Deakin & Francis: Kings of cufflinks

Henry Deakin, head of the cufflink-maker and jeweller, talks skulls, secret signals and wearing your heart on your sleeve


I try not to think about Deakin & Francis being a seventh-generation family business – there's enough pressure. But we've lasted so long because we've stuck to core values. When I took over, my dad said: "Let other people make cufflinks cheaper, but don't let them make them better", so while others have made their cufflinks lighter, we've made ours heavier. You can just tell a good cufflinkL there's the click test, where the fastening makes a reassuring sound; the seamlessness of the metal and the enamel; the slight bend to the bar that holds front and back parts of the link together...

People have a better feeling for those kinds of differences these days. They're much more appreciative of details such as engine-turning and enamelling now so times are good. We sell around 28,000 pairs of cufflinks a year and get about two pairs back – and you can smell the detergent on them where they've been through the washing machine.

That focus on quality – "buy cheap, buy twice" – is not easy to learn, although more people are realising the things that last are better value and tend to become loved things, too. We get people coming to us with half of their grandfather's cufflinks and we replicate the other half for them. Then they get to pass them on again, or wear them to their first job interview to have a bit of grandpa with them. Then they can blame him when they don't get the job.

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Still, there are no brownie points for looking scruffy and I think that, in part, is why there's still a demand for cufflinks, even if we dress more casually these days. Of course, it's also one of the few ways men in suits can show their personality through what they wear. We used to sell just classic cufflinks, but now more novelty ones are also popular. And when I say novelty, I mean more creative. We got in early with skulls, for example, a motif that has become something of a phenomenon in fashion. That was my dad's idea, and when I first saw his design I thought: "Are you serious?" But even today we can't sell enough of them.

There's a line where novelty becomes naff, of course, in the way a novelty tie can be, so it has to be very well executed. Cufflinks are pretty small anyway – if they were much larger we'd probably have to tone it all down. But this doesn't mean they can't be interesting. We're pioneering cufflinks with a movement to them – an owl that you squeeze and the eyes roll and wings lift up, for example. It has 38 parts and took three years to develop. Or cufflinks that use magnets in a clever way.

Men love that kind of talking point and the cufflinks are fun to play with when you're bored in a meeting. We had one customer who bought 12 pairs, for all his colleagues. It was a lion that opened its mouth. They used it as a secret signal when they were with a possible client, to show whether they wanted to get in to a deal or not. I guess his cover may be blown now.

HENRY DEAKIN is the head of cufflinks manufacturer Deakin & Francis, established in 1786 in Birmingham's jewellery quarter. In its time, the company has created some 5,000 different designs, many for some of the biggest names in fashion, but in recent years it has made more of a name for itself;

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