The Jewellery Week of Munich Faces Big Challenges. Europe's Top Jewellery Event Seeks to Stay Independent

Published: 08.07.2019
Loukia Richards.
. Photo by Christoph Ziegler. Loukia Richards.
Photo by Christoph Ziegler.

Loukia Richards
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Loukia Richards, The Jeweller’s Hell, 2018 (detail). A Map of the adventures a young talented jewellery artist faces on the way to the top.
. Photo by: Christoph Ziegler. .
Loukia Richards, The Jeweller’s Hell, 2018 (detail). A Map of the adventures a young talented jewellery artist faces on the way to the top.
Photo by: Christoph Ziegler.

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While Germany's vice chancellor claims the "fat years are over," Munich's jewellery scene wonders if this year's slowdown should be attributed to temporary consumer fears or reflects an imminent market problem that needs to be addressed. Loukia Richards, an artist, curator, and lecturer has co-curated five group shows during Schmuckwoche München (2015–2019). The last one, The Sacred & The Profane, was funded by the city of Munich. She reports on the 2019 Jewellery Week of Munich and offers potential improvements.
It's the economy, be lucid!
Cost-benefit analysis lies at the very heart of neoclassical or market-oriented economics. It assumes that each individual makes rational decisions and judges the results of her/his economic actions by how much they cost and how much they return. Sooner or later, if predictions of an economic slowdown prevail, designers investing in fares, accommodations, gallery rentals, and advertising fees to attend or show their work at the Jewellery Week of Munich will have to calculate in numbers the event's profitability.

"I’ve exhibited at the Handwerk und Design fair every year since 2010," a Munich jewellery artist said. "This year we paid the same price for the stand for a reduced number of days. My stand is always in the same hall with the special shows (Exempla, Schmuck, Talente, Meister der Moderne). For the past few years, the city-wide events held [during Jewellery Week of Munich] have competed more and more with the artists who pay a lot of money to get a stand in the fair. Up to now, most fair artists didn’t care, or even considered this development a plus: the whole world comes to Munich -wow! But now we know the deal; everyone who has a few square meters to rent keeps them free for the occasion and makes a huge profit from it,” the mid-career artist added, requesting not to be named.

Fat years are gone.
A few days after the Schmuckwoche (Jewellery Week of Munich) ended, Zurich's Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper predicted a worldwide economic recession within the next two years. The gloomy statement was followed by Germany's Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s renewed warning that the "fat years" of state budget surplus are over, acknowledging that neither the taxpayer base nor the demand for consumer goods and services is increasing.

At this year's Schmuckwoche, the drop in the number of visitors and the reduction of Jewellery Week to five days from last year’s seven was a topic of discussion among exhibitors. The lobby at the Pinakothek der Moderne’s Friday opening was half full this year, although no admission was charged and the wine was free. The evening stood in sharp contrast to the crowds of outsiders besieging the same lobby packed with guests two years earlier.

Although exhibitors state that participating in the Jewellery Week of Munich is an enriching experience, when asked how they evaluate networking, promotion of work, connecting with new customers, and sales, they mostly admitted that neither the affluent Munich public nor the local press show any particular interest in the event. A column in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung was the exception.

I have the feeling that the Jewellery Week of Munich is a bubble," a local jewelry dealer told me. The dealer, who requested anonymity, hosts jewelry art shows during Schmuckwoche in her posh downtown venue. She did not expect to make any sales during the event.

„Test Drive“ at the Jewellery Week of Munich 2016. Artists and designers strive for new ways of approaching the broader public and raise awareness on the uses, delights and benefits of art and design. Test Drive has been curated by Christoph Ziegler and Loukia Richards and supported by The City of Munich.
Photo: Christoph Ziegler.

The death of business-as-usual and its resurrection as the intensively customized approach.
In a headline, the German business magazine Markt und Mittelstand underscored the plight of many small and medium German enterprises in its March 2019 issue: “More cooperative, more digital, and more certain to meet clients.”

The headline reflects the way the fairs that wish to remain in business have to go. Last year, the prestigious Karlsruhe Design Fair Eunique shut down after 10 years of operation, while Germany's IT pride Cebit said goodbye shortly before its 50th birthday. According to the Markt und Mittelstand review, fair visitors demand more infotainment, more content and context, more customized approaches, more digital marketing tools.

Munich designers and curators gave the following explanations for why interest in the jewellery world's major event is fading:

- Too many events, shows, and fairs at the same time in Munich which have a more successful communication policy than Schmuckwoche and its city events.
- Bad communication strategy: no posters, no leaflets, no advertisements in the local press, no local radio announcements, no contact to the Munich bloggers' scene make it difficult for potential customers outside the jewelry scene to find their way to the city shows.
- An up to 100% increase in prices for lodging in Munich during the Jewellery Week.
- An aggressive marketing strategy by other more affordable jewellery events in lower-cost countries which, via unauthorized references to the Jewellery Week of Munich, pretend to be on equal standing with the 60-year-old Schmuck fair.
- The absence of a distinctive narrative, curatorial concept, or central theme which may attract buyers from related branches such as fine art, fashion, or design.
- Last but not least, the arbitrary patronizing of Schmuckwoche/Jewellery Week of Munich by nonlocals, unfamiliar with the strong local identity, business customs, and art and design traditions which make the richest city of Germany a very distinct cultural destination. Let's not forget that Munich also hosts some of the most reputable art institutions and art schools in Europe.

