Life in the seventeenth-century court of Louis XIV was a show of ostentation—frilly, silk clothes, precious stones, powdered wigs and pancake makeup—and that was just on the men. So it's not surprising that the the cuff link developed in that era, the fashion setters choosing to bejewel even the strings with which they closed their ruffled sleeves, calling them boutons de manchette, or "sleeve buttons." It was Beau Brummel, however, who, in ridding men's style of foppery during the nineteenth century, endorsed cuff links as the one piece of jewelry worthy of a man.
Of course, Brummel's concept of the cuff link was the double-faced, hand-enameled version of which Baade II of New Jersey is one of the few remaining purveyors you'll find outside of antique stores. Predictably, the doubled version ups the price, but the payoff for the redundancy is that the cuff link shows all its glory from whatever angle your sleeve is viewed. The chain link that holds the two sides together suggests the name that we now apply to all cuff links, even those with posts. Another double-sided take by Baade are the blue basketweaves that snap together on a post.
The charm of the cuff link is that it is not only jewelry, but an understated expression of personality as it peeks from your sleeve. Conversational cuff links show off your hobbies and interests. A racquet marks you as tennis player, a club suggests a golfer or, in the case of the black crystal dice from Jan Leslie, someone with a penchant for the gaming tables. Symbolism, however, can be achieved more subtly, as in the longevity and star designs from Shanghai Star or the cross cuff links from La Camiceria Italiana. Sometimes you need no symbol at all, save for elegance, as is the case of the formal links of sterling and marcasite onyx from Jan Leslie and the plain sterling links from La Camiceria.
Finally, if you're one to wear your diamonds on your sleeve, you might consider the first truly new wrinkle in cuff link design to come along in a while, the bejeweled platinum pieces that Superfit Cliq has outfitted with the locking hinge technology borrowed from its ring collection. The cuff links snap on and will not come apart without a special tool. Now that is a link with which to reckon.