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Exclusive interview: the women of Wempe

As Germany’s luxury jewellery and watch expert Wempe launches a bold new aspect to its By Kim range, the brand’s owner Kim-Eva Wempe and creative director Catherine Plouchard meet Ruairidh Pritchard

Ruairidh Pritchard
Ruairidh Pritchard ,

It’s rare to see a brand making a really bold statement uninfluenced by current trends and unmotivated by sales, but luxury German watch and jewellery specialist Wempe has done just that. Cosmora, the latest addition to its By Kim jewellery range, is truly unique and brings the brand’s expert craftsmanship to the fore.

Wempe has been producing the By Kim jewellery range since 2001, and it is named after company’s current owner Kim-Eva Wempe, who is the great granddaughter of founder Gerhard D Wempe. With its eighth collection launched, By Kim has become one of Germany’s most popular jewellery brands.

Cosmora is a 12-piece exhibition collection that was unveiled in November 2014. Created by Kim-Eva Wempe and the label’s creative director Catherine Plouchard, the collection includes 12 rings, each inspired by a different international city. The range heralds a new age for the 138-year-old company, which has two intrepid, passionate women holding the reins.

What women want
The significance of having two women at the helm isn’t lost on Wempe and Plouchard. ‘For me, working with Wempe is perfect because it’s run by a woman,’ explains Plouchard. ‘When you’re working with other women you have a certain lucidity when it comes to jewellery, and as I like to say, having an appetite is the best way to cook.’

Both women pride themselves on knowing what their customers want, and it was this understanding that led them to launch the By Kim range in the first place. ‘The team started with women only, and we travelled to jewellery fairs. Twice a year we would travel to Paris to buy pieces before we began creating our own collections,’ explains Wempe. ‘We would see the American buyers, all men, inspecting the rings, but it was always all about price, carat, margins and turnover. Price was the last thing we were interested in. First we held the jewellery, touched it, figured out how it feels to wear – price was always the last question.’

The feel of jewellery is something of a focus for By Kim. ‘As a team of women, we started from a different point. Perhaps because of this we became more critical of what we were seeing: we knew what we as women wanted, and we couldn’t find it,’ says Wempe. As wearers of jewellery, Wempe and Plouchard knew that pieces had not only to look good but also be tactile and wearable. ‘Men don’t think about it like that,’ explains Plouchard. ‘Before the eyes are seduced, the body has to be seduced – feeling, working with the body, and being pleasurable to wear, that’s what is most important.’

When art met knowledge
French-Italian designer and goldsmith Catherine Plouchard was persuaded to join Wempe thanks to the company’s reputation for high-quality workmanship. ‘When we met, Catherine said “but one thing … it’s a German company”. I knew that as a French-Italian designer working for a German company she would be thinking, “I know they can do cars, but can they really do jewellery?”’ Wempe explains. ‘But she went to the atelier in Schwäbisch Gmünd and met our goldsmiths, and then she said yes because she could see that we knew what we were doing. I always like to think of it as when art met knowledge, because she said she had never seen such quality in Italy or France.’

Since then the company has created eight collections. Its first, Sensual, consisted of organically shaped pendants and rings with curved bands to emphasise the feeling when worn. Helioro was another collection of rings made from nine individual, intertwined gold strands. And now there is Cosmora.

Distinctive destinations
Inspired by 12 different cities around the world, each ring is designed to symbolise the location while telling a story. From New York and Central Park to the Eiffel Tower and Paris and the Klimt-inspired golden dome of Vienna’s Secession building, every ring is distinctive. ‘They are beautiful rings, but they’re also artistic and they tell a story about each place – it’s about an expression of a personal impression Catherine and I have about each place,’ says Wempe.

The rings – some of which feature more than 200 precious stones – were handmade in Wempe’s workshop by its master craftsmen, gemologists and goldsmiths. The collection is not available to buy; each piece was created for exhibition only. It is an unusual decision. ‘We wanted to it because we wanted to show that we were able to do it – we have the art and we have the knowledge to do it,’ Wempe explains. 

With two women at the helm who are producing innovative, adventurous creations such as Cosmora, Wempe is demonstrating its commitment to beautiful jewellery. For a brand primarily known for its expertise with watches, this has been no mean feat. As By Kim continues to be admired as one of Europe’s premier jewellery brands, Wempe is proving to be not only one of the most committed but also one of the most exciting jewellery companies in the world.



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