Designing Duo H.Stern and Oscar Niemeyer



Two brazilian legends collaborate on a collection of sinuous styles.

What attracts me is the free and sensual curve, the curve I find in my country’s mountains, in the sinuous course of its rivers, in the ocean waves, in the body of the favorite woman.
—From “Poema da Curva”
by Oscar Niemeyer

Architect Oscar Niemeyer is a legend in Brazil, but with some help from jeweler H.Stern, the centenarian may soon secure a solid place in the American jewelry spotlight.

The 102-year-old Niemeyer’s oeuvre includes dozens of buildings throughout Brazil (including many in the capital, Brasília), as well as some international structures: the Ilha de Lazer in Abu Dhabi; the Casino da Madeira on Madeira Island, Portugal; the auditorium of the Bolsa do Trabalho de Bobigny in Bobigny, France; and the United Nations Secretariat Building in Manhattan (a joint collaboration with other world-renowned architects).

A longtime Niemeyer fan, Roberto Stern, president and creative director of H.Stern, sought him out to collaborate on a jewelry collection personally approved by the architect and created in his honor by the H.Stern brand. 

The Brasília bangle mimics the concave and convex domes of the National Congress building
in Brasília.

The collection, which launches this month, renders the architect’s unpretentious vision and use of negative space—evident in structures such as the Pampulha Church of São Francisco de Assis in Belo Horizonte and the Copan apartment building in São Paulo—in 18k gold and diamonds versus concrete. Themes are based on Niemeyer’s own sketches of buildings and other objects of beauty, and the line complements the organic and ­sinuous forms of H.Stern’s existing collections. More commonalities include asymmetry and irregular contours, “which are more human and natural,” says Stern.

JCK: Describe your first meeting with Oscar Niemeyer.

Roberto Stern: I had been thinking of reaching out to him for many years. He is a living legend, a man who had an opportunity to build a whole city, and speaks always about how women and nature inspire him. So when I was sailing the Guanabara Bay a few years ago and saw the [Guanabara Bay] Museum of Contemporary Art that he built, I was struck by how it looked like a spaceship that just landed on Earth. I thought, “I really have to approach him.” One year later, I met Niemeyer in his office, a residential building in front of Copacabana Beach. He is very relaxed, speaks a lot, and is very lucid. He did not differ from my expectation, as many people who met him described him as such—smoking a cigar at 101!

The Copan cuff bracelet echoes the wavy forms of São Paulo’s Copan building.

JCK: The H.Stern brand has successfully interpreted many themes—Tudor styling, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland—for jewelry, so what special challenges, if any, existed in creating this line inspired by modern architecture?

RS: Oscar Niemeyer masters concrete, so the challenge was to make something light and organic that would not be a transposition of a building or monument. We needed something fluid. My angle was to look at his drawings, since he is an artist and does great drawings and sketches. From those, our design team created eight themes. [See sidebar, “Eight for Oscar.”]

JCK: H.Stern has worked with Diane von Furstenberg for jewelry and watches; the Brazilian dance group Grupo Corpo inspired another line of jewels. What are the benefits of these designer collaborations?

The Pampulha earrings are lifted from the roof of a church.

RS: The main benefit is that it challenges us, as jewelers, to think outside the box, to do things that were not done before, and to avoid repeating ourselves. Collaboration with somebody from outside of the jewelry world brings novelty and a new universe, and H.Stern can execute it in a way that becomes timeless. Niemeyer is so admired for his work, and the ­jewelry is a little portable piece of his spirit.

JCK: What’s your favorite Niemeyer structure?

RS: Casa das Canoas; it’s the only structure I know that he did for himself.

JCK: Why will American consumers appreciate this collection?

The Favorite Woman earrings were inspired by a sketch of two women on the beach.

RS: It is young, minimalist, simple, and very much in sync for the new kind of luxury that certain Americans seek. Plus, it is about women, femininity, and simplicity. We never choose collaborations because of their profile, but for how we believe they will  impact our creative spirit. The collaborations are not advertising gimmicks. In this one, architecture generally does have a connection to jewelry, but usually the results are square. This one is round!