How the Jewellery Week of Munich was born.
Fifteen years ago, Munich's Chamber of Crafts (Handwerkskammer) started to publish a map/booklet including the galleries and events of independent makers and jewelry artists who were presenting their own shows in Munich parallel to the IHW Fair Schmuck and its highly reputable Herbert Hofmann Prize. Eva Sarnowski, co-organizer of Schmuck, said, “The IHW Schmuck fair organizers cover the cost of printing this map/booklet and distributing it. It is free of charge to place your event on this map and you need to buy no magazine to get it.”

In the mid-2010s, the Dutch magazine Current Obsession trademarked the name "Munich Jewellery Week", which is the English translation for Schmuckwoche München, as the event is called by every German-speaking jewellery artist, and began distributing an event map. Any exhibitor may place an ad by paying a fee. To artists and visitors not familiar with Schmuckwoche München, Current Obsession appears to have founded the event week.

Bayerischer Kunstgewerbeverein Munich in the year 1874.
Photo: Bayerischer Kunstgewerbeverein.

Schmuckwoche should remain a collective, nonprofit event.
It’s a hostile takeover,” jewellery artist and curator Unk Kraus said. Kraus sits in the board of Handwerkverein Munich, the Association of the Crafts. He explained, "Munich Jewellery Week undermines the longtime efforts of the local initiatives and puts them in the shade.”

This "hostile takeover" is a very hot topic of discussion in the Munich jewellery scene. Munich Jewellery Week (MJW), alias Current Obsession, is heavily criticized for taking credit for the work of other people and for giving the jewellery week a direction that’s "faster, easier, hipster" (as an interviewee put it) and not necessarily compatible with the desires of the local jewellery scene and state agencies. German jewellery artists are not happy that their own collective, nonprofit efforts over the years have turned into a business activity by unauthorized third parties.

German artists call the event Schmuckwoche, the Jewellery Week (of Munich), to distinguish it from the private enterprise that is the Current Obsession- Munich Jewellery Week (MJW) event. By calling it Schmuckwoche, they do not exclude anybody and at the same time emphasize the origins and the persistent backing of the event by important German institutions and independent agents over the decades.

It’s not only credit that’s at stake though. Many artists’ initiatives in Germany have actively opposed the reduction of the city to a stage for events since the early 2000s. Political involvement in the city matters is considered an artist's duty and asset in Germany since the 1950s, an equally important aspect of the artist's profile as creative work.

Artist and curator Christoph Ziegler, co-founder of the independent ZLR Jewellery Awards 2019, summed up the feeling many German designers and jewelry artists share.
Stadt als Beute/City as Loot is the title of a René Pollesch theater piece. City as Loot means that the city as a specific social, cultural, and historical unity is more and more transformed into a stage/playground for -local or non-local- events that focus on quick commercial profit and exploitation rather than on a slow process of creating a sustainable urban environment. The idea is: How can I make more profit out of a special feature, as long it is profitable? And if it is no longer profitable, then I change the city,” Ziegler said.

Performance is an integral part of every jewellery show Christoph Ziegler and Loukia Richards curate to highlight the show’s message. Ziegler performs at the opening of the show „Myths“ featuring eleven Greek jewellery artists at Funk[ ]raum Gallery in Berlin, 2013.
Photo: Loukia Richards.

Rethinking jewellery tactics.
The loss of consumers’ power and the heavy taxation of the middle class; the concerns of many Europeans that the economic and identity crisis (rise of populism/nationalism) may escalate into social conflict; the uncertainty regarding the upcoming elections in East Germany and the obvious discontent regarding the EU; the threat of a trade war between the US, the EU, and China; and the chaotic conditions of an unfriendly Brexit are the main reasons why customers are reluctant to buy jewellery art, a luxury good, not needed urgently for daily use, even if they have money.

Following the same presentation strategy, targeting the same customers, supplying through the same channels, promoting through the same agents, using the same concepts, styling, and slogans all have to be reviewed or even abandoned if they don’t move us forward. Jewellery events, if seen as a career investment, should at least try to generate income and professional opportunities for participants. If reduced into parties or networking between sellers (but not buyers), organizers will soon find out that they will run out of customers. Moving to the next city may be an option for event organizers, but not for artists who understand the importance of building strong ties with the local and international public gathering in Munich every March.

I strongly believe that every one of us who wishes to actively contribute and co-shape Europe's major meeting event for jewelry art should forge alliances with institutions and colleagues with the goal of creating:

- A network of jewellery shows with a common communication strategy targeting a clientele with purchasing power.
- Individualized tours for selected guests via all-night-long opening hours (these Lange Nächte, as they’re called in German, are very popular in the art scene of Europe), special previews or group discussions, and jewellery art educational campaigns.
- More politics, and social-issues-oriented shows instead of fashionable slogans void of meaning.
- More active protection of copyright against malevolent abusers.

The alchemist's list for overcoming Schmuckwoche's crisis might be longer. We need to experiment with tactics taken from the real market and overcome the bubble syndrome. The problem will become still more evident next year if the prognosis of tougher times ahead becomes reality. Jewellery designers will sooner or later understand that forgetting the cost-benefit analysis might be fatal for their business in the bearish years to come.

About the author

Loukia Richards (Athens, 1965) is a visual artist, curator, and lecturer. Along with her partner Christoph Ziegler, she is the founder of FaveLAB, an interdisciplinary platform and an art lab based in Athens/Greece. Richards has been nominated for the European Award for Applied Arts (2018) and the Herbert Hofmann Prize (2017). She is an alumna of the Fulbright Foundation, the Onassis Benefit Foundation, the Künstlerdorf Schoeppingen Foundation and a Crafts Council England "Selected Maker". Loukia Richards is a graduate of the National Kapodistrian University of Athens (Economics) and University of the Arts Berlin (Visual Communication). A former Reuters financial reporter, she has been trained in Journalism in London and Athens.