Listen to this article
For a handful of jewellers who produce a limited number of unique pieces each year, the traditional wholesale and consignment retail models do not work. Instead, many travel the world with their jewels, and art fairs such as October’s inaugural Tefaf New York and this week’s Salon Art + Design, also in New York, can provide a useful vehicle for presenting pieces to existing collectors and meeting potential clients.
For nearly 20 years, Hemmerle, the Munich-based jeweller, has presented its work at Tefaf (The European Fine Art Fair) in Maastricht. As well as participating in the fair’s first Manhattan event this year, the family-owned company shows at the Masterpiece London fair in July and this year added October’s Pavilion of Art and Design in London. Hemmerle also presents new pieces at a private salon in New York twice a year, events it will now dovetail with Tefaf’s appearances in New York (October and May).
Being on the road, says Christian Hemmerle, the company’s director, is worth the effort and expense involved given the control it allows of the company’s entire enterprise. “Right now we can do things at our own set timeframe. We select our targets and we keep them manageable. I’d never tell my goldsmiths a deadline,” he says.
It also allows Hemmerle to develop relationships with collectors in diverse parts of the world, far beyond its Munich headquarters.
For Otto Jakob, however, time spent travelling could be better spent in the workshop. The German jeweller, who exhibited at this year’s Tefaf New York but whose only regular fair is Maastricht, continues to create his jewellery alongside his team of 12. Having chosen to stay small, fulfilling orders made at that fair alone occupies him for much of the year. The following year’s collection occupies the rest.
Travelling may become a necessity if visitors to a jeweller’s home city fall off. Valérie Pécresse, president of the regional council for Île de France, which includes Paris, told Le Journal du Dimanche in October that between January and August this year, Paris suffered a drop of 1m visitors and €1bn in tourism revenue, compared to the same period in 2015, following bad weather and a spate of terrorist attacks.
For Olivier Reza, president and creative director of Reza, the Parisian house founded by his father, Alexandre, this downturn made it a good year to exhibit outside the French capital. He added an appearance at Tefaf New York to Tefaf Maastricht. It was the company’s first experience of exhibiting in New York, aside from a retrospective at Sotheby’s in 2013.
Having met clients from across the US and further afield at the fair, Mr Reza says coming to Manhattan was the right decision. “It is a hub for our clientele. Maastricht is a destination; in New York the clients are here already.”
Other hubs are still attracting clients, but travel remains vital. Jeweller Lauren Adriana says of her presence in London, “We’re blessed that the majority of our international clients come to see us here.” She also has valuable support from dealers Peter Edwards in London and Fred Leighton in New York, whose limited consignment of her jewellery provides what she describes as “a window into my work”. But she is single-minded about how she wants to grow her business, preferring to invest money and time in travelling to meet collectors individually. “We are making a conscious [decision] to not participate in fairs,” she says. “Since we only make 20-30 pieces a year, it’s all about having a one-on-one relationship with our client. We want to spend time with them, help them build a collection, discuss commissions and so on.”
A formal presentation in a hotel or other private venue is also unappealing. Instead of placing her jewels in vitrines, Ms Adriana shows them to the client in their custom-made boxes, letting a potential customer wear them for as long as possible during their time together. “There’s nothing nicer than a client wearing a jewel and forgetting they’re wearing it,” she says.
Although she was in New York at the same time as Tefaf, she usually times her trips to the city to coincide with the major postwar and contemporary art auctions. “That’s when our main collectors are in town, and in autumn they’re also seeking to purchase for the [Christmas] season.”
Suzanne Syz, a pop-art-inspired contemporary jeweller and art collector, fits her business travel to the global contemporary art calendar too. “It’s definitely worth it,” says Ms Syz, who produces 75-80 pieces a year. “You go where you know people will probably like your things and feel the same way about art as you do.”
She is exhibiting at this week’s Salon Art + Design (until November 14), where her booth has been curated by artist John Armleder, complete with jewel-box sculptures containing her pieces, which she explains “give them a new dimension”. She used this installation at October’s PAD London too.
Aside from her Geneva showroom, Ms Syz shows at Paris Couture Week as well as at various fairs and private events throughout the year across Europe, Asia and America. “I don’t want to be in stores,” she says. “You have to go and see people these days.”