Graphic Collection Stern - Jewellery Design 1700-2000. Interview with Art Collector Frank-Stefan Stern

Interview  /  Collecting   Curating   CarolinDenter
Published: 24.10.2017
Frank-Stefan Stern Frank-Stefan Stern
Carolin Denter
Edited by:
Edited at:
Edited on:
Brooch from Kreuter & Co.
. The jeweler company Kreuter & Co. (1842 to 1984) belonged to the famous Hanau company.
. Royalty from all over Europe and Russia belonged to their customers.
. Over 700 crown jewels were produced during the company period..
Brooch from Kreuter & Co.
The jeweler company Kreuter & Co. (1842 to 1984) belonged to the famous Hanau company.
Royalty from all over Europe and Russia belonged to their customers.
Over 700 crown jewels were produced during the company period.

© By the author. Read Copyright.

The graphic collection Stern is a purely private collection of designs and drawings for goldsmithing and jewelery . It comprises about 40,000 sketches and engravings (in April 2017) dating from the period between 1700-2000. The collection has set itself the goal of preserving and publishing this kind of art.
The collection has been compiled for about 20 years by Mr. Frank-Stefan Stern at home and abroad through various auctions and is growing even further. It was created by the fascination of painting and the artistic craftsmanship of Goldsmithing. The focus is on hand drawings and sketches of goldsmiths from the time between 1850-2000 and engravings/prints from the time before 1850. Many museums (Victoria & Albert in London, Albertina in Vienna, Jewelry Museum in Pforzheim, Smithsonian Institution with Cooper Hewitt in New York) have a number of jewellery designs in their collection, but there is no collection that exclusively features this kind of Art.

A small part of the collection represented at "Juweluhr" exhibition in 2017

Tell us about your collection and how it all began.
About 25 years ago I tried my own watercolor painting and did not get along with it. I always liked this kind of painting. At the same time, I had evening classes in gold and silversmithing. My jewelry designs were simple pencil sketches. 5 years later I found an auction of jewellery designs, beautiful watercolors. I had fallen in love and had to buy these drawings. I was just thrilled with how someone could paint with a brush so precisely. With this kind of art, I found two interests, the painting, and the jewelry. For me it was ideal and it still is 20 years later

What is unusual about your Collection?
The large jewelry companies (Cartier, Boucheron etc.) and the famous designers have their own archives. If they are given up, they usually go to a museum. Such pieces are also collected by museums. In a conversation with a curator of a museum, he said they give nameless or "lost" artists and goldsmithing a chance. I liked this idea because I think the goldsmith’s in the place where you live can make good designs. This goldsmith is forced by his clientele to design a piece of jewelry aesthetically with "modest means". He will certainly not have customers who can spend 30.000 - 40.000 or even €100.000 on a pendant. Goldsmiths of all generations were in the same situation. At this point, my collection starts.

Collier from Chaumet around 1970-80

What do you look for when choosing a drawing to be a part of your collection?
This is difficult to say. If I have only a few drawings from a certain time, I am glad about every drawing. I'm currently wondering if I should buy the 600th Art Deco ring sketch. The price and the quality of the drawing have to be right. However, if it is an extraordinary drawing, (e.g. cigarette holders of which I have only 3 leaves,) then I try to get the drawings for my collection. I always try to buy good quality drawings.

Brooch by Archimede Bottazzi, Italy c. 1940 . Archimede Bottazzi, Italian goldsmith, who had his own Art Deco style. Famous are his sawmills, which were enameled. Among his customers, e.g. Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy.

Your collection exclusively features drawings of Jewellery – what is it about this topic that you find so interesting?
There are three reasons. The first is the knowledge that has been created by all the designs that I have with surely only a fraction of it really up to the jewelry. Many were just ideas or there was no customer who inspired the design. Every piece of jewellery is subject to fashion and a 2 years old design has not been executed and was unfashionable. So for me, these drawings are a snapshot of their time. The second reason is the material from which the jewelry was made - precious metals and gemstones - When a piece of jewelry became unfashionable, no longer appealing or had no sentimental bond, the precious stones were broken out and the metal melted. A very important factor, of course, was war and emergency. You always had a nest egg. If you imagine a goldsmith on the run, what will he have taken with him? He had left his tools, the finished jewellery, precious metals and precious stones, his sketches and designs, which he could not make money out of. Therefore, for me, these old drawings are so "valuable", they have partly survived several wars. And the third reason is that I've been working in the research for 30 years, I'm from the Commodore 64 generation. I've experienced year after year how the computer has conquered the world more and more. This process cannot be stopped even in goldsmithing. The jewellery development has now experienced a further boost with 3D printing. I am convinced that in 2-3 generations hardly any young goldsmith will be able to produce such drawings. I'm afraid it's an art that's going to end. I will not be able to stop (and do not want to) this development, but I can start collecting the drawings that still exist. A few years ago, I spoke with a man who had bought the house of a goldsmith, with complete furnishings. When I asked him about his jewellery, he said, - So small sheets of paper, withdrawn pieces on it? - Yes, just like that, that’s what I'm looking for? - I threw them all away, they were boxes full My heart stopped for a moment !!!! - Do they happen to have some? - I do not think they're all gone I could still buy about 600 drawings from him (by Erich and Max Goldbaum Pforzheim)

Plate from Christian Dürr, around 1880

Is the collection something you live with? Is there any element of daily interaction and if so, how does this affect your relationship with the works?
Of course, I live with them, and also for my drawings. A couple of them are hanging in the apartment. Unfortunately, you get accustomed to their sight, then I realize I have to change them again.

