The Cuff Link King

Designer Robert Tateossian

These are for your Helmut Lang kind of guy: a bit wild and a little out there," says designer Robert Tateossian, pointing to a pair of bold, angular cuff links in onyx and silver. "These," he says picking up a more classic pair, "are made for more of a Zegna guy: somewhat more discreet." Tateossian (pronounced Ta-tee-OH-see-yan) is sifting through a four-foot-high tower of cuff link trays in his London showroom, ascribing identities to every single pair. Given that at last count his collection ran to more than 3,000 designs, it's a time-consuming, nevertheless engrossing, process.

If any man deserves the title of 21st-century cuff link king, it is this urbane 41-year-old financier turned silversmith and accessories designer. Born in Kuwait and educated at a French school in Rome, then in Beirut and New York before studying international finance at Wharton and finally settling in London, Tateossian left the money markets for the cloth markets and began importing mudmee, a rare silk favored by the Thai royal family. It proved a hit with decorators, but given that it took up to a year to make a 20-yard length, Tateossian knew he'd have problems maintaining supply and cast about for another field. "I loved traveling, so I went with jewelry," he says, explaining with a smile, "because it's so easy to travel with."

He's right; his work does travel well. The pieces that bear his name are equally at home in Tokyo or Toronto, Munich or Manhattan (where they're sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue). His shop, in the Royal Exchange of London's financial district, is clean, contemporary, and as international-looking as the thirty- to fortysomething stockbrokers and bankers who frequent it. It was Tateossian who gave us the ultimate in whimsical shirt-sleeve fasteners when he put tiny watch movements into cuff links ($210) and allowed men to tell the time without having to pull back their cuff. And if you like to wear your wit on your sleeve, there are thermometer cuff links ($150); cuff links that play roulette ($210); cuff links that advise you which stocks to buy and which to sell ($210).

But Tateossian is much more than a purveyor of trinkets to bored bankers. His particular genius lies in his willingness to experiment and treat unusual materials with a jeweler's sensibility: Polychromatic Perspex is hand-cut and carefully set as if it were a precious or semiprecious stone ($165); fiber-optic glass is meticulously sliced and polished ($135); and where others might use mere mother-of-pearl, Tateossian provides his own twist with highly polished abalone shell ($250). There is also silver studded with garnet ($450) or citrine ($600), and a collection trimmed in diamonds ($2,100).

He has, of course, moved beyond cuff links: There's jewelry ranging from women's pieces that echo the sixties style of Paco Rabanne, to über-masculine styles that combine silver and leather. And since summer 2002, a line of shirts in any color you'd like, as long as it's white—albeit white with contrasting stitching, white with colored buttons, or white with a textured finish. After all, you wouldn't want your Tateossian shirt to clash with your cuff links, now would you?

Cuff links range in price from $125 to $2,100. At 1/4 Royal Exchange, London; 44-207-283-3434; www.tateossian.com.