On The Rocks Magazine

08.11.2017

Voyage of Discovery

Thematics

Bangle in white gold and bronze, with cameos and diamonds.

Every jewel created by Hemmerle is a fine
cross-section of rare and storied materials. 
Christian and Yasmin Hemmerle share the 
fruits of their international treasure-seeking 

Though resident in Munich for over 120 years, the house of Hemmerle has an adventurous soul. Its smart atelier, located on a hushed central Munich street close to its boutique, is the unassuming destination for unique and precious materials sourced from all over the globe, which are subsequently worked over hundreds of hours into startlingly inventive pieces of bespoke jewellery. There are the earrings made from 18th-century doll’s house porcelain; another pair featuring rich red coral found in a shipwreck; a bangle comprising a variety of antique cameos; and countless other rare stones, artefacts, woods, and beads, which the questing Hemmerle clan spends a sizeable part of each year unearthing. A single jewel can contain a complex layering of different histories, but the end result is thoroughly contemporary and a treasure in its own right. 

Christian Hemmerle is the buoyant scion of the fourth generation jewellers, who with his sweetly spoken wife, Yasmin, joined his parents Stefan and Sylveli in the family business just over ten years ago. At the atelier – “the pulse” of the operation, as Yasmin puts it – a clutch of dedicated craftsmen are busily experimenting on a series of audacious designs. One is working with antique micro-mosaics; another is weaving a beautiful bronze “wrapping” for a jewel; another is creating an earring with an Australian bottle tree fruit that Stefan Hemmerle found during a visit to Tucson, Arizona. Known for his imaginative and democratic eye, Stefan has incorporated such humble items as acorns retrieved whilst jogging in Central Park or pebbles found in a riverbed in his jewel designs. “My mother always says that you can’t reinvent certain shapes; everything has been there in nature already,” says Christian. “If you’re passionate about what you do, there’s no down time. Inspiration could lie in something as simple as an acorn.” 

Christian and Yasmin proudly display their collection of coloured gemstones, built up over 20 years, before progressing to another room containing cameos – beautifully carved agate relief portraits dating from the 19th century. “They’re so difficult to find, oh my god,” says Yasmin, gesturing to one of these enigmatic faces from the past. “It really is treasure-hunting. I think 80 per cent of them look to the left, so to find one looking to the right… And there are so many things you need to look out for to match them; the size, the direction they look, the hard shell, the colours of the agates.”

“It’s a rush when you find something
in a place where they might not
appreciate it the way you do” 

The desire to seek out non-traditional materials is credited to Stefan Hemmerle, who with Sylveli reinvented the house in the mid-1990s, experimenting with unusual media such as iron and wood in the service of refreshingly minimal designs. “He was always interested in looking at other possibilities, not limiting himself to classical materials such as rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and gold,” says Christian. In 1995, Stefan set himself the challenge of creating a diamond ring in textured iron for the wife of a client who was enamoured of 19th-century Berlin iron jewellery. The process proved revelatory, and heralded the start of an exciting chapter in the house’s history. Quickly, the heritage jewellers – established in 1893 and famed for making orders and medals, as well as jewellery for the Bavarian royal court – developed a new core of admirers.

Yasmin estimates that Christian and Stefan spend six months of the year going from fairs to auction houses around the world in search of their next rarity. “My first fair was actually my honeymoon!” she says, with a smile. She remembers asking her new husband and father-in-law what they were looking for and receiving the surprising response: “Nothing.” “My idea of jewellery was always the opposite – you had the design and then you found the stones to go into the design, not the other way around,” she says. “It was mind-boggling but it makes total sense. That was my first lesson.” 

Many of the materials come by serendipitously, like the coral, which can be traced back to an East India Company ship that sank in 1787, and which Stefan heard about during a chance conversation. Indeed, says Christian, the biggest thrill comes from acquiring something unexpectedly. “It’s a rush when you find something in a place where they might not appreciate it the way you do,” he says. “What’s paint before it hits the canvas?” asks Yasmin. “It’s the interpretation that counts.”

This article originally appeared in Issue V of On The Rocks. 

Digital Technician

Sebastian Linder

Photography Assistant

Chris Koch

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