Dateline: Idar-Oberstein

“Intergem is not a fair like Basel or Tucson, with crowds of visitors,” says Axel Henn, of Henn GmbH in Idar-Oberstein, Germany. “Those who come here are hard-core stone lovers, as there is very little here but stones, forest, and a few wineries. No nightlife, no world-class hotels, just a concentrated collection of very precious things.”

Henn GmbH was one of 141 companies exhibiting at the 2006 edition of Intergem, held Sept. 29–Oct. 2, 2006, in Idar-Oberstein. That represents an 8 percent increase over last year’s figures. More than 3,100 attendees from 32 countries viewed their offerings, a 10 percent increase. Those numbers fueled optimism that the area will continue to maintain its share of the global market. A new facility scheduled to open in 2007 is likely to spawn renewed interest in the show.

Constantin Wild of Idar-Oberstein displayed his prized 132 ct. fire opal, extremely rare in this size. He said the fair has been very successful for his 160-year-old firm, and that this year’s exhibition produced significant interest in his other orange/red Mexican opals. His new stock of blue moonstone attracted many buyers who also made selections from his varied assortment of tourmaline—including Paraíba, green, red, and canary yellow as well as kunzite, peridot, tanzanite, and aquamarine. He also noted that there was significant interest in natural sapphires and rubies, likely because of growing consumer awareness of how common gemstone treatments are and how rare and exceptional natural stones have become.

Not everything on display was suited to jewelry. Some enormous, expertly finished gems in every color of the spectrum were there to be coveted by gem connoisseurs who could afford to buy them. And certain rarities were not for sale, but shown simply as a point of pride.

An interesting offering was spotted at Groh + Ripp’s (Idar-Oberstein) booth, where Paraíba tourmalines with large gas inclusions were cut en cabochon and bottom-concave-faceted to produce a kaleidoscopic, mirrored view of the inclusions throughout the stone.

I spoke to Dieter Lorenz, Idar-Oberstein, one of the exhibitors whose novel ideas spawn groundbreaking interactions between cutters and jewelers. Constantly working to create truly new objects, he has recently carved unique shapes out of colored crystal and sandblasted the surfaces for a soft, opaque appearance. Resembling natural organic objects, these wormlike carvings beg to have jewelry designed around them.

The firm of Emil Becker has been creating one-of-a-kind objects in Idar-Oberstein for many generations. Comprising six employees and several regular contractors, the firm creates prized sculptural ornaments that are purchased by both British and Mideast royalty; contracted by the bespoke jewelers of London, Paris, and Zürich, Switzerland; and displayed in choice museums throughout the world, including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Harvard in Boston.

Emil Becker’s latest creations follow a House of Fabergé tradition, with the assembly of complicated ornaments composed of precious materials. Principal Manfred Wild welcomed my close examination using magnifiers, which proved one thing beyond question: These objects invite scrutiny. They are brilliantly conceived and executed, some taking more than six months to produce. Wild has been quoted as saying, “I love my job, creating nonsense that nobody needs but everybody wants.”

He exhibits the company’s work exclusively in Idar-Oberstein during Intergem, while the rest of the year his agents market these objets d’art, rebranding them with the hallmarks of the world’s most prestigious jewelry houses. “The end buyers aren’t impressed by the fact that these items are made in a sleepy little town in Germany,” he told me. “They want to purchase the prestige of an exclusive name.”

Sculptural objects have a long history here. Axel Henn says a passion for excellence drives every member of his company. Never entertaining suggestions that they produce $10,000 rock crystal birds for a much larger market, their success is fully supported by a select number of appreciative investors who recognize the effort put into the details of their anatomically perfect sculptures in clean rock crystal or gem material. Some of these carvings, featuring 18k tusks on an elephant and an obsidian cat whose yellow sapphire eyes bring it to life, have taken up to three years to produce. A vase depicting four nude female figures is a rare and beautiful thing that took the carver a great deal of time to create.

Fashioned from a massive 15,945 ct. aquamarine crystal, the sculpture Frozen Aquamarine represents a moment when water freezes for eternity. Carefully sculpted to appear fluid, it seems as if some sort of sorcery has rendered a beautiful blue liquid into a frozen state while it was in motion.

Many exhibitors told me that they go to all of the large fairs—Basel, Inhorgenta, Tucson, Bangkok—and I asked how this one compares. “It’s like a holiday from the big-show madness,” I was told by Slavik Hryhorenko, of Nomad’s Co., based in Bangkok, Thailand, one of a handful of firms from outside the region who exhibit in Idar. “I come here to have a holiday from the usual pace we must run at during the other shows.”

Others, such as Seiglinde Becker, of Horst Becker Gems in nearby Kirschweiler, Germany, says she exhibits here because it’s so close to home, although it generates far less revenue for her than the larger shows do. She showed me some samples of haüyne, a very rare gemstone mined exclusively in Germany, which has a Mohs hardness of 6, exhibits a vivid medium-blue color, and is generally available only in small sizes, making it suitable for embellishing jewelry containing other important stones.

There were examples of unique finished jewelry as well, and I was particularly intrigued by designs from Delicatesse. This four-member firm produces individual lines as well as one-offs and has traveled as far as Tucson, Ariz., to exhibit. Their stark display was captivating. Porcelain plates on tall stands of steel rods held the pieces, presented as though they were food, reinforcing my assertion that so much of what I saw during my visit looked positively delicious. The main course offered yellow gold in soft, bulbous forms, with a side dish of slick geometry and kinetic treatments pleasing to the palate, necessitating my compliments to the kitchen staff. One chef simply couldn’t produce such an interesting menu alone, and the results of this recent collaboration were innovative, with positive reactions from the other “diners” who had stopped to sample.

I will be visiting the plastic surgeon soon to have my eyebrows restored to their normal position.