Accessories 12.08.2013

Initial Hairwork Cufflinks in Silver

Silver Hairwork Cufflinks

As a piece of fashion, jewellery is the one element that creates true identity. For the male or female, a jewel can define a relationship status, the personal nature of the wearer and simply give the detail of their very name etched in a jewel. Monograms, with their history dating back to Greek culture c.350 BCE, have ben utilised by the affluent in jewellery through the early-modern era, which relates directly to memorial and sentimental jewels. This is because of the intrinsic nature of the naming initials and how they can be placed underneath a crystal and upon hair, particularly since c.1680. Gold cypher in memorial jewels were common, as well and also carved in intaglios of various gems. Worn at the neck, bodice, finger or cuff, the monogram is a powerful statement of identity and wealth status; identifying the self before the religious context of a crucifix or portrait of the monarchy.

These magnificent silver cufflinks show the connection between two people with the variation in the initials upon each side. We have ‘EK’ upon one side and ‘WK’ on the other, combining the couple in a loving union through through this and also through the woven hair on either side. Finding a pair of this quality with the links still intact is rather difficult for the modern collector, as male jewellery involving sentimentality and mourning of the 18th and 19th century often blends with female styles in rings. Otherwise, male accessories are a very specific identifier in jewellery and the smaller details worn by a gentleman in the fob, chain, cufflinks and pins were quite bespoke to the nature of the gentleman who wore them.


In these cufflinks, there is a pedigree of influence that dates back to the 17th century. As mentioned, the gold cypher jewels of the Restoration era, commonly referred to as ‘Stuart Crystal’ pieces, had a layer of woven hairwork, then the initials placed on top in gold wire, often flanked with other symbolism in enamel and then the faceted crystal placed on top.

1697 Slide With Cypher & Memento Mori

Note that the above piece has a more oval shape, which retained the same construction method post 1700, but became more rectangular in its style.

Early 18th Century

Importantly, these rings weren’t relegated to women, but both male and female. These were jewels that had grown from the socio-political upheaval that had turned British culture in a completely new direction, focusing society to look differently on relationship values during the Age of Enlightenment. Gone was the previous value of working under the aspect of final judgement, but working to accumulate wealth and provide the family with the comfort it needed to thrive. A rise in machinery facilitated this, changing perceptions of family based labour by letting low-skill sets enter into closed work-based environments. The radical change in the textiles industry through the development of knitting machines since the 16th century even led Queen Elizabeth I to refuse a patent to the inventor of the stocking frame knitting machine, William Lee. Though machinery did cause a decline in the quality of products, it did allow for higher supply to demand in a culture that was had vastly growing wealth from home and abroad.

Style of jewellery in fashion was then growing more with external influences and higher mobility in transit. Style from other countries would influence and compete against mainstream British styles, however, the standardisation of mourning and sentimental jewels was due to their nature. The monogram in a jewel remained, even through the massive influence of the Neoclassical style in c.1765. All the elements of Memento Mori, those being skulls, crossbones, scythes and tempos fugit, were relegated to becoming anachronisms, as the styles of romantic allegorical depictions took over.


Note how this ring (1796) still retains the basic elements of the monogram; it is set above the hair and under domed glass. What is more interesting to note is how the  Neoclassical influence adds the embellishments of the pearls to the border and the enamel, which still was as sentimental as the Memento Mori affectations, but relevant to its time. The white enamel, meaning virginity and purity, was alluding to the unmarried or young, while the blue was to consider the loved one as royalty.

Inside, we can see the stylisation of the K itself; this is a design aspect that defines many memorial and sentimental jewels over time. It is easy for the modern collector or historian to identify a jewel based upon popular typography, especially in the following Gothic Revival style post c.1820 and throughout the 19th century.


Here, we have another example from 1797. This piece shares many of the same elements as the above, with the three-dimensional single letter and its excessive design curvature. Surrounding this is are the diamonds and pearls to the border, but we lose the hairwork and cover the bezel with blue enamel.

