Goldsmith’s Art Thinking with Their Hands

Jiro Kamata, BI Brooch 2014
Jiro Kamata, BI Brooch 2014 | Photo and © (detail): Jiro Kamata

Contemporary jewellery is often characterised by a radical reinterpretation of its material. If something of value arises from something worthless, an unconventional mind is behind it. But the fact that many of these creative spirits have completed a goldsmith’s training programme is not exactly self-evident. Or is it?

Annamaria Leiste is not a trained goldsmith, and is therefore an exception in Otto Künzli’s jewellery class. A native of Milan, she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich during her final year, and is one of the few lateral entrants in the class. Leiste acquired the basic knowledge required for this course of study in an internship under Heinz Siebauer in Munich, among other things. Today, with this knowledge, she fashions the little caps that seal her glass ampoules with animal bones. Although she always felt insecure in comparison with those with previous experience, as she says, she nevertheless has ideas that might not have occurred to her with a classical training: “Perhaps I take roundabout routes, but I try to find solutions despite this.” It is surely these roundabout routes that enable her to discover things whose potential as jewellery others would dismiss – hedge-hog spines, owl pellets, fish scales. From this emerges a jewellery that questions its own significance, inasmuch as materials become valuable that normally would land in the rubbish bin or rot.

Studying material intuitively

Barbara Schrobenhauser, “Time Is On My Side “ Barbara Schrobenhauser, “Time Is On My Side “ | Photo and ©: Mirei Takeuchi Barbara Schrobenhauser also experiments with material whose suitability as jewellery isn’t immediately obvious: paper. To this goldsmith, who lives in Neugablonz in the Allgäu region of Bavaria, paper isn’t all that far off from metal. Its fibres can be worked in just as many ways. During her studies in the jewellery class, she was an assistant in the paper workshop and is familiar with this material. The pigments that she stirs into the wet paper and the week-long drying process make the surface look smooth and grained – like stone. Her brooches weigh only a couple of grams, but look as though their weight would ruin any lapel. Schrobenhauser, 36, says she works intuitively, “its like thinking with my hands,” as she puts it. She had already stopped working with gold before going to the academy in 2007. As an apprentice she was at her workbench for eight hours a day, the pressure was high and she says she lost all feeling for the material. The training was worthwhile in spite of this, because it removed her fear of unfamiliar materials. Recently, says the artist, she has been getting ideas for metal again, but intends to realise them in aluminium and bronze.

Jewelry must be wearable

Barbara Decker, Flower Pendant Prasiolith – Silver Barbara Decker, Flower Pendant Prasiolith – Silver | Photo and ©: Ulrike Böhm Not working with gold is something Barbara Decker can no longer imagine. Even in her teen years, she was so fascinated by it that she took a course in goldsmithing at the Volkshochschule (Germany’s state community education centres). However, creativity was not encouraged during her training in a conservative crafts business. She therefore concentrated on design in her training as a master craftswoman. Studying under Künzli was out of the question for Decker, who is now 40: “I wanted to learn the craft, the academy doesn’t offer that.” For ten years now, she has been running a shop together with three other women goldsmiths, the shop “Tragbar” (i.e. wearable) in Munich. Unlike her colleagues, Decker is a “one-woman show” who makes everything herself and only does serial production as an exception. She does not want to have to adjust her design to market demand, and prefers to delegate individual tasks, for instance having a gem setter set her stones. Decker views those who limit themselves to design without a crafts background with scepticism, since “things result that look great, but don’t function.” And for her, jewellery must be one thing above all: wearable.

Mastering metal

  • Annamaria Leiste, „Traumgekrönt“ Foto und ©: Mirei Takeuchi
    Annamaria Leiste, „Traumgekrönt“
  • Annamaria Leiste, „Colors Cry” Foto und ©: Mirei Takeuchi
    Annamaria Leiste, „Colors Cry”
  • Annamaria Leiste, „Once upon a treehouse“ Foto und ©: Mirei Takeuchi
    Annamaria Leiste, „Once upon a treehouse“
  • Barbara Decker, Flower Anhänger Prasiolith – Silber Foto und ©: Ulrike Böhm
    Barbara Decker, Flower Anhänger Prasiolith – Silber
  • Barbara Schrobenhauser, „Embers“, Kette 2014 Foto und ©: Mirei Takeuchi
    Barbara Schrobenhauser, „Embers“, Kette 2014
  • Jiro Kamata, Arboresque Brosche 2012 Foto und ©: Gesa Simons
    Jiro Kamata, Arboresque Brosche 2012
This is also Jiro Kamata’s view, but Künzli’s assistant also fashions pieces that are only to be worn in specific situations. His necklace made of camera lenses weighs a kilo, but despite this there are people who purchase it and wear in on an hourly basis. Kamata, who trained as a goldsmith in Japan, came to Künzli via Pforzheim University’s School of Design and graduated in 2006. He says that only a few in the class are still working with gold or silver; today; “These days, jewellery no longer has to be made of metal, but it’s still very important to me.” One can master metal, says Kamata, 37, when one knows how, “it fits my personality.” The goldsmith’s precision is visible in his brooches and earrings. He considers it an advantage that most of the students are trained craftspeople. “Otherwise one would have a problem in ten or twenty years,” says Kamata, for instance if one wishes to do engraving and doesn’t know how. Then one has to turn to an expert, which costs money and time. And not without reason is the jewellery class officially not called a jewellery class at all. They gave themselves the name and everyone uses it today. But the class is in fact called: The Goldsmith’s Art.