The Strongest Link
For sheer perfection in design and craftsmanship Pierre Arpels’ ingenious 18ct yellow gold baton cufflink is rather hard to beat
Article by James Sherwood, courtesy of his Jewellery for Gentlemen website
Cufflink design has challenged some of the greatest creative minds in the industry from Karl Fabergé’s miniature diamond-set guilloché eggs to René Lalique’s Arthurian nymphs enamelled in ethereal Art Nouveau style. But if I were asked to choose a cufflink of sheer perfection in design and craftsmanship it would have to be Pierre Arpels’ ingenious 18ct yellow gold baton link also known as the VC&A H for obvious reasons. Pierre was from the second generation of Arpels brothers – they came in threes – and entered the firm in 1944. He is justifiably famed for the minimal chic of his wafter thin pink gold 42mm watch but for me his baton cufflink is king.
The link comprises two weighty, fluted 18ct yellow gold bars as elegant as Grecian columns. These batons slide into a mechanism not dissimilar to a horse’s snaffle bit, turn and snap to lock into place. The 18ct yellow gold snaffle is circled by mystery-set precious stones; a micro mosaic technique of setting patented by VC&A in 1933 that makes precious metal supporting the stones disappear. The baton cufflink is designed to slide through the four double cuff buttonholes before the second baton is secured removing the necessity for a valet who were in short supply after World War II. Yellow gold dominated wartime production of jewellery because the supply chain for precious stones to Europe was temporarily halted so, taking an educated guess, I would say Pierre Arpels designed the first batons in 18ct yellow gold and the models mystery set with diamonds, rubies and sapphires followed.
Throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s VC&A, Cartier and Boucheron produced glorious riffs on the design; most notably creating boxed sets of baton links so that the golden snaffle could be set with smooth batons carved from lapis lazuli, malachite, blood stone, mother-of-pearl, onyx, hematite and chalcedony. The more flamboyant gentleman could wear the links with mis-matched batons. 1stdibs has a decent selection of Van Cleef & Arpels baton links from the 1950s and 1960s in a ballpark of £3,000 for 18ct yellow gold to north of £8,000 for a set. Occasional Mid-Century gem-set batons set by Cartier, VC&A and Boucheron come up at auction with a matching tie stud.
VC&A has adapted the classic baton design for the Pierre Arpels Sticks cufflinks made in 18ct white gold with single agate or onyx batons attached to a whale-back snap mechanism (£6,700). Setting the terminals of the batons with white diamonds is a lovely touch but it has to be said that the original double baton is a stronger design and the VC&A H formation in the cuff has gravitas. Boucheron, too, has dropped one baton adding links to their Quatre collection. The Quatre links are clever comprising a girdle of 18ct pink, white and yellow gold and black PVD plus a smooth brown ceramic stick (£4,790). The black Quatre link (£4,980) is fitted with a onyx stick.
Though not widely advertised, Boucheron still make a boxed set centred around an 18ct yellow gold fluted baton cufflink with alternative sticks in 18ct white gold, rock crystal, lapis lazuli, malachite, onyx and leopard wood (POA). The last time I was in Boucheron on Old Bond Street the baton set wasn’t on display but for a peacock male it is a gift from the Gods. Mayfair antique jewellery maestros Lucas Rarities (by appointment) has a classic 18ct yellow gold VC&A H cufflink set in the inventory for £4,500. Gentlemen who appreciate gem-set cufflinks tend to collect with the ferocity of the wristwatch addict. However, if there is a single cufflink that will be appropriate for every suit whether City or evening, it is the 18ct yellow gold VC&A H.
Though I wouldn’t say that cufflinks are becoming an endangered species, I believe the French jewel houses have come to the conclusion that the everyday, ordinary link – a gold oval, say – isn’t where they should be investing their time. The money is on the link a man of means might wear on occasions such as black tie balls, weddings and awards ceremonies. The H-link sold as a set is a clever choice because it yields six variations on the theme. Cartier’s Santos de Cartier Daily Mood baton set centres around an 18ct yellow gold snaffle and is sold with yellow gold, lapis lazuli, aventurine, nephrite jade, dolomite and onyx batons (£5,000). It is a gift that keeps on giving.
James’s book, Jewellery for Gentlemen will be published by Thames & Hudson in summer 2018.