‘Austrian jewellery is renowned for its craftsmanship, love of detail, celebration of regional traditions, creativity, and the courage to try new things,’ says Friedrich Wille, chief executive officer of Frey Wille, known since 1951 for beautiful enamel jewellery made in Vienna.
It’s no wonder that such variety is available, given Austria’s bejewelled history, which dates back to the 1800s when the country became established as a centre for glass artisans and jewellers. Notable Austrian craftsmen include Daniel Swarovski, who founded his eponymous brand in 1895 in the Tyrolean town of Wattens. Swarovski invented a cutting and polishing machine that led to the brand’s worldwide reputation for creating crystals of perfect clarity. Around the same time, a group of artists and designers in Vienna, including Gustav Klimt, were embracing the emerging art nouveau trend, which saw a move away from the intricate, elaborate designs of the early part of the century in favour of cleaner, sharper lines.
Austria quickly became the rhinestone capital of the world, meeting a demand created by the popularisation of costume jewellery, alongside a trend for striking pieces coming in from Paris, such as Chanel’s designs in the 1920s. Swarovski has maintained its status as an integral part of the Austrian jewellery scene. It has collaborated with everyone from Christian Dior – creating the brand’s renowned Aurora Borealis crystals, which have a striking opalescent effect – to Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Zaha Hadid.
Swarovski on screen
Swarovski jewellery has appeared in films including Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Skyfall, as well as the TV series Downton Abbey, and been worn by many famous names, from actress Marilyn Monroe to singer Beyoncé. A Swarovski crystal-encrusted star even graces the top of the Rockefeller Centre’s Christmas tree each year in New York.
The Vienna flagship store is an experience in itself. It features Swarovski’s stunning Crystal Forest design concept, realised with sparkling architectural installations which immerse customers in glittering light. As well as shopping the brand’s range, customers can also enjoy a glass of champagne at the first floor bar, or order a coffee at the pavement café.
AE Köchert and Halder are two other notable Austrian heritage brands. AE Köchert was founded over 200 years old in a small goldsmith’s workshop in the centre of Vienna. Renowned for its artistic enamel work, AE Köchert supplied the Imperial Court and, in the 19th century, crafted a set of diamond stars for Empress Elisabeth of Austria; replicas are still available to buy today. Halder, established in 1895, is the place to go for specialist gold and silver work, as well as bespoke pieces. The brand is renowned for its traditional hunting designs and costume jewellery. All its pieces are still manufactured by hand at its Vienna workshop, and Halder prides itself on creating unique pieces for its customers.
Jewellery as art
Frey Wille, a relative youngster at not yet 70 years old, also has much expertise to draw on. One of the leading names in fired enamel jewellery, its striking, colourful and artistic pieces are produced in very limited production runs at the brand’s original factory in the centre of Vienna. Run by Simone Grünberger-Wille and her husband Friedrich, the privately owned company is central to the Austrian jewellery scene. Frey Wille’s stores showcase its European-style designs worldwide. The various collection concepts are based on wide-ranging topics from European and humanistic philosophy to nature and the diversity of cultural heritage, explains Friedrich Wille. From the initial idea to the finished product, each piece is the result of numerous sketches and hours of research into art history. ‘Every collection is unique,’ he says, ‘but all have one element in common: an enthusiasm for pure art.’
The brand regularly presents collections dedicated to the style and work of specific artists, including Monet and Klimt, or to a period of time, such as the Pharaoh Egypt and Passionate Russia ranges. It also features contemporary artists. The brand’s recent Hommage à Gustav Klimt collection is especially striking and was inspired by the artist’s famous masterpiece The Kiss. ‘It is a pure and powerful tribute to love itself,’ says Wille. ‘It puts the union of two souls centre stage.’ The collection includes a watch, bracelets, pendants and rings, and is the perfect tribute to one of Austria’s most important artists.
No overview of Austrian jewellers would be complete without Schullin, one of the most dynamic and interesting jewellery companies in Vienna, and winner of an Austrian State Prize for fine jewellery. The boutique is situated on the luxury Kohlmarkt shopping street, in a building designed by architect Hans Hollein, and its beautiful art deco-style interior contrasts with the brand’s contemporary approach to design. Founder Herbert Schullin is committed to encouraging Austrian design and works with young graduates from Vienna’s university of applied arts to create modern pieces with a classic feel.
From the truly traditional to the supremely modern, Austria’s jewellery designs are sure to add