Goldsmithing is one of the oldest trades in the world; evidence of the craft in Europe can be traced back as far as 4000 BC. Over the course of six millennia, goldsmiths – who work with both gold and silver metals – have adorned royals and commoners alike, created family heirlooms, tokens of love and tools of self-expression. Today, with an ever-decreasing number of trained artisans, the goldsmith craft seems to be slowly withering away in the face of mass production. A look at the scene in Berlin, however, reveals that the craft is surviving – but it’s changing.
All the new technologies just open a new chapter and direction for creating jewellery
Over the past two decades, the craft of the goldsmith, once a protected title in Germany, has been experiencing significant challenges. Johanna Gauder has been in the business for 19 years and founded her eponymous brand in 2015. “I don’t think it’s dying,” the traditionally-trained Gauder offers, “but I think it’s facing some difficulties, like many other crafts.” She lists inflation, increasing costs of production and a lack of skilled professionals as contributing factors. According to the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH), the numbers of gold- and silversmithing apprentices have dropped significantly in the last 24 years, from 1,444 in 1998 to only 448 apprentices in 2022 – a 69% decrease. In Berlin, the number of goldsmith apprentices has slumped from 50 in 2005 to 28 in 2022.
Metal jewellery has never been more ubiquitous, so why is it that fewer people train in the craft? For one, the majority of jewellery sold is not made by goldsmiths, but by machines. “Due to the price range, my customers are mostly not super young,” Gauder explains. “The core target group is around 25 to 60 years old with an interest in design, fashion and art, and with an eye for quality and long-lasting products.” An artisanal piece remains a luxury item not everyone can afford, so there is no universal demand.
Another reason is the increasing mass-production of jewellery, which simultaneously dilutes skilled professionals’ relevance and gives them a raison d’être. “In a world where mass-produced items are the norm, [gold- and silversmithing] stands as a testament to the value of handcrafted artistry,” declare Bert van Wijk and Angela Gomez, the designer-goldsmith duo behind BAZK Berlin, in whose eyes the craft “continues to evolve and thrive”. They believe that there is a future, but it will be increasingly rooted in sustainability, ethically-sourced materials and responsible craftsmanship.
That goldsmithing is transforming rather than dying is confirmed by a look at Berlin’s DIY scene. Metal Atelier’s founder Anna Butwell taught herself how to file, solder, saw, forge, cast, and polish precious metals by attending classes and workshops in the US and Germany. She suggests that handcrafted jewellery has a higher status than ever. “Both the design and fabrication processes have become largely digital,” she says. “I think there is something of a rebellion in the consumer populace right now that many people don’t want jewellery that looks machine-made and would rather have more rough-hewn pieces that you can see were made by a human.”
Varvara Krotkova, also an autodidact in the trade, agrees but also sees the benefits of technological advance: “Despite 3D designing and printing or laser soldering, traditionally handcrafted metalwork remains alive. All the new technologies just open a new chapter and direction for creating jewellery.”
Next to making their own pieces, both Krotkova and Butwell offer workshops for budding jewellers, helping create an alternative path to forge a career in jewellery-making. “Berlin [has] a growing jewellery-making community”, Gomez and van Wijk report. “There are more and more independent jewellers offering workshops and organising events where they connect, collaborate, and share their knowledge.” With fewer people going down the traditional route of an apprenticeship, the goldsmith craftsmanship may change, but the community’s dogged determination and fierce DIY spirit keeps the chain alive.
Protected title: A job title or description that can only be used by people who have passed specific training for and been certified in that role, for example a doctor or architect.
The Autodidact: Varvara Krotkova
Varvara Krotkova comes from a family of artisans, silversmiths and weapon restorers. With some help from her family and job placements, she taught herself the craft. Krotkova’s jewellery, ever-changing in style and often inspired by architecture and nature, is made from sterling silver and gemstones.
- Varvara Krotkova, follow @varvara.krotkova on Instagram.
The Traditionalist: Johanna Gauder
A trained goldsmith, Johanna Gauder founded her eponymous brand in 2015 after completing a degree in product design. With seven collections to date, her predominantly silver rings, bracelets and necklaces are sleek, shiny and minimalistic – but not dainty. Gauder also crafts wedding bands and engagement rings.
The Workshopper: Anna Butwell
With Metal Atelier, Anna Butwell has been making rock’n’roll jewellery since 2018. Her most recurring design element, inspired by the pandemic, is the word ‘fuck’, stamped on her rings and bracelets. Making up the core of her collection, the ‘fuck’ pieces are complemented by stacker rings and pendants, often featuring chains, sapphires and diamonds.
The Power Couple: Angela Gomez & Bert van Wijk
Founded in 2016, BAZK Berlin is the joint venture of married couple Angela Gomez and Bert van Wijk. Designed by van Wijk, who has a background in fine arts and sculpture, and turned into jewellery by goldsmith Gomez, their gold and silver pieces come with a rough finish and are often reminiscent of time-worn concrete.