German Art Nouveau

A great deal of high quality jewelry in genuine Art Nouveau style was manufactured in Germany, principally in Pforzheim, a town on the edge of the Black Forest that centered then, as now, around the jewelry industry.

The history of Pforzheim’s unique Schmuckmuseum, or jewelry museum, tells us of the close association with Paris design at the turn of the century. The Arts Club and Art School of Pforzheim founded in 1877, started to collect ancient jewels in the last quarter of the 19th century forming the basis of the Schmuckmuseums present collection and started a new German tradition. Art Nouveau jewels were bought from Paris to serve as models and were incorporated into the new season’s collections.

Germany thus established its own version of Art Nouveau style called ‘Jugendstil’, a pure, if less imaginative variation of Art Nouveau. The name derived from the magazine ‘Jugend’ or ‘Youth’ which was published in Munich. The Pforzheim industry with its professional skills and outlook turned an idealistic principle and major art movement into a successful chapter in the history of jewelry design.

It is believed now that many of the so-called French Art Nouveau jewels may in fact have been made in Pforzheim. The first items were often made in silver with the familiar motif of the female head with flowing tresses of hair. At a later stage, firms in Pforzheim produced gold jewelry in Art Nouveau style including beautifully chased brooches, pendants and hat pins of ribboned gold, decorated with delicate pastel enamels in leaf, flower or thistle motifs, pearls of opalescent-shaded enamels or plique a jour.

Textured and colored gold-work showed Japanese inspiration and were made entirely in Pforzheim for the French market. It is known that enamels by the French enamellist Tourette who worked for Lalique, Vever and Fouquet, were bought in Paris by a Pforzheimer who then organized a competition among Pforzheim workshops for a suitable frame. The Schmuckmuseum displays a brooch containing a Tourette enamel with a gold frame made by a second-prize winner called Ruhle from Pforzheim.

Germany had its own artists striving to promote a fresh and pure approach to art, and an artists? colony had been established under the patronage of the Grand Duke of Hesse at Darmstadt, not far away from Pforzheim, to encourage those ideas and to bring talent together from Germany and Austria in an atmosphere removed from the suffocating pollution of industrialism. Jose Maria Olbrich, a leading figure in the Vienna Secession, was the Viennese architect commissioned to design and set up the colony which gathered a wealth of gifted designers. In the field of jewelry, however, it was the designer Fahrner from Pforzheim who produced most of Art Nouveau style pieces and whose name remains engraved on the most valuable surviving pieces of the period.

German jewelry design at the turn of the century was not totally exclusive to Pforzheim as in other cities French style Art nouveau jewels of very fine quality were emerging. Amongst the best jewelers in the French style was Robert Koch (1852-1902) who worked in Baden-Baden and in Frankfurt am Main. His work is mainly recognized by the fine dog collar plaques, very similar to the French version, with winged sycamore seed motifs, in ‘plique a jour’ enamel and a fine enameled lakeside view.

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