All these elements are bringing us closer to the cufflinks.

Silver Hairwork Cufflinks

Design is important

If we note how the design of the lettering is related to the late 18th century pieces, we can see a clear continuity in design. Of note is that the combination of hair does not denote mourning, but was used predominantly for sentimentality. Remember, this is a time that predates photography and miniature portraits were expensive, hence the simple act of weaving hair was cheap and instantaneous for those who may have had short notice to travel from a loved one.

Culture in 1800

The 18th century’s new focus upon the aesthetic to represent the personal led into the Neoclassical era (c.1765) and was helped through by the Enlightenment and its challenges to traditional interpretations of personal/ecclesiastical relationships. From a socio-economic perspective, the Western world was being opened up through the Americas, spurred by new technologies and industry which could increase communications and travel. Levels of society that were static in their geographic region and anchored to their family/village had access to education in rising industries and create personal finance.

With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, increased manufacture of textiles, steam power and iron making led to the need for a society that could sell these products, creating work for peddlers in towns with growing populations, creating points of sale to growing societies which had previously been smaller and more insular. With heavy investment in inventions from the early 18th century, the growth of mechanised production was rapid. Inventions, such as the John Kay’s flying shuttle (patented in 1733) doubled the output of a weaver, were financed and patented to protect their intellectual property, creating extremely high return on investment for entrepreneurs, such as Richard Arkwright and developing industrial towns, the likes of which had not been seen in modern society. Indeed, Arkwright had amassed £500,000 by his death in 1792. Considering that a very fine silk dress in the early 18th century costed £10 to £60, this amassed wealth is incredible.

Neoclassicism had become the reaction of culture towards the dominant styles of Baroque and Rocco in art and architecture through England and France, which was mainly a reaction of religious questioning. The Baroque style was dominant in its grandeur; enforcing the rule of God upon a society who could not achieve the wealth to acquire such opulent architecture that would be found in a Church or aristocratic setting, hence the presence of God within art was a constant reminder of mortality. The Age of Enlightenment allowed for liberalism in thought and the right of the individual. John Locke and Thomas Hobbs were greatly influential in 17th century English progressive thought, whose resonance would be felt throughout the 18th century. In jewellery, the Neoclassical period led to the change from the actual depiction of mortality through the Memento Mori style (skulls, skeletons, scythes, tempus fugit) were replaced with allegorical depictions from classical art. The weeping female figure next to a tomb or plinth, dressed in classical costume were more typical to find by the 1790s, when the English Enlightenment had reached its height.

Jewellery design in the 19th century correlates with the change in society through art. Much of the style in this particular piece owes its history to the 1790s and the dominance of the larger, allegorical depictions of Neoclassicism. Art was the representation of personal emotion; the female being the most dominant reflection of the ‘self’ in jewels. This female would often be an ideal classical representation, sitting or standing next to a memorial or sentimental symbol; most commonly a plinth with an urn on top. In the late 18th century, the influence of Greek and Roman art in fashion and design cannot be understated. The above the waist definition in female costume, as well as the lower cut was popular and it was seen in the classical female figures depicted within the jewels; be they rings, pendants, bracelet clasps or miniatures. Often painted on ivory or vellum, these Neoclassical depictions became the resonant representations of love that were displayed and worn in society.

As the 1800-20 period was particularly volatile in international politics. With Napoleon crowning himself Emperor of the French in 1804 and subsequent at defeat at Waterloo in 1815, to the establishment of the Austrian Empire and the growth of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase and annexing of the Western continent, the perspectives of society were only more fuelled by a liberalism that challenged traditional social structure. The thought which came from this would eventually spark stronger national belief, particularly in England, which had suffered through the madness of George III and the excesses of George IV. Military victory had given the nation solidarity, as well as the financial benefits of the Industrial Revolution created a society which was no longer insular.

Much of the 19th century’s change in thought was a reaction to religious non-conformity in an effort to swing back to the ideals of the High Church and Anglo-Catholic self-belief. This was a time when heavy industry was on the rise and modern society (as we consider it today) was established, a time of radical change that challenged pre-existing ideals of society. Though there had been growing small scale social mobility from the late 17th century, the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw the middle classes having the opportunity to promote through society with the accumulation of wealth. Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, a designer, architect and convert to Catholicism, saw this industrial revolution as a corruption of the ideal medieval society. Through this, he used Gothic architecture as a way to combat classicism and the industrialisation of society, with Gothic architecture reflecting proper Christian values. Ideologically, Neoclassicism was adopted by liberalism; this reflecting the self, the pursuit of knowledge and the freedom of the monotheistic ecclesiastical system that had controlled Western society throughout the medieval period. Consider that Neoclassicism influenced thought during the same period as the American and French revolutions and it isn’t hard to see the parallels. The Gothic Revival would, in effect, push society into the paradigm of monarchy and conservatism, which would dominate heavily throughout the 19th century and establish many of the values that are still imbued within society today.


Separation of silver from lead has been the primary process since ancient times, perhaps as early as the 4th millennium BCE, with the metal being popularly used for coinage. A boom in silver production for jewellery came via the discovery of silver in Mexico, Chile, Bolivia and Peru c.1540s, , providing great wealth to the crowns of Europe. Further discoveries also aided this in North America, with European production being extracted from copper ores in Central Europe in the mid 15th century. In 1300, King Edward I crated legislation that sterling silver (92.5% pure silver) is the standard of silver production and all silver products must be assayed by guardians of the craft who would stamp these items.

Hallmarking is not only valid for the purposes of tariffs and quality control within a society, but also a wonderful way for modern collectors to identify their jewels. From the stamps, one can discern the standard mark, city mark, date letter, duty mark and makers mark; identifying a piece to its exact origin. This is under the assumption that the piece was of British provenance, as other countries had their own hallmarks and others, none at all. With these cufflinks, there isn’t any detail to the silver, which makes it difficult for a modern audience to identify it, but looking at the other elements of style, its narrative becomes clear.

What is fundamentally beautiful about these cufflinks are the silver linkages that still remain. Many have been deteriorated or lost over time, yet those show the ornate loops and design that matches equally to each cufflink.

Silver Hairwork Cufflinks

Jewellery usage for silver wasn’t as popular as gold and it wasn’t until the late 19th century when this would be reversed. Silversmiths at the time were not a small margin. The Online Encyclopaedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers’ Marks shows the following collection of goldsmiths and silversmiths from 1740:

Goldsmiths (& Silversmiths), Jewelers, Watchmakers & Pewterers listed in Kent’s Directory for the Cities of London and Westminster, and the Borough of Southwark – 1740

From this, we can see that the silver production for its time was not an industry relegated to simply metal in jewellery, but silver used for wider purposes. One of the most prominent being watchmakers.

Verge silver skull, c.1780

As can be seen in the this watch, silver production wasn’t unheard of for its time, but hadn’t reached the heights that it did during the late 19th and early 20th century period. The use of silver in the latter context was due to South African diamond mines opening up a market for cheaper diamonds and the preference of white gold and silver to eventuate the diamond’s colour and facets. More about this can be read here. For the early 19th century, cufflinks such as these don’t follow the conformity of the time, but create their own identity in jewellery.


What is there for us to remember these wonderful cufflinks by? They are at their sentimental peak; honouring their style of Neoclassical influence and also their personal values in love between a couple. A gentleman would have worn this on his turned-back cuffs (‘French cuffs’) and displayed them to his friends and family with pride, as this love became his fashion. For a gentleman to accomplish this, many of the social proprietaries of the time led to romantic jewellery being produced, much of this leading down from the monarchy. While jewels of this style existed well through the 19th century, their influence was more standardised within the value systems imposed by Queen Victoria, hence there was not a great flagrant display of public affection, which makes these cufflinks even more special in their ways.