Passion runs the world, and at its heart there is love. Love to power, money, people, art, to what you do... What would we be without love? Nothing big would ever be possible.
Today I am happy to share with you some love.
That love made Germany-based Frank-Stefan Stern the owner of one of the biggest in the world collections of jewelry sketches! More than 65 000 pieces, can you imagine?
Eugene Fontenay (1880s)
The collection comprises approximately 65,000 sketches and engravings dating to 1700s-2000s, of which about 90% are hand drawings from 1850s and later. There are some engravings from the period of 1400s-1700s.
Stefan, tell us, please, how did it all start? How did you get interested in jewelry sketches?
About 20 years ago I bought the first drawings of Hans Münstermann (Dusseldorf, Germany) at an auction. There were around 100 gouache sketches. That's how my passion started. As a scientist, I have nothing to do with jewelry, but since my childhood I have always been fascinated by everything shiny, including jewelry.
Hans Münstermann (1958-1965)
How do you find and acquire new pieces? What can be a price range for a jewelry sketch?
Sometimes I buy the drawings at international auctions and antique shops. Besides, I am often contacted by sellers personally. Usually they are are goldsmiths or heirs of goldsmiths, who want to pass their own (or relatives') drawings in good hands.
The price range can range from 0.1 to 70 000 €.
It's like a painting, it depends on whether it was done by a well-known artist, signed, has a provenance, what is the quality of the drawing (is it a simple pencil sketch or a lavish watercolor). The price depends on the piece presented, as well. A sketch of a ring is usually cheaper than of a tiara. It also depends on how often a certain type of jewelry was made and how sophisticated is the drawing.
During life a goldsmith might make 1000 rings, but imagine, how many crowns or tiaras?
Lasalle Cie (1875), Paris
For that reason, I was very happy when I got the sketches of R.Gutperle. He had a company that made costume jewellery, for example, for the Paris Opera. He made crowns, scepters, necklaces, all in the style of each opera. The jewelry designs come, partly, from Bianchini, Anderson or A. Mucha, who designed jewelry for Sarah Bernhardt. These pieces of jewelery can be partially seen in the Museum of the Paris Opera.
The age and the condition of conservation also play a role.
At the moment there are some sketches (brooches) by Georges Braque on the market, they are offered at 70 000 €. The design does not even count - they are traded as original Braque paintings.
Denis Diderot (around 1771)
Boucheron, Paris (1950)
Raymond Conte (1920-1940)
How do you store and organize your sketches?
Since the drawings are sometimes very old and the paper is very fragile, each design is numbered and digitized. So I can look at them from my computer without having to touch the fragile paper. That also allows me to react relatively quickly on requests and to send a picture of a certain drawing to a goldsmith, a school or someone else.
Do you give your pieces for exhibitions? Do you give access to jewellers to see your sketches?
In 2017 I was asked to present my collection at the Juweluhr (trade fair for goldsmiths and jewelers, Hagen, Germany). Since I was asked again in 2018, I think it was a success. For 2018, I chose the theme - 1850-1950 100<tel:1850-1950%20100> years of French jewelry designs.
Other exhibitions are not planned yet.
Since April 2017 I opened an online access for my collection (www.grafische-sammlung-stern.com).
Tiffany (around 1930)
Tiffany (around 1930)
I have to admit, it was a crazy idea. I had expected maybe 5-10 000 visitors in a year. At the end of June 2018, I got the 100,000th visitor.
This makes me happy and confirms that it is important not only for me.
At the end of each year, I scan all the acquisitions made that year, put on DVDs and send them to about 70 schools, museums and universities for their educational or research purposes.
Individual parts of the collection are sent separately to specific facilities, e.g. the R. Gutperle costume designs at the Museum of the Paris Opera.
What is(are) your favourite sketches? Are there any stories to tell about them?
I do not really have a favorite sketch.
A father must love each of his children, they only give him different degrees of joy.
All I can see is that the quality of the drawings decreases from generation to generation. "Time is money". We live in a very fast environment, where, unfortunately, there is no time for elaborate drawings. I think in 1-2 generations such drawings will not be made anymore. The computer will create it.
Do you have any funny or interesting stories about sketches from your practice?
Funny - no, nice - a few, sad - many!
It was very nice last year at the show. On the first day an old lady arrived, looked at the drawings and asked questions. On the last day, that lady came back and brought me the sketches of her father and of herself. She said - they better stay with you, if I die, they'll go to the trash anyway, nobody cares anymore.
This year a gentleman offered drawings. According to the description I was expecting 120-150 sheets. The package was 14kg heavy, all design drawings! I have already archived the first 2000 sketches. I am keeping the rest for cold, dark winter evenings.
Once I bought prints at an auction, which then turned out to be original drawings by Eugene Fontenay for his book, about antiques and modern jewelery (Les Bijoux, Anciens Et Modernes, 1887).
Sad, when I learn that, an archive had moved already into the waste paper and that is, unfortunately, often the case.
Rubel Freres (around 1930-1939)
What are your future plans for your collection? Exhibitions? May be books? How do you want to share your passion with people?
Future plans are difficult to implement because the whole collection is a hobby and it is already consuming a lot of time. Since the collection is not scientifically processed, an exhibition in a museum would certainly be very difficult to organize, but why not. It can be, definitely, used for a master thesis.
The same problem for a book - I am neither a historian nor a goldsmith. I need to find a publisher who will work with my collection. A first step to make the collection more public was creating the Internet site, let's see what follows.
I'm open to everything.
Rubel Freres (around 1930-1939)
I would like to tell today's goldsmiths - it is particularly important to me that even the little goldsmith from the village finds himself in my collection. The big companies like Cartier, Tiffany, Boucheron have their own archives, and the few sketches that appear at auctions are hunted after by the collectioners.
I am interested in the independent goldsmiths who can not invest millions in gemstones, making jewelry an art, but has to earn his money through his craftsmanship, unusual design and customer-oriented jewelry. As a rule, small craft businesses with one to three employees are without a million-dollar budget, but with heart and love for their job.
The sketches of such artists I find as important and valuable as a sketch of Cartier.
What annoys me again and again is the fact that 80% of the sketches are not signed. I can understand, these works were not intended for an audience. These are sketches that the goldsmith keeps for himself. But in 1-2 generations no one can tell from whom these drawings are. But they are the important evidents of jewelry of that epoque!
So please sign the sketches, it will facilitate the work of later generations!
Marius Varenne (1880-1900)
All the photos are kindly provided by Stefan Stern and can be found on his site.
Photo on the cover: PARIS, 1973.