Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Jade is the generic name for the stones that were the imperial gem of dynastic China and have been used for jewelry and objets d'art for at least six thousand years. Despite, or perhaps because of all that history, a 19th century Frenchman discovered that two different minerals were both being called jade. The flashier green version comes from something unsurprisingly known as jadeite. The other variety, a somewhat less rare stone called nephrite, can be a creamy white as well as shades of tan and green. Considering the green stuff slightly vulgar, yellowed white “mutton fat” nephrite was the choice of Chinese noblemen and the best nuggets are still valued at more than double the price of gold today.
Gemstones like jade as well as other natural materials set in gold make the best cuff closures for day wear to my mind. Real gems, diamonds, rubies and the like, have since the time of Beau Brummell been considered fine complements to evening clothes but too flashy to wear before six o'clock. Silver by itself tarnishes and unadorned gold is, with a couple of exceptions such Tiffany's knots, relatively unstimulating. Both precious metals are better with the addition of enamel but jade, sea shells, coral, garnets, agate and the like can be far more interesting without calling too much attention to themselves. And since links are with time pieces the only jewelry most discreet men will wear save for a wedding ring, we might as well take advantage of the opportunity.
Male jewelry has of course been suffering from the same cultural shifts that have promoted informal clothing at the expense of suits and there are but a few jewelers making great cuff links these days. One of them, Seaman Schepps/Trianon, has been written about here in the past but often the best way to purchase interesting links is to find older pieces at auction. Many of the things offered are priced at or above retail but the careful shopper can save as much as 80% from time to time.
In the photo are early twentieth century double sided links in nephrite and gold by Larter Elcox, predecessors to the current Larter & Sons of New Jersey.