Moving with the times – H.Stern has always been innovative. Founding father Hans was the first to open up the traditionally closed world of high-quality jewellery design to the general public. He also pioneered the introduction of new, coloured gemstones in design jewellery, creating an entirely new global demand.
His son and successor Roberto continues along the path of innovation as the first to collaborate with non-jewellers – artists, architects and even movie stars, successfully taking the company along paths unknown in the industry. And to the heady heights of the highest high society. We talk to Roberto while enjoying another café latte.
“When I took over at the helm of H.Stern in 1995,” Roberto says, “I realised the huge opportunities presented by the wave of globalisation of the last 20 years. Looking to modernise the company, rejuvenate the existing, loyal clients and seek out a whole host of new ones, I became a pioneer in collaboration.
“And so, since taking over, I have taken the company in an entirely new direction. While remaining true to the roots of the artisan jeweller in which specialist craftsmen create handmade pieces, our market and target group have changed completely, or at least, expanded significantly.”
“Can you tell us what has changed?” Maarten asks. “For us, one of the most interesting market developments in recent years is women’s greater purchasing power and independence,” Roberto continues. “Where in the past husbands made almost all jewellery purchases, and hence often also the underlying decision as to what to buy, contemporary women choose and purchase their own jewellery, and they have different tastes. They also wear jewellery day and night, combining a range of styles that are increasingly non-standard. We have adapted to this development and closely observe and interpret behaviour, style and fashion trends. In 2004, we made headline news when Angelina Jolie wore a $10m H.Stern Athena necklace to the Oscars. Publicity doesn’t get much better than that.”
“We understood you work together with artists from all disciplines, what’s the story behind that?” I ask. Roberto smiles secretly before he answers, “That’s a good question. Our greatest change lies in our special collections and the people who inspired them. The principle behind this shift in direction was my desire to move from being ‘just’ jewellers into being a fully-fledged house of design. I got into design originally because I was curious and wanted to do things people thought were impossible. When we came up with the idea to work with others, it was not for marketing purposes, but rather to create new, fresh ideas. I wanted to work with people who had no background in jewellery, but were masters in their own fields so we could create a crossover between the two professions. We try to create one new collection each year, and every two years we collaborate with a third party. I am intrigued though, because nowadays everyone seems to have jumped on the bandwagon with collaborations, although for them it’s still generally about marketing.”
The collection that really brought H.Stern into the media frontline was the 1980s launch of the Catherine Deneuve Collection, inspired by the unforgettable muse of Bunuel’s Belle du Jour. Within no time, the jewels and the muse’s diamond-set initials ‘CD’ were seen on the necks, ears and wrists of stylish women around the world. This was the start of what was to become a huge success story.
Oscar Niemeyer is Brazil’s most famous architect and is considered one of the most influential names in international modern architecture. He never tires of repeating that “architecture is of no interest, what is of interest is life,” and his stunning work is defined by his own style – the lightness of curved forms that create spaces full of harmony, grace and elegance. It was the basis for a beautiful marriage between two hugely different disciplines. “Just like yourselves, I was impressed by meeting Oscar Niemeyer in person and getting to understand more about his work,” Roberto says. “What I like most in his work is the way he plays with curves. He is right, we do not find straight lines in nature, so we concluded we both like asymmetry and irregular contours, which are more human and natural.”
It was the first time Niemeyer approved a collection of jewellery created in his honour, and based on his own sketches and curved lines. The pieces in the H.Stern Collection by Oscar Niemeyer are named after some of his works and famous projects. Find them on the net. They’re stunning.
Living flowers, coloured mushrooms, a bird from the topiary garden, the Cheshire Cat and the Jabberwocky Dragon. Sound familiar? Probably not if you’re a jewellery expert, as one of Stern’s most flamboyant collections was inspired by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and made in collaboration with Disney.
“How did the collection come to be?” Maarten wants to know. “After a detailed study of Alice’s universe,” Roberto explains, “our designers decided that the film’s underworld and its gothic mood would be our source of inspiration. Moving away from the obvious, well-known characters, we chose natural elements and spectacular creatures to give shape to five rings that follow the intrinsic organic forms to the creative DNA of the brand.
“We developed the pieces by starting from the natural elements, brought to the jewels with tremendous detail and demanding intricate workmanship and incredible patience. Dozens of versions were made before we reached the final result.”
“I have seen the rings,” Anouk says. “They’re rings unlike I have ever seen before.” “That is exactly what we wanted to achieve,” Roberto adds proudly. “In the film, Alice changes size several times, and so there are two sizes of ring: ‘human dimension’ and ‘extraordinary dimension’.”
The latter really are remarkable – enormous sculptures that go beyond anything known in terms of jewellery, measuring 10 cm in height. Yet, in our humble opinion, no more extraordinary than merely having the idea in the first place. How many times have you said to yourself “I could have invented that?” Fact is, it never was you. It’s the pioneers out there that shape our worlds.
Marrying static art and fluid art
Roberto is unstoppable, here is the next example: “Another collaboration was back in 1998 with Grupo Corpo, a flamboyant modern Brazilian dance troupe. Journeying into the universe of modern dance, our jewellery design team studied all aspects of their renowned productions, from the conceptualization of each ballet’s theme and its choreography to costume and set design. This was something entirely new to our team, a very exciting process.”
The resulting group of avant-garde jewels transcends the concept of jewellery as objects, and creates an ensemble of unique artistic interpretation. Each piece in this collection expresses fluidity of movement, and has its origins in a complex world where imbalance can be more important than planned, rehearsed steps.
Roberto sits back and clearly remembers some of the events during the creation of this collection. “Expressing the energy of dance in a solid form required a new approach to tri-dimensionality and presented a unique dilemma when working with metal. We had so much material to work from, to work with… textures, depth and movement that are dynamic, ever-flowing… but needed to be captured.” A short silence follows. “This project required a level of intuition, of feeling and improvisation we had not experienced before,” he adds.
Roberto continues to innovate. With his collections, his target groups and his technology. He is constantly on the look out for ways to change the industry, including new gemstone cutting and polishing techniques. Time and time again, you’ll find him rethinking established processes and relearning centuries-old techniques from different points of view. With his courage, innovative strength and creativity, Roberto Stern has turned the world of jewellery upside down. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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