer, based in Germany, also has a rich history of cufflink making, favouring more classic and conservative styles in sterling silver and 18k gold using gemstones and enamelling.” Du Puy says animal cufflinks, which can help define a wearer’s personality, are also exceptionally popular.
At the top end, many collectors gravitate towards Cartier, which has a long history of producing elegant cufflinks in a range of styles. In September, Cartier debuted two new cufflink designs as part of its Juste Un Clou collection, in yellow and pink gold respectively, each retailing for $5600 per pair. Also popular with connoisseurs is Bulgari, whose bold and chunky styles often combine unexpected colours. Its current range includes the Octo cufflink in 18kt rose gold with onyx elements ($5850 per pair).
Although the market has come roaring to life in recent months, many big jewellery houses have yet to respond with a broader range of cufflink styles. That means cufflink auctions, such as Christie’s first-ever cufflinks-only auction in December 2016, and Sotheby’s online Gentlemen’s Edit auction in October, remain popular with buyers in search of unique pairs. (Auctioneers note that cufflinks are well-suited to online auctioning because bidders can zoom in on photos.)
Another option for those seeking to distinguish themselves is to commission. “We have about 200 pairs of cufflinks in stock and approximately 70 per cent of clients do stick to ‘off the shelf’ styles,” says Ballarin. For the remaining 30 per cent, “family crests and hand-engraving of initials and patterns are very popular. Corporate gifting, with company logos engraved or in enamel, is also on the rise.”
Price considerations aside, men looking to invest in new cufflinks shouldn’t be afraid to let their imaginations run wild, Ballarin says. “The more conservatively dressed guys often end up with a pair of novelty cufflinks whilst guys that dress more on-trend like the classic styles.”
The AFR Magazine is out on Friday November 30 inside The Australian Financial Review.