Claude Jeanloz would like to display his vintage cuff link collection, but to show the entire assemblage in an appropriate fashion, he figures he would need about 30,000 or 40,000 square feet. You see, his collection, likely the world’s largest, numbers some 100,000 pieces. “I have maybe 25 pairs that I wear on a day-to-day basis,” says Jeanloz, who on this June morning is wearing a rectangular pair embellished with sapphires and diamond chips.
“People ask, ‘Don’t you just go to the collection and borrow some?’ No, I don’t. Though I once calculated that I could change my cuff links every hour for the rest of my life, and I could have started about 20 years ago, and I wouldn’t go through all of them,” says Jeanloz, who, at 57, remains fit and trim by inline-skating 20 miles daily, weather permitting. In fact, he will pack his skates for his business trip the following day to Shanghai. “I can get through traffic on skates there a lot faster than I could in a car,” he says.
Jeanloz also would like to place his collection in a venue frequented by people who wear cuff links—maybe, he says, in a casino, though he also is looking into the possibility of displaying some of his pieces in a federal reserve bank’s lobby. Either location could be suitable, according to other collectors: One says cuff links allow a man to be elegantly outrageous (in a casino); another believes that they project power (at the Fed).
For now, however, a portion of Jeanloz’s collection—about 35,000 pieces—can be found in the Western Massachusetts hamlet of Millers Falls, at a bathroom fixtures manufacturing complex, tucked away in a ground-floor corner of a vacant turn-of-the-last-century brick building. The cuff links are stored in two- or three-dozen pedestal-style display cases. For security purposes, the cases are positioned so that their contents are concealed. But Jeanloz, a Massachusetts native who founded the fixtures company in 1978 and moved it from his house to the Millers Falls facility in the early 1980s, describes their holdings. They include pieces made of silk, leather, rubber, enamel gold, and diamonds and other gems. “Every imaginable stone is represented,” says Jeanloz, adding that almost all of the pieces were made in the United States. “There was even a brick manufacturer somewhere in Ohio who made tiny brick cuff links for his customers.”
As those brick cuff links indicate, Jeanloz’s collection does not comprise only pieces as luxurious as those pictured in this month’s photo feature, “Off the Cuff”. “I wanted to have a comprehensive group of cuff links, of pretty much everything put into production over the years, plus some custom items,” says Jeanloz, who has spent about $2 million assembling his collection over the last four decades. “It wasn’t a question of saying, ‘I don’t like that, so I’m not going to take it.’ You take the good, the bad, and the ugly. My interest is basically to preserve the history of cuff links and cuff link manufacturing in the United States, because it is an industry that has been dying.”
Jeanloz is familiar with dying industries. Until two years ago, his collection was the centerpiece of the Cuff Link Museum, which was housed on the third floor of the Yield House Industries factory in Conway, N.H. Jeanloz acquired the then-50-year-old furniture-making company in 1992, but competition from businesses in China forced him to shut down its manufacturing operation two years ago. He then moved the cuff link collection into storage at his other business, Renovator’s Supply, which also has been hurt by lower-cost Chinese products. The company still designs and engineers bath fixtures in Millers Falls, but now nearly all of the products that it sells are made in China.
“Business was really booming for us, but manufacturing in the Northeast has just tanked,” says Jeanloz, who has more than enough financial security to retire but prefers to continue working. “We still do some casting and some assembly here, but less and less and less, because everything we do here is at a loss, a big loss. So we just have to keep closing up parts of the business. It’s just a shame the way things are going. We can’t compete with the Chinese anymore, so it was either join them or retire.”
And so Jeanloz is off to Shanghai, where he now spends half of his time. There, where—as luxury goods makers have discovered—power and outrageous elegance are virtues that its newly prosperous citizens enjoy displaying, Jeanloz, if he were inclined to inquire, probably could find a good home for his cuff link collection.