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Family secrets

FAMILY SECRETS

A NEW GENERATION IS MAKING ITS MARK AT HEMMERLE. DETAIL IS EVERYTHING FOR THE CELEBRATED JEWELRY HOUSE

At Hemmerle, family business has become an art. Over four generations, the company has preserved its high standard of unhurried craftsmanship and artisanal excellence. Stefan and Sylveli Hemmerle currently run the house, along with their son Christian and daughter-in-law Yasmin, who met at university in London and began working for the company in 2006. According to Christian, good instinct has always been at the root of Hemmerle’s success. “For my parents’ generation, it was not so much about strategy,” he says. “They just made very good gut decisions, which led them to where we are today.”

Hemmerle produces about 200 pieces a year. Each can take up to 500 hours to make, and all are created in-house in Munich, where the company’s sole boutique is also located. In 1893, brothers Joseph and Anton Hemmerle founded the firm there, upon taking over an established goldsmith’s operation. Two years later, Hemmerle was appointed “Purveyor to the Court” by Luitpold, Prince Regent of Bavaria, and it soon became known for its “bejeweled fantasies”—a description that holds true today. In the 1970s, Stefan Hemmerle modernized the company by taking it in a design-driven direction, which integrated unusual materials, such as iron and wood, with its precious gems.

Hemmerle earrings made of blackened silver, white gold, and diamonds, inspired by Paul Klee
Hemmerle earrings made of blackened silver, white gold, and diamonds, inspired by Paul Klee.

In 2019, Christian and Yasmin continue to usher in a new era at Hemmerle. They cater to an increasingly international clientele and innovate in their designs using unconventional objects found in nature, such as acorns from New York’s Central Park and pebbles from Munich’s Isar River. Stones range from diamonds and jade to tsavorites and melo pearl. “My dad never looked at materials by value. He just looked at beauty,” Christian says. “He taught us to walk around with an open mind and get inspired. Obviously, diamonds and rubies are more precious than tourmalines, but tourmalines can be just as beautiful.”

As Christian and Yasmin take on more responsibility at Hemmerle, and as the firm’s presence at fairs, museums, and auctions skyrockets, it is clear that Stefan’s playful imagination and passion for beauty aren’t the only attributes that have influenced the couple. Rather, his conviction empowers their steadfast belief that increased demand shouldn’t compromise their bespoke process. “Our pieces are taking more and more time to create because we are extremely detail-driven,” explains Yasmin. “We believe that it’s the last 5% of the workmanship that really makes the jewel.”

Yasmin and Christian Hemmerle.
 Yasmin and Christian Hemmerle

As evidenced by their designs, ranging from Paul Klee–inspired geometric earrings to necklaces that incorporate ancient artifacts, art is a major inspiration for Christian and Yasmin. Institutions have noticed, too, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; and the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York all counting Hemmerle jewels in their collections. Christian, who also sits on Tefaf’s board of trustees, recalls a recent trip to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and his surprise at seeing works by the Dutch master alongside those by American sculptor John Chamberlain. “There were so many years between the two, but it showed me that everybody gets inspired by their surroundings,” he says of the exhibition. “Hemmerle’s challenge today is to take just a small, abstract element of something, whether it’s a shape or a color palette, and reinterpret it in our work.”

An ancient Egyptian faience necklace, the faience from 18th-dynasty ancient Egypt, Amarna period, 1352–36 B.C
An ancient Egyptian faience necklace, the faience from 18th-dynasty ancient Egypt, Amarna period, 1352–36 B.C

While some Hemmerle jewels prioritize color and clean lines in striking designs, such as their signature Harmony bangle, other pieces contemporize history. Their Egyptian Story collection, for example, was sparked by the Hemmerle family’s visit to Cairo to meet Yasmin’s family. Inspired by ancient Egypt’s reverence for jewelry, Hemmerle created pieces based around materials like turquoise, motifs such as scarabs (dung beetles), and artifacts including faiences and amulets, to pay homage to the country’s distinct visual vocabulary. And last year, for its 125th anniversary, Hemmerle created several jewels, called Revived Treasures, such as a necklace (on page 40) featuring a faience from Egypt’s Amarna Period, 1352–36 BC, from which emeralds and sapphires hang on a flexible strap of hand-sewn agate beads knitted over silk.

Other Hemmerle jewels serve as reminders of the house’s regard for whimsy. Take for example its Tarantula brooch. Comprised of yellow gold, diamonds, sapphires, and conch pearl, the piece is captivating in its radiance, as well as in its highly realistic form, down to the chill-inducing texture of its furry legs. For their 2011 Delicious Jewels project, Christian and Yasmin designed a collection that took the form of vegetables. A book of the same name was also published, featuring recipes by food writer Tamasin Day-Lewis alongside the jewels. But don’t ask Christian and Yasmin to pick their favorite piece. “Like with kids, even if you have a favorite child, you don’t share it because it would do the others injustice,” explains Christian. But if you ask him which project best represents his and Yasmin’s contribution to the heritage brand, he concedes, “Definitely our Delicious Jewels. It’s important not to be too serious. Life needs humor.”

Hemmerle’s pepper brooch, comprised of demantoid garnets, copper, silver, and white gold, from the Delicious Jewels collection.
Hemmerle’s pepper brooch, comprised of demantoid garnets, copper, silver, and white gold, from the Delicious Jewels collection.

Stephanie Sporn is a staff writer for sothebys.com.
This article originally appeared in Sotheby’s magazine.

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