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Sleeve Jewelry

Stylish Jewelry Adds a Touch of Class to Shirt Sleeves
Ettagale Blauer
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 1)

There are few limits, except your own imagination, as to what is appropriate on your wrists. Janet Mavec, whose shop J. Mavec & Co. features an annual cuff- link show in December, had a pair of somewhat risqué cuff links not pornographic at all, although those can be found in the marketplace as well. These showed a pair of skis, a bottle of liquor, a woman and money, each of the four sides featuring a different image. They were bought by a woman from Ohio for her husband. He was offended and sent them back to the shop. (No, they're not available--they were lost while making their way back to the store.)

Many links offer four views of a subject such as different species of trout, four golfer's swings, four birds or four setters. Mavec offers customers the opportunity to bring in any design or a photograph and have it transformed into cuff links by a London artist. One executive had the corporate logo painted on cuff links to give to a dozen people involved in a buyout.

Mavec also offers classic styles from the 1940s made by Van Cleef & Arpels, including

a pair with fluted bars, each set with a tiny band of gemstones, that look like miniature binoculars. She has a pair of spirals by Cartier that will remind you of the Slinky toy you once played with, if you are of a certain age, although these are in gold and set with the tiniest sapphires at the end.

The whole variety of mechanisms can be seen here. Some of the links in Mavec's Madison Avenue shop have the classic flip-hinge; there are designs that twist off and some that screw apart. There are little chains that link the two sections together and the one-piece dumbbell type, in which the same design is repeated in a smaller size on the ball that passes through the cuff.

Designer Paul Flato, an American jeweler who flourished among the socially prominent in the 1930s, once made a screw-and-nut pair in gold. In that case, there was no "link," just one of the best designs ever created, though in a metal not usually seen in your neighborhood hardware store.

Cuff links, whether of the 19th or 20th century, tend to mirror the era in which they were created and follow the style of the jewelry of their day. As new materials were discovered around the world--gold and diamonds in South Africa, rubies from Burma and sapphires from Kashmir--they found their way into contemporary cuff links. When Fabergé was creating his exquisite guilloché enamel eggs for the royal family of Russia, his workshop also turned out cuff links in the same styles. Guilloché is a stunningly simple technique, but one whose secrets were difficult for the craftsmen of the day to crack. The jeweler engraves a pattern by a process called engine-turning. When translucent enamel is applied over it, the engraving shows through and gives the piece a shimmering effect. These styles can be found at antique dealers and at auction.

As 20th-century designers moved through the Art Deco era, cuff links began to take on the typical jazz-age look, with geometrics and fine gem-set surfaces. The dress sets, complete with studs and links, were often made of onyx set with small diamonds in fine, intricate designs. Platinum was used extensively for settings. With its great strength and density, platinum allowed the jeweler to work the metal into very thin strips, yet still provide a secure setting for precious stones.

In the 1940s, Cartier offered a triangle-shaped link that flipped open for insertion. It was available in a choice of gemstones including sapphires and rubies. Stephen Russell at Trump Tower in New York offers them as they become available; a recent pair featuring citrines was on sale for $5,000. This style doesn't remain on display very long, according to Russell Zelenetz. "They are very collectible. Some people come in every week or two to see what we have in." Stephen Russell also carries elegant seashells set with rubies, sapphires and diamonds; the shells connect with a few gold links. Collectors who frequent the shop will often get a call letting them know what is coming in; some of these pieces never make it into inventory.

The whole range of styles from the various periods can be seen at auctions where old and new designs can be found, including whimsical cuff links designed by Suzanne Tennenbaum. These take many forms: a set of four short studs and a pair of links depicting an entire train set including tracks, locomotive and caboose. Playing cards, dice, the planets or pandas all turn up in her designs.

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