July 08 2010
As the sleek, curved glass doors glide open onto a serenely luxurious scene of cream walls and oak floors, it’s hard to imagine that Hemmerle, the progressive Munich jeweller, has been in this same spot on fashionable Maximilianstrasse since 1903. Designed more like an art gallery than a jeweller’s, the only hints of heritage are the four age-patinated classical metal pillars – remnants of the South Bavarian baroque décor of the original shop.
One of the world’s most innovative, avant-garde master jewellers, Hemmerle is family-owned and -run, a tight-knit design democracy of Stefan Hemmerle, his wife Sylveli, son Christian and Egyptian-born daughter-in-law Yasmin. “We think together,” says Stefan, explaining the powerful signature style that rests firmly in the realm of modern art.
It was Stefan who changed the direction of the business in 1995. In response to a client – the wife of an eminent art collector who despised “flashy gems” and was fond of 19th-century Berlin iron jewellery – Hemmerle set a diamond into iron. This paved the way to the house’s current mix of modernity and magnificence, severity and sensuality, and a courageous use of materials such as brass, copper, steel and wood as backdrops to exceptionally rare, intriguing, often indefinable gemstones.
Gems and colour, such as the sapphires in a starfish brooch, are the starting point for each handmade, one-of-a-kind jewel (all prices on request, from €3,000) – although signature forms and shapes, such as the bangle with rounded open ends or the tassel, are repeated in different materials. Intense colour – as in a pair of flame-orange fire opal and spessartite garnet tassel earrings – is offset by the pale, flesh tones of beige diamonds, apricot moonstones or, as I saw in the nearby atelier, a pair of huge, peach-tinted fire opals destined to swing freely in metal-framed earrings.
Every piece possesses perfect proportions and rhythms of tone and texture, matte and shine, geometry and movement, all made possible by barrier-breaking craftsmanship. There is a “second-skin” feeling to Hemmerle creations: gemstone settings are uniquely seamless and sleek – not a claw or collet in sight – while impossibly minute gems are knitted into a silky mesh in a painstaking process inspired by old Austrian techniques. “Camouflage” beadwork is the newest interpretation, along with a hip-length sautoir of pale moonstones, hung with a 19th-century cameo and a tassel of natural seed pearls. Craftsmanship is crucial, yet almost invisible. “We have German engineering but you can’t see it,” says Yasmin.
Clients – many of them collectors and art lovers, including New York arts patron Beth DeWoody – come to Hemmerle’s only shop for the ultimate understatement of rarity and preciousness. “We have to surprise people all the time,” says Stefan, “but nothing is calculated, it is all spontaneous. And we have to develop ourselves; this keeps us young in spirit.”