This feature was adapted from an article by Laurie A. Scott.
When Derek Anastasia graduated from the Indiana University School of Business fifteen years ago, his grandfather presented him with a pair of antique gold cuff links. Derek then took a job on Wall Street where coincidentally many men wore shirts with French cuffs which require the use of cuff links. The combination of these two events sparked an interest that has become a true passion.
Derek began a collection of antique cuff links, but soon narrowed his preference to antique enamel examples only. His collection is heading to the 1,500 pair mark and he also has almost 600 single cuff links waiting for mates to be found.
There is not a great deal of information to be discovered about enamel cuff links specifically. In fact, the history of cuff links relative to much of jewelry history is rather short. Cuff links are generally believed to have first been used in the 17th century. It was in the second half of this century that the English king, Charles II, made popular a style of dress which included a shirt with a lacy front and matching cuffs. The coat cuff was held back to the sleeve with a button that was strictly ornamental. With the changes in men's clothing, the button eventually evolved into something closer to the cuff link we know today, which actually holds a cuff together.
Derek doubts that enamel cuff links made their recognizable debut before the early 1800s. Even at that time they would have been attainable only by the upper classes which could afford such unique, hand-wrought craftsmanship executed in silver and gold.
The invention of the Tour de Guillocher machine in the early 1800s, revolutionized the process of making cuff links. This machine could single-handedly produce the cuff link's detailed metalwork patterns (a.k.a. "engine turn") quickly and efficiently, eliminating the labor intensive work that had previously been done by hand. It allowed for the mass-production of cuff links with a beautiful, polished enamel surface known broadly as guilloché, in a fraction of the time previously needed. Of equal importance, the enameling process could be achieved at an affordable price allowing consumers of all income levels to purchase enamel jewelry.
Another factor that greatly stimulated the popularity of enamel work was the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Russian artisans, the most famous being the House of Fabergé, had catered to the Czar's family and other nobility. After the revolution, these artists dispersed throughout Europe and the United States. They took their experience in the highly specialized art of enameling and taught others this unique and expert skill.
Cuff links have been readily available to the general public since the early 20th century. The enamel designs reflected the art movements of their day and the sensibility of style within that time period. This vogue reached its zenith in the 1920s and slowly declined in the late 1930s as new plastics were invented and used as replacements for enamel. Cuff links have had highs and lows in popularity starting in the 1880s, but are once again very popular. The revival of interest in French cuffs has made antique cuff links very desirable and very costly, especially the enamels.
Derek continues to add to his collection searching out cuff links wherever he can find them in his world travels -- at antique shops, antique and collectable shows and on the Internet's auction services. He is currently working on a book, "The History of Enameled Cuff Links."
A ground powdered silica mixed with various oxides for color, bonded by fusion to a heat-softened metal surface in a kiln.
The word "enamel" refers to the glass material as well as the finished product.
When having enamel jewelry repaired, be certain to ask the restorer doing the work if traditional "hot" or "vitreous" enamel will be used, or will they simply be applying "epoxy resin," commonly and incorrectly known as "cold enamel." There is a tremendous difference although they may look the same. The integrity of the piece most certainly will be compromised if anything other than vitreous enamel is used.
Copyright © 1998 All Rights Reserved