Minimalist Modern Jewelry

On The Town | Meredith Castile | June 2013

Claudia Steiner's rings, necklaces, by AND_I & rings by SKREIN*

"We let the goldsmith work – and you’re allowed to see it," said Alexander Skrein. We stood in the May drizzle before the window of his intimate first-district atelier skrein*. He was responding to my question about a ring that, from a distance, looked like brushed gold.

The texture, it turned out, came from fine hammer marks. Against the muted, undulating metal, the diamond solitaire seemed preternaturally flawless.Skrein and his team do not use machines. If the piece seems right to the skilled eye of the smith, then it is right. "The best measurement is human feeling," he said.

Skrein pieces offer the intimacy one detects in a painting where the artist’s strokes are visible. Their exquisite craft allows the traces of the human hand.

Once a lawyer, Skrein has the discreet air of someone used to dealing with fine things. His eyes are wary and alert, his face reflecting a lifetime of work. He excused himself to oversee a sale, and I surveyed the price tags. Most ranged in the four figures; one ring approached €24,000. The Georg Spreng show that opened 15 May is a €3 million affair.

Skrein and his team produce about 70 per cent of the store’s pieces. The rest comes from preeminent European jewelers, such as Ulla and Martin Kaufmann, whom Skrein calls the greatest jewelry designers outside Italy – which seems fair, judging from the Kaufmanns’ effortless designs and their long record of prizes.

The requirement for collaborative jewelry design? "Many working hours," says one SKREIN* designer.

Many Viennese jewelry makers originally trained in something else, explains fledgling designer Konstanze Prechtl from gallerie v & v. Frequently, they study sculpture or design at Vienna’s University for Applied Arts (Universität für Angewandte Kunst). Unlike other European cities – Bratislava, Munich, Amsterdam – Vienna lacks a university programme in jewelry design. Prechtl, however, took advantage of the new Evening College for Jewelry Design (Abendkolleg für Schmuckdesign) to study with masters like Susanne Hammer, winner of Austria’s top Eligius jewelry prize. Galerie V & V offers works by both Hammer and Petra Zimmerman, another Eligius winner.

Often the materials are unexpected: At V & V, there were plastic casings of art pencils repurposed as beads, pistachio shells encased in black mesh, rings of PMMA (Plexiglas), necklaces of "upcycled" fleamarket purses and beads, earrings of bouncy silicone. Best though was a metal-ribbed angular tube under what appeared to be fine shaved bone. The transparent white material seemed to draw in light.

The piece was as simple as it was striking.

"What is this?"

"Darm." Intestines.

"But it might be artificial Darm," Prechtl reassures me. "Like for sausages." She needn’t have worried. The piece, by Margit Hart, was the one of the most beautiful things I’d seen all day.

Hardly any openings remain for apprentice goldsmiths in Austria today, says Sabine Ebner of schmuck stück, who remembers her own apprenticeship with something less than fondness. After finishing, she spent eight years in Asia, predominately India, learning a cultural aesthetic and techniques unknown here. Her work, which often involves etching into metal to create botanical-like textures, cannot be called truly minimalist. But pieces like a cocktail ring that pairs rose gold plating with an octagonal rose quartz stone (€95), offer beauty and simplicity for a palatable price.

Just over the canal from Schwedenplatz, wubet, of the internationally minded textile designer Arnold Haas, was exhibiting a collection of men’s rings created with the eminent claudia steiner. Entitled "rough edges," the collection explores masculine, stone-like textures in silver and pewter. Later this summer, Haas has teamed-up with the contemporary African art gallery Habari, to create beaded works.

The angular, attention-grabbing contemporary pieces at galerie slavik often attract words like "artsy" or "bold" – but don’t be put off. This is Vienna’s premiere gallery for modern jewelry from artists whose works cannot be considered simply ornament. They are art. Many Vienna designers show in many venues. The mak design store always has some fine jewelry on offer, often including Andreas Eberharter’s successful and_i line (or at his third-district atelier on Thursday evenings). These designs evoke bondage and S/M, exploring the intersections of high art and sexual deviance, making Eberharter the Mapplethorpe of Viennese jewelry.

The new shop étagère rents out shelf space, and has found many quirky pleasures: Bernadette Hahnekamp’s white ceramic bird brooches and Piselli’s knitted earrings, or the lovely creations of the talented smith katie g, including some silver earrings evoking rippled leaves.

The offerings at the small jewelry shop galerie moha tend toward the bright and playful, but also the minimal. My pick: ulrike poelk’s intriguing gold-plated magnetic chains that the wearer can re-shape into knotted or lariat-like styles.

Stick around for November’s Lange Nacht der Schmuckkunst (The Long Night of Jewelry Art), for gallery after gallery of jewelry. Or consult the past years’ lists at A city of gold – and membrane – awaits you.


SKREIN*: 1., Spiegelgasse 5,


Gallerie V & V: 1., Bauernmarkt 19


WUBET: 2., Praterstrasse 11


Galerie Slavik: 1., Himmelpfortgasse 17


The MAK design Store: 1., Stubenring 5


Galerie Moha: 1., Köllnerhofgasse 3


Étagère OG 6., Amerlingstraße 4

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