Though likely invented earlier, the widespread use of cufflinks dates to the eighteenth century, when examples of joined pairs of cuff buttons begin to regularly appear, replacing ribbon ties. In the early-to-mid-nineteenth century, the fashion was more fully embraced, encouraged both by new technology, which allowed for mass production of shirts, as well as trends in clothing, such as the French cuff. Cufflinks from this era were made in an array of designs and materials, many featuring large gemstones or composed of intricately carved gold buttons.
In 1884 the cufflink industry was revolutionized by the invention of the one-piece collar button machine by George Krementz, a German immigrant to the United States working in the jewellery manufacturing centre of Newark, New Jersey. The machine enabled collar buttons and cufflinks to be quickly and cheaply produced, and thus available to the masses, establishing the form as appropriate for every man, not just dandies and aristocrats. At the same time, cufflinks of the highest possible quality continued to be made by top European and American jewellery firms such as Fabergé, Cartier and Tiffany, with a focus on precious metals, gemstones and enamel.
In the first decades of the twentieth century, engine-turned enamel decoration was a regular feature of fine cufflinks, often embellished with collet-set sapphires or diamonds, all typically set in platinum. By the mid-twentieth century every well-dressed man owned a collection of cufflinks, and designs ran the gamut from whimsical to conservative. Today it is appropriate for men and women alike to wear cufflinks—a trend which was perhaps first inspired by Marlene Dietrich when she wore a pair she owned with a man’s suit in a publicity photo in 1934--yet they remain primarily a gentleman’s accessory, and are one of the few jewels through which a man can exhibit his own distinctive style.