“It is not good for people to be alone, particularly not to work alone. Rather, they need participation and stimulation if anything is to succeed.” Those wise words come from no less a personage than Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. And his statement is gaining new meaning today, more than 400 years later.
Mergers in business, crafts, and design are very topical. Increasing numbers of jewelry designers are remembering Goethe and joining networks or associations to give their craft a more powerful voice. They are taking advantage of the opportunity offered by pooled interests and team spirit to help them maintain their position in a difficult market. After all, the wheels of the economy are turning faster and faster, and anyone who can’t keep up will quickly fall through the cracks. Industrial production leaves little room for individuality and the joys of experimentation – those trying to go it alone need a great deal of staying power. Both young goldsmiths and established designers recognize the value of banding together, and they don’t hesitate to cross national borders while pursuing different objectives.
Getting out of a niche
The artists’ group Aspects was created just 13 years ago by founding members Bernd Munsteiner, Michael Zobel, and Karl Heinz Reister. The group now has 18 members, who come from France, Italy, the U.S., Switzerland, Canada, Greece, and Germany. The members want to present the diverse possibilities of the craft of jewelry and gemstone design in joint and individual projects and place new emphasis on jewelry design. “Our most important objective is to work together to display high quality in the art and craft of jewelry design. For individuals it is really difficult to get out of a niche, but as a group you can make a stronger appearance,” explains Aspects member Bernd Munsteiner. The members of Aspects cooperate in a rather loose group and regularly meet at trade fairs – most recently in Basel and Los Angeles – to present joint projects, among other things.
In contrast, six designers created a new brand in 2001 when they founded a company named “Juni” in Pforzheim, Germany, which is known for its jewelry. “What’s important to us is that the individual pieces of jewelry fit into a large overall image without centering the individual designers. We see combining under a single name as an opportunity to focus our ideas into a representative image with a broad spectrum. That allows us to create and tap a potential that cooperatively achieves a level of quality Juni can identify with,” says Claudia Geiger, one of the members of the designer association.
Alone but not lonely
“Team spirit isn’t all that easy. You have to be able to delegate, trust other people, and put up with different personalities. Contradictions and differences of opinion must be integrated into decision-making, and you have to take the time to listen.” What is true for the American executive manager Andrew S. Grove (former president of Intel Corp) is also vitally important for designer groups. The finished piece of jewelry is always preceded by a lengthy drafting process. It can often be lonely when the designer sits alone in the studio developing, transposing, and trying ideas and engraving and grinding. Making that process more fruitful and taking away the isolation were important reasons for the six designers in Juni to get together. A group provides constant feedback during every phase of the design process. People make suggestions, consultations are held, drafts are discussed – always bearing in mind that everyone has his own style and that all want to reach a high level of quality. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Juni group also guarantees that the freedom to experiment is preserved without the need to meet sales expectations.
The Juni Design Group
The money factor
Reasons related to content are one thing, but the financial advantages of groups are also convincing. That is particularly noticeable when participating in trade fairs. Instead of small individual stands that run the risk of getting lost in the crowd of better-financed mass producers, the designer groups can plan a more striking display and set a more effective stage for their works. It’s not a coincidence that the Zeitgleich group was formed at the most recent Tendence. Its 18 designers have very different creative approaches, but they all want the same thing: to reach a public looking for jewelry that expresses their own values and personality. “We used to have a stand in the basement of the exhibit hall,” says Bernd Munsteiner of Aspects, “and naturally there wasn’t much contact with the public there.” But craftspeople who get together and become more noticeable at fairs will also benefit from increased visitor numbers and more intensive contact with customers. “The trade fairs now give us a great deal of support,” says Munsteiner with approval.
The Zeitgleich Design Group
Completely different to the groups described above is ADK, a craft association in the German provincial state of North Rhine-Westphalia (Arbeitsgemeinschaft des Kunsthandwerks Nordrhein-Westfalen e.V.), which is affiliated with the German national association. ADK acts like a professional association, is organized into regional groups, and every two years awards one of Germany’s largest craft prizes as part of the “manu factum” exhibit. In addition to jewelry, ADK includes work in the areas of ceramics, textiles, wood, glass, leather, paper, photography, color, stone, and metal, all of which are eligible for prizes as part of “manu factum.” The association was created in the 1940s to fill a need: The group could provide mutual assistance, procure materials, or expand and maintain personal contacts. Today’s ADK has a very similar objective, as do designer groups without a hierarchical structure such as ADK’s. “If you want people to speak to you, you have to create regulated structures,” explains Uwe Müller- Biebel, managing director of ADK North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). The members and their NRW chairperson Roos Arntz-van Doren are working for recognition of quality crafts by organizing topnotch exhibits and establishing long-term cooperation with the folklore museum ‘Niederrheinisches Museum für Volkskunde und Kulturgeschichte e.V’ in Kevelaer in the form of changing exhibits “The term ‘craft’ unfortunately still seems to imply something from a bazaar. We want to strike a contemporary note for crafts and document it at the very high level of works by our members,” explains jewelry designer Roos Arntz-van Doren. To maintain that level, interested designers have to submit their work to a committee of members to demonstrate the execution and quality of their work, its independent impression, and the quality of the draft or design.
One thing is clear: Whether establishing contacts, exchanging ideas, looking and finding, planning and holding joint exhibits – organizing in an association combines skills and advantages for the market. The networks created in this way include the individual yet help everyone make progress. Groups like “Forum fur Schmuck und Design e.V” in Bonn offer workshops on specific jewelry-related topics or activities such as “jewelry tourism,” during which members can visit foreign designers’ studios, and also organize traveling exhibits.
Interaction with other people is the daily bread of creativity, while the tension between individuality and togetherness is the spice of life. For designers, it almost always means greater opportunities on the market, if they ensure mutual participation and stimulation as Goethe had in mind. Final customers will welcome it, since it offers them a multifaceted range of top-quality jewelry design where everyone can find a favorite piece. Perhaps they will even discover a designer or two who would otherwise have remained unnoticed in a niche.
Participants at the State Exhibition “manu factum”
by Prisca DeGroat