Are there any artworks that you'd like to acquire, but for some reason or another, this hasn’t been possible yet?
As a dreamer: an original drawing of a tsar egg by Faberge, but they are all lost in museums or missing. As a realist: I am looking forward to every new drawing.

Why do you decide to collect drawings between 1850 to 2000?
I also have earlier sketches, but for some reason, the time from before 1850 seems to be a kind of boundary. Earlier handwriting is extremely hard to get. For the reason, I take only prints up to 1850 in my collection.

Engraving from Pierre Germain from 1748. Germain was a goldsmith and engraver, who worked for the King of France. The GSS has 50 engravings from him.

The GSS is a non-profit institution. It doesn’t deal with art or data. What does it offer you as a platform?
I hope to reach a new awareness of this art on my homepage. Something is often thrown away too fast that another person appreciates. In addition, you always have to make money with everything. I do not think so!

Your main Goal is to preserve and publish the drawings. What are you hoping to achieve, and what are your plans for the future?
For me, it would be a success if the goldsmiths and designers realized that not only in the workshop a work of art was created, but already at the drawing table. Especially the development and design up to the finished piece of jewellery can be extremely exciting. But I am satisfied with small steps. It would make me happy if every sketch had a legible signature, with the address and date. A simple stamp suffices, in 50 years no one knows who signed with K.L. or XYZ. As far as the future of my collection is concerned, I am open to many ideas. One idea was to send a part of the collection wandering. From one goldsmith/gallery to the next. I think the project will go on into 2018. There are many possibilities Perhaps a student would like to write a master thesis about it or maybe somebody would like to write a book. Let's see...

Brooch with a vase from Marius Varenne,  France c. 1880

“There are many kinds of collectors and each one of them is moved by a multitude of impulses”, Walter Benjamin* once wrote. Do you see yourself as Collector and how would you describe yourself, as an explorer, a patron, an aesthete or a cultural historian?
A hunter and collector I am sure, that includes the discoverer. If, as a patron, you are someone who tries to get old and protect, then I am one If what you mean by an aesthete, someone who can rejoice over a flower that grows between walkway slabs, then I am an aesthete. If you mean with cultural historian someone who tries to prove the historical background of his collection and fathom it, then I am a cultural historian. But I think I'm just a madman with a hobby that suits me.

Owl design by Alfred Philippe for Trifari Patent around 1941

Do you think the perception of the “contemporary art collector” is changing? And if so, how?
Yes for sure. Already by the name, I assume. Contemporary art is for the present generation. There are individual collectors collecting these pieces and with each new acquisition their personal knowledge tastes and thus also the person themselves change. The collector grows/grows with his collection, ideally, it is a symbiosis. The horizon of the collector expands with each piece. But with each generation what "contemporary art" is changed. I also think art is a kind of "evolution". Whether an artist, who is hip in the present art scene "survives" the next 200 years or is he forgotten after only 50 years? The old masters have already shown this art. But I am also convinced that something must only be old enough to make it into a museum. Whether it is always art is another question. I'm sure in 2000 years, objects that we throw away today would be in the museum. Perhaps it is the art of displaying and preserving art until it is art again.

To find out more about the artworks and the collection, please visit the homepage of the graphic Collection Stern. 

About the Interviewee

The art collector Frank-Stefan Stern was born in Bergisch Gladbach in 1966 and has been working as a chemical engineer at Bayer and now Covestro. After 28 years of research in the field of polyurethanes, he is now working on the research and development of new optical casting compounds (e.g. for lenses in glasses). After finishing his training, he completed 15 years of evening courses in jewelry design and production. About 20 years ago, Mr. Stern began building his graphic collection. His main focus is on jewelry designs, goldsmiths' manuals, and silversmith's work. In 2016 Mr. Stern decided to open his collection to a larger audience. Encouraged by the positive response, the website - Graphische-Sammlung-Stern Schmuckdesign 1700-2000 - was created in April 2017. Within just the first four months the site had over 20,000 visitors. It has been linked to various universities and schools (such as Dublin, Karlsruhe and the European Academy of Jewelers, Gold- und Silberschmiede GmbH). At the present time, the collection includes about 45,000 jewelry designs, sketches, and graphics from the last 450 years (focus 1700-2000). Herr Stern likes to call his collection a living collection, as it continues to grow.

About the author

Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. In 2015 she made an Internship at Klimt02, where she is working since 2016 as Content Manager. In 2017 she graduated as Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she started working part time as Marketing and Design management Assistanceat Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement.