Mention German craftsmanship, and we think of diligent Black Forest elves making precision cameras and automobiles. Ordinarily, “precision” connotes accuracy, quality and attention to detail. Precision need not constrict creativity. In fact, as demonstrated by the outstanding exhibition of German jewelry at Contemporary Artisans Gallery, precision can open vast horizons for creative exploration and self expression,

Sixteen German jewelry designer/goldsmiths contributed their work for the show which displays a high level of achievement in the goldsmith’s art. With the challenges of controlling their medium well behind them, these jewelry designers often flaunt their technical mastery while demonstrating the boundless freedom possible through precision.

German Jewelry: Freedom Through Precision
Contemporary Artisans Gallery, San Francisco
June, 1983

Look at it this way. When NASA scientists plan to explore a new corner of outer space, they know that the only way to get there is through precise control of their medium, aerospace engineering, materials physics and so on. The same rules govern artistic exploration. An artist without control of his medium is like a hyperactive chimp with fingerpaints.

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German Jewelry - Hermann Schafran, Necklace
Hermann Schafran, Necklace, undulating dics, 18k gold, sterling silver

In maintaining a reverence for precision for which German craftsmen are renowned, the participating designers nobly carry the tradition of tine craftsmanship to new frontiers. These master craftsmen exhibit such precise control of precious metals that the only challenge left is to throw open the gates of their creative minds with the same freedom as a high-flying explorer.

The traveling exhibition would not be complete without including Klaus Ullrich who has influenced this generation of German jewelry designers as much as any other person. As professor of the acclaimed Pforzheim School of jewelry for a quarter century, Ullrich has continuously won awards for his innovative designs. Certified as a master goldsmith and silversmith, Ullrich demonstrates in his work his fascination with visual perception and tension. He gains subtle control of the viewer’s eye, as in his Leaf Spring bracelet, which focuses on a taut gold thread supporting two cool stainless steel bars.

German Jewelry - Wilhelm Buchert, Brooch
Wilhelm Buchert, Brooch, 18k gold, platinum

The work of designer Hermann Schafran, who received his advanced training in Pforzheim, epitomizes an obsession with precision. Schafran repeatedly tackles the most difficult designs and carries them off with the elegance of genius. His undulating disc necklace is a masterpiece of beauty achieved through precision.

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Jewelry designer and master lapidarist Bernd Munsteiner also received his design training under Ullrich. He expands the goldsmith’s medium to include semiprecious gemstones carved as integral elements in his 18-karat gold jewelry. Incorporating the frozen beauty of gems, he masterfully combines them with flowing yellow gold, creating an art form uniquely his own.

German Jewelry - Klaus Ullrich, Leaf Spring, Bracelet
Klaus Ullrich, Leaf Spring, Bracelet, 18k yellow gold, stainless steel

Inspired by nature, Elisabeth Kodre-Defner’s jewelry looks as if it were caught by a fisherman with a golden rod. Winged insects and sea shells appear frozen in gold and silver, occasionally embellished with gemstones. Her work could be described as golden fossils discovered by a Midas archeologist.

Wilhelm Buchert’s elegant jewelry combines geometric and organic inspiration. In platinum and 18-karat gold, his work is an interaction of constructivist design with the organic fingerprint of the artist.

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Also represented in the show was Sous, an artist with two mediums. As both sculptor and goldsmith, his jewelry has the texture and craftsmanship of ancient adornment, as well as the intellectual appeal of contemporary design. Recent work by Christophe Burger, also shown here, displays his venturesome designs combining such contrasting materials as slate, gold, mother-of-pearl, titanium, silver and diamonds. Burger’s jewelry is bold and graphic. He carefully controls every minute detail of the composition.

German Jewelry - Bernd Munsteiner, Pendant
Bernd Munsteiner, Pendant

While the designers included in this exhibition are indisputably masters of the goldsmith’s medium, they diverge in their individual expression of creativity. Some let their fascination with precision lead them to pursue the challenge of geometric/constructivist design. Others employ their precise skills to pursue organically inspired jewelry designs. After viewing their work, it is clear that a mastery of technical precision in precious metals leads to freedom of expression and a deeper level of creative exploration in jewelry design.