Unconventional Wisdom

On a recent afternoon in Manhattan, Christian Hemmerle, the fourth-generation member of a family-owned jewelry atelier in Munich, showed me the metallic equivalent of a swatch book: a box of polished rings rendered in 28 different metals.

“We start with copper in all its patinas,” he said, before rattling off a list of the other materials—from “very boring” gold to stainless steel in an elegant matte ­finish—that serve as a platform for Hemmerle’s inventive, world-class designs.

We sat in a suite at the Hotel Plaza Athenee, a favorite among European ­jewelers for its discrete and luxurious Upper East Side setting. The pieces on display in the sun-drenched space—including a 90 ct. Melo pearl pendant whose beguiling flame-like luster seemed to defy possibility—spoke to Hemmerle’s reputation as a jeweler to the wealthiest and most discerning buyers in the world. Yet Christian and his father, Stefan, who was busy greeting longtime clients—a well-coiffed bunch, to say the least—showed no loyalty to gold or platinum, the two metals that have long connoted preciousness. “This is art,” Christian said, by way of explanation.

As the jewelry trade descends on Las Vegas this month, his words might serve as a mantra. More focus on design, craft, and storytelling, and less on commodity craziness might offer some relief from the wild ride that is today’s metals market.

Hemmerle’s gem-encrusted pumpkin brooch hides in a patch of real-life pumpkins.

But that isn’t to minimize how much changing material prices affect you. On that note, this issue contains two fascinating articles on the trade’s obsessions du jour: JCK senior editor Rob Bates’ piece on skyrocketing diamond costs and business reporter Jan Brassem’s story on gold and silver prices.

Now for the bad news: You’ll notice the phrase at press time appears with more than average frequency in this issue. That’s because we can’t predict how the market will move tomorrow, next month, or next year with any more certainty than you. We’ve done the best we can as of this writing, in mid-May, to bring you the most current information—just don’t blame us if it’s all wrong by the time you read this!

One thing we know won’t be wrong: the strategies we’ve included in our “To Market, To Market” cover feature (page 184) on how to tackle the shows in Vegas. Along with “Shop Till You Drop,” they’ll steer you to all the right styles.

Christian Hemmerle shows off a box of 28 different metals.

As you peruse the selection in Vegas—or on JCKonline.com, home to a stream of real-time show updates—consider Hemmerle’s conviction that his firm’s jewelry is art. Then look to this issue’s Vault section, where we highlight its latest tour de force: a collection of gem-set brooches designed to look like vegetables.

When I say “look like,” I mean it. Hemmerle’s veggies truly look good enough to eat. Unconventional? Yes. Valuable? Oh, yes (prices start at EUR 28,000). And sought after? At press time only the cauliflower brooch remained.

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