The 4 elements of this character are well known (claw/plectrum; net; north-east; short measurement), but I cannot see any connection between them that might result in the concept of 'baron'. Can anyone shed some light on this mystery?
The 4 elements of this kanji are well known (claw/plectrum; net; north-east; short measurement)
Unfortunately, this way of interpreting Chinese character components is not correct. As part of other characters, for the vast majority of the time, character components represent either meaning or sound of the word they originally were created for.
「爪・爫」and「寸」are both pictures of hands (see https://japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/65190/what-is-the-meaning-of-the-radical-%e6%89%8b-as-a-part-of-character);
「罒」only means net when it is an abbreviation of「网」(and since you haven't established that「爵」has had the same character components and structure since its inception, you can't make any assumptions about the character components);
「艮」doesn't mean north-east; in this case it is an abbreviation of「皀」which is a picture of a food basket and forms the bottom part of「食」(to eat); see https://japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/65804/what-is-the-etymology-of-the-kanji-%e9%a3%9f. The abbreviation of「皀」into「艮」has a different origin to「艮」itself.
Not that any of this matters for this particular character, because every component you've listed (apart from arguably「寸」) is a result of graphical corruption.
「爵」was originally a picture of an alcohol vessel. As seen in the top two illustrations, the vessel was of various shapes, sometimes with three legs, sometimes with a few columns near the top, and sometimes with a long handle. This is reflected in the character shape variations.
Keeping the columns and the handle,
- The body and legs of the character were later semantically corrupted into or replaced with「鬯」, then corrupted into「皀」and finally abbreviated into「艮」.
- The handle was later replaced with「又」, then「寸」.
- The columns near the top were corrupted into「爪・爫」.
- The area near the mouth of the vessel was corrupted into「罒」.
「鬯」depicts another kind of wine vessel.
The meaning to do with feudal title of an official ("baron") is either a phonetic loan or semantic extension (wine ceremonies were usually conducted by people who can afford them, most commonly officials).