“There are dinner jackets and then there are dinner jackets.” Remarked Vesper Lynd to James Bond in the memorable scene in Casino Royale preceding Bond’s poker game with Le Chiffre and Felix Leiter, among others.
But we are not talking about dinner jackets, at least not in this post. We are talking about cufflinks. Nevertheless, the underlying message of Miss Lynd’s statement can be applied to any item of a man’s wardrobe. The point is that there are nice things that will do for most occasions, but then there are things that are of exceptional quality. And for certain occasions only the latter type of good is appropriate. In Mr. Bond’s case, to be precise, it was a Brioni dinner jacket atop a Turnbull & Asser shirt and Albert Thurston braces. Like I said, only the finest.
Now, it’s time we get to the point. Given the above discussion, we can discern that there are cufflinks and then there are cufflinks. It is important for a man to have sets of both. A few pair of simple silk knots are always good to have, as are a set of monogrammed sterling silver links. But then, a man should have at least one nice pair. And by nice what I really mean is the type of thing you will hand down to your sons. Enter Robin Rotenier and his cufflinks.
I first met Mr. Rotenier at MRket a few months back. He was kind enough to invite me to his studio in midtown, so a few weeks later I made the visit. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had visited artisans before, but I expected the tailoring houses of Savile Row (Henry Poole) and Paris (Cifonelli) to be much different than a New York City jewelery artist, even if said artist is from Paris. The studio is divided into 3 spaces; showroom, offices and workshop. The workshop being the most interesting and important part of the whole operation. It is where Robin makes the original carvings for his cufflinks. All of his cufflinks are made here in New York City, from start to finish; so yes, that makes Rotenier cufflinks made in America.
It is at the most basic stage of design, the carving done in the workshop, where the difference between Rotenier cufflinks and a great majority of the rest of the cufflinks in the world differ. And it is where Mr. Rotenier’s artistry, expertise and imagination flourish. After a design is sketched out and settled on, Mr. Rotenier creates a wax model of both ends of the cufflink (pictured below). In contrast with many cufflinks on the market, he does not have one side fold to slide through holes in the cuff, but rather a smaller design that will slide through it; like the banana from the spider monkey cufflinks (pictured above). Once he has the initial wax sculpture perfected, what is called lost wax casting is used to produce the final silver cufflinks (it is much more prudent for you to read the Wikipedia article than for me to explain the process). Simple, right? Well, in theory, I suppose so. But in reality, it is not so simple, nor is it a quick process. You see, for Robin Rotenier, his cufflinks are more than just something you wear. To understand what I mean, you must know a little about the man Robin Rotenier.
Robin is originally from France; Paris to be exact, and came over to America on his own accord. He speaks with an amiable French accent and his hospitality and demeanor is more friendly than the stereotypes about the French would have you believe. From a young age he has always been interested in small scale sculpture, when he was a boy he would resculpt his toys by melting, cutting and reassembling them. However, it was years before this skill and passion was revisited and explored. For years Robin worked in marketing. Over time he took classes at FIT relating to jewelry design and fabrication. But it was not until the “first day I sat down and started carving wax, everything came together.” So in 1993 he incorporated his company, in 1994 he started product development and in 1995 he was picked up by his first stores. And Rotenier cufflinks have been sold in stores like Saks, Mitchells and Bergdorf Goodman since. His silver and gold plated models range in price from $345-395 and his precious stone links can range up to $895. Expensive, yes. However, To Robin and many of his customers his cufflinks are not just cufflinks.
Aside from his family, from whom he said he has learned many of his most important lessons from, and making cufflinks, Robin’s other passion is communication. The cufflinks themselves communicate with people, as does most art. Each set of cufflinks conveys a message, a story, a meaning. Robin noted that he “never aspired to be a $100,000,000 company and to be in every store.” I suppose that would erode away at the uniqueness and personal appeal of his cufflinks. Perhaps the connection Robin wants the wearers of his cufflinks to have with the cufflinks would be diluted. But what really got Robin going was talk of celebration, not of his milestones, but of his customers milestones.
“One of the reasons I did this, it’s a business of celebration. There is constantly an anniversary, a wedding, a graduation, constantly involved in good feelings. In creating things. They [his customers] buy things because they want it. When you command this price you need to create something of value and merit. What fills me with joy is to be in the business of celebration.” That is how Robin and I ended our discussion, and that, my readers, is how we shall end ours.
I would like to thank Robin and his team for showing me around their studio and taking the time to speak with me, it was a great experience, one which I am lucky enough to be able to share with all of you.
Justin L Jeffers