Craft / August 2016

Historical Links: Deakin & Francis

For more than 200 years, the furnaces of Deakin & Francis have been raging and their sweat-soaked artisans have been forging some of the most memorable cufflinks in any gentleman’s…

Have you ever seen a cufflink depicting a masturbating monkey? It turns out they exist. Our simian cousins’ reputation for self-pleasuring has been well earned, but for a British jeweller to celebrate this with a gentleman’s accessory is somewhat lewd, perhaps? Not so. In fact, it is  just a part of the irreverent oeuvre of Deakin & Francis.

“Let other people make them cheaper, just don’t let them make it better.” This credo is the parting shot from father to son in the latest exchange of the reins of power at one of the U.K.’s oldest family businesses. Enter Henry Deakin, the seventh generation chief of the company since it was founded in 1786. Deakin is in fine fettle as his patrimony continues to thrive under his stewardship. He and his brother, James, aren’t just the predetermined scions of the brand, they have done their homework. James studied at the Gemological Institute of America, in California, and Henry at the International Gemological Institute in Vicenza, Italy. Their Birmingham-based factory has the grit and grime of an artisan’s workstation. The assorted furnaces and metalwork riggings, all fire-scorched and dented, must have featured somewhere in Botticelli’s La Mappa dell’Inferno. This is the British equivalent of the glass-blowers of Vecchia Murano: modern-day Hephaestuses continuing an aged craft with the skills required for a brand such as Deakin & Francis.

Inserted between Henry’s shirtsleeves are 18ct yellow-gold skull-motif cufflinks. They are fetching and distinguished gewgaws, but, in an extra touch of D&F playfulness, when you pull open the mouth, diamonds fill the previously empty eye sockets, which is pretty jaw-dropping (guffaw). Suddenly my childlike curiosity was rampant, for when an infant happens upon a special stick or curiously dented stone, it becomes precious and valuable to him, and his mind explodes with possibilities. The masturbating monkey and the eye-popping skull were just the beginning, and judging by what these brothers produce, they have found their shtick.

Henry and James like to keep their creative juices flowing. So much so that robotically scrolling down their website has a negative effect in understanding exactly how innovative they have been in expanding the range of accessories available to men. Henry is of the opinion that, “there’s more to life than just a classic blue oval cufflink given to you by your grandfather. But there’s a limit to what guys can wear as far as a signet ring or watch and wedding bands go. A cufflink is a good way of expressing yourself.”

Tags

Contributor

Tom Chamberlin

Editor of The Rake Magazine