“Gentlemen”, so I was once told by a particularly patriarchal and patronising old man, “do not wear jewellery.” When I challenged this assertion with evidence to the contrary – that of smart gentlemen wearing rings and watches – he scoffed that the rings (‘likely to be wedding rings’ he suggested) were more like manacles and that wristwatches were too practical to be ever considered jewellery. Though this gentleman did happen to be one of the fustiest characters I have ever encountered, I did concede that he had a point; male jewellery tends to be hidden (like a necklace), vulgar (like an earring or a bracelet) or functional. We are quite the less decorated sex. Whereas women adorn their necks and wrists with gold, silver and gemstones, men plod along plainly. Not that this should not be so. The bejewelled men of preceding centuries, perfumed powdered and puffed, seem to be awkward and inconsistent representations of masculine style; a man is very easily over ornamented.
This is perhaps why wristwatches have become so significant for the modern man. Being able to tell the time is not something one needs such contraptions for in the modern age; mobile phones and Mp3 players, carried around by many men, not only carry such basic information as the relevant hour and minute but also the day of the month, the average rainfall and the time in Honolulu. Choosing to buy an attractive watch has much more to do with aesthetics and prestige than mere function; over half of those truly vulgar wristwatches covered in diamonds are so glitzed with the gems that it makes it nigh on impossible to read the time. A man could not claim he needed the watch to function as a watch; it’s merely an expensive bracelet that happens to have a watch face.
And so we come to the rub of the issue: functionality – the perfect, and quite necessary, excuse.
A man’s daily clothing offers little in the way of potential bejewellment; shirt studs are strictly for evening shirts only and tie pins, though elegant, are really occasional and not everyday. Tie ‘clips’ or ‘bars’ can smarten up the wear of shirts and ties, particularly when the clip is fastened to highlight a particularly lustrous silk. However, wearing one everyday can be a little repetitive, considering it’s prominence in an outfit.
Cufflinks are the one everyday item that can add what has been referred to as ‘bling’; the merest flick of the wrist and the ‘jewels’ are exposed. The essential factor? They are entirely necessary to keep one’s double cuffs securely fastened. As their function is simple and, once fastened, they can be easily forgotten, a man can afford to decorate as conservatively or as garishly as he wishes.
Buying cufflinks is very much a matter of personal taste. I tend to avoid the twee hot and cold taps, the dire dollar symbols and anything with Playboy insignia. Jan Leslie and Deakin & Francis are excellent, albeit expensive, manufacturers of individual, attractive and tasteful links. Though novelty formats, such as glittering frogs and insects, are not always favoured by very serious gentlemen, they can offer that little touch of humour to an otherwise staid ensemble; even lending a hand to identify, in a harmless and playful way, the identity of the wearer: for example, the charming practice of an Upper East Sider in wearing the delightful ‘wasp’ links from Jan Leslie.