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Off-the-cuff style innovators
By Patsy Yang

CUFFLINKS can add a touch of magic around the wrists of men - and women nowadays.

Though classics will always have their place, cufflink designers are paying more attention to innovative, whimsical designs, using an unexpected combination of materials.

Simple cufflinks may help to tell a multi-layered story: the story of the wearer; the story of its design; and perhaps the story of its time.

Turkish designer Begum Kiroglu's cufflinks are made for distinguished, style-seeking gentlemen. The Istanbul-born, Shanghai-based designer launched her luxury cufflink label Begum Khan in 2012 and is drawn to creating inspiring pieces that offer modern dandies a little taste of luxury.

"Cufflinks are the only accessory uniquely designed for men, and can simply change a whole look with a little touch," Kiroglu said.

Born into a family of Ottoman art collectors, Kiroglu grew up in an artistic milieu, from an early age embracing the creative influences surrounding her. Growing up with a strong interest in the arts, different cultures and luxury goods, she completed university studies in Istanbul and Milan before her curiosity for Asian cultures took her to Shanghai, where she has lived for four years.

It's not surprising that Kiroglu's work reflects her love of the old and the new - bringing together the refinement of Old World craftsmanship, the vibrant style of modern-day Istanbul and Shanghai and the rich history of the Ottoman and Chinese heritage.

The first pieces she designed were eagle cufflinks inspired by a pair of enamel eagle cufflinks she inherited from her grandfather.

"A pattern on an antique Chinese panel; the domes of Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul; a foo-lion from antique Chinese jewelry; the color combinations one sees on Iznik tiles - all could be a source of inspiration for my creations," Kiroglu said.

At the same time, she is inspired by the passion and devotion of those anonymous artists and craftspeople over the years who created the refined antique pieces she admires.

"Inspired by them, all my pieces are handmade in Istanbul ateliers by artisan craftsmen with the same kind of passion and devotion."

Usually, this level of high-quality production only comes with classical designs but Kiroglu's motto is "sophisticated meets funky." She uses high-end craftsmanship to create funky pieces such as the lizards, frogs, lion heads and pumpkin-shaped designs, and the oversized shapes and animal forms have become her staples.

The cufflinks are cast in bronze and then plated in silver or gold. She also uses materials like baroque pearls, lapis lazuli, coral and quartz to complete the perfect composition.

Bringing almost disappeared techniques of jewelry crafting back to life in Istanbul's old town through the Begum Khan brand is her career highlight to date, said Kiroglu.

The first collection received much more attention than she had expected, Kiroglu admits.

The designer says she will continue to create what she believes is chic and use the old craftsmanship and techniques, without worrying about the market.

Some of her cufflinks can be found at the multi-brand boutique Alter in Xintiandi, Harvey Nichols in Dubai and Midnight Express in Istanbul.

Another unique cufflink brand is Patinova, founded when Hong Kong-based Ben Huang made a small number of cufflinks out of old Hong Kong coins.

"Patinova is about re-discovering something old and interesting and to make it new and usable again. In doing so, the object is given a new lease of life at the same time another layer of interest as well as history is added to the object," Huang said.

The designer said the first range of old Hong Kong coin cufflinks that he made was something that he had wanted for himself. Local jewelers who he approached told him it couldn't be done, so he set himself the challenge to prove that it could.

"While the purpose of the cufflinks is to physically link the cuffs of a shirt together, they also provide a metaphorical link: cufflinks are personal items that are often passed on from father to son, in doing so they help the generations connect in a meaningful way, providing continuity and history," he added.

Although he has used gold and platinum at clients' requests, Huang's favorite material to work with is silver. "Silver is a precious metal that feels 'alive' - it has a warm surface sheen that further softens when it is polished gently. Over time and with use, it builds up a patina which gives the piece of jewelry its own unique character and helps to age beautifully."

The designer recently launched a range of new Chinese button cufflinks. Cast from original antique ceremonial robe buttons and made into cufflinks in silver and brass, these suit both men and women.

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