On the face of it, they're as formal as you can get, something that you would wear with black or white tie, but in actual fact they're ideal for adding a note of colour, irony or quirkiness with any outfit, from jeans to smart formal or wherever you're at.
There are lots of quirky ideas out there. Cufflinks that become flash drives, or torches, or miniature photo frames. But we prefer the cool style of the top brands, whose interpretation of these small objects is a perfect reflection of their identity. And it's worth remembering that in a style survey that we ran a short while ago, cufflinks were in third place in the accessories noticed by women on a first date (shoes were first, the watch second). And showing her your cufflink-flash drive would probably make it the first and the last date, at least with her.
Technically, cufflinks can be described according to their system of closure, such as bullet-back, the most common and easiest to slide into the holes; whale-back, in which the pivoted part has the form of a flat tail; fixed backings, in which the front, post and backing are all in one piece; the chain link system, in which the front and back are linked by a chain; and the ball return, in which the backing consists of a ball of metal, connected to the front by a curved post. Reversible cufflinks have motifs both on front and backing, so that they can be worn either way around.
In terms of visual imagery, there is a huge range, from abstract to figurative, from restrained sober to exuberant dazzle. Some brands feature their name on their cufflinks, while others hide it on the back. A few watch brands make cufflinks that coordinate perfectly with a watch – such as Montblanc and Patek Philippe. It's worth mentioning that some brands are making cufflinks for women, such as Powder Hill from London; however, once you've found your French cuff blouse, you could simply nick your partner's cufflinks...
Cufflinks are great for personalization: for example, Nardelli Gioielli is an Italian brand making cufflinks using valuable materials such as gold, mother-of-pearl and precious stones. They can be personalized with initials. All pieces are hand-made in Italy by craftspeople in the Naples area, using 18-carat gold and the finest stones: colour G, purity IF. In this case, the manufacturing process is not fast-track: the care dedicated to detail means that about six months elapses from start to finish.
One of the problems about cufflinks is that you have to have a shirt with French cuffs, and they are not as common as shirts with normal button cuffs. Generally these shirts are made in a smaller range. French cuffs can be rounded at the corners, or square; a question of personal taste. It's important, when you're wearing formal dress, that your cuffs project at least a couple of centimetres beyond your jacket cuffs. This has a secondary effect: your watch has to be thin enough to let the cuff slip over it. This is where brands such as Cartier and Piaget come to the rescue, with models such as the Louis Cartier, the Piaget Altiplano and other ultra-thin watches. At this stage, you're ready for your meeting, or first date.
With cufflinks, you're perpetuating a long tradition. The French claim to the paternity of this accessory rests on Alexandre Dumas and his 1845 novel The Count of Montecristo, in which Baron Danglars is described as "the owner of so splendid an equipage must needs be all that was admirable and enviable, more especially when they gazed on the enormous diamond that glittered in his shirt.," a diamond that was a cufflink. In actual fact, cufflinks had already been around for about two centuries and had become an important part of men's style, with matching cufflink and stud sets becoming all the rage in the 19th century. The fortune of cufflinks declined in the late 20th century, when shirt manufacturers were making a lot of dress shirts with buttons on the cuffs. But true style will never die, and today, cufflinks are here to stay.