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Replacements, Ltd.
Museum Feature

Cinnabar Cufflinks by Noritake

The museum at Replacements, Ltd. houses a number of unique piece types from popular manufacturers of china, crystal, silver, and collectibles. Our Museum Feature this month, an exquisite set of cinnabar cufflinks from Noritake, is a stunning example of the types of rare and interesting items found in our extensive collection! 

Cinnabar lacquer art carving from China can be dated as far back as the Song Dynasty (960 CE – 1279 CE). The term “cinnabar” is derived from the Latin word “cinnabaris,” which can be traced back to the ancient Persian word “zinjifrah.” Cinnabar is a mineral (mercury sulfide), that was used for decorative purposes and jewelry for hundreds of years. Powdered cinnabar has also been a traditional source of red pigment for dyes. “Cinnabar” jewelry in the modern era is usually made of wood or resin that is stained and covered by layer after layer of dyed lacquer. (The lacquer comes from the sap of the lacquer tree - a type of sumac native to East Asia that’s related to poison ivy.) Because each layer of lacquer has to be completely dry before the next layer can be added, the process can take up to months to complete. The resulting thick layer of lacquer is usually pressed with a pattern, or hand carved with a design (another painstaking and time-consuming process). Cinnabar jewelry became very popular in the Victorian era, and many different types of cinnabar jewelry were made, most with nature motifs. The rise in cinnabar’s popularity during the Victorian period coincided with the increasing ubiquity of a particular men’s fashion accessory: the cufflink.

The cufflink has been a persistent component of men’s fashion since the late seventeenth century. It was during this time that sleeves started to be fastened with identical pairs of colored glass buttons, joined together by a short chain. These cufflinks were all hand-made, and were mostly considered an extravagance reserved for the upper classes. By the early eighteenth century, cufflinks had become more ornate, often having diamonds or other jewels instead of glass, with chains made of gold. In the 1840s, the French cuff shirt became popular (and has remained so since). Due to the popularity of French cuffs, more and more men began needing cufflinks to fasten their sleeves, many of whom were middle class and unable to afford the more elaborate, bejeweled cufflinks being produced at the time. Recognizing the need for more affordable cufflinks, manufacturers began making cufflinks with fake jewels and gold-colored alloys instead of gold. In the 1880s, a man named George Krementz made cufflinks even more affordable (and prolific) by inventing a device based on a Civil War cartridge shell-making machine that could mass produce one-piece collar buttons and cufflinks. By the late Victorian period, cufflinks had become an essential element to every gentleman’s wardrobe. In the 1920s, the enamel cufflink became the most prevalent kind of cufflink. (It was during this period that the communist revolution in Russia forced many Faberge artisans to seek refuge in Europe and America, where they passed along their enameling knowledge and skills.) By the 1930s, low-cost production of plastics led to a decline in the use of enamel. Cufflink use peaked around the mid-1960s. At that time, Swank, Inc., a popular manufacturer, was making as many as 12 million cufflinks a year.

The cufflinks in this month’s Museum Feature were produced by Noritake, a company frequently mentioned in collectible and antique circles. The origins of Noritake begin with the founding of a company titled Nippon Toki Kabushiki Kaisha, Ltd. in Japan in early 1904. It was much later, in the 1980s, when the company officially assumed the name Noritake Company. In 1876, years prior to the founding of Nippon Toki Kabushiki Kaisha, Ltd., Ichizaemon Morimura VI and Yutaka Morimura formed Morimura Brothers. Inc. It was a trading company dedicated to exporting traditional Japanese products. Ichizaemon Morimura VI had been a visionary and supporter of modernization for Japan. From this earliest period, Morimura sought to adapt quality Japanese art and skilled craftsmanship to the needs, designs, and market appeal of the American consumer. It was the Morimura brothers’ success at matching Japanese production with American designs that led to the birth of Noritake in 1904.

Around 1920, Noritake production was divided into two main categories: Dinnerware and Fancy Ware. Fancy Wares included but were not limited to decorative plates, vases, ash trays, and many other items. Both lines were designed for the American market in New York and produced in Japan. This controlled attentiveness to design was a major benefit for Noritake. Noritake did well in giving American consumers shapes and decorations they could relate to and wanted. American design, quality products, and progressive advertising from the earliest years created an incredibly strong position for Noritake in the tableware market. Some of the Noritake design influences were cutting-edge art deco during the late 1920s. After the Great Depression, the designs of the 1930s were markedly more pragmatic. After World War II, Noritake focused on production that embraced the culture and design interests of the countries it produced for. By November of 1947, Noritake, Inc. of the United States was organized and operating in New York. Today, Noritake remains one of the world's largest manufacturers of tableware with production facilities located around the world.

The set of Noritake cinnabar cufflinks is not available for purchase, but we do have other cufflinks available from Fine Enamels Jewelry and Nicole Barr Jewelry. And Replacements, Ltd. carries a wide selection of fantastic Noritake items that are available for purchase; be sure to browse our web site. Remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!

Click here to view our Featured Museum Pieces Archive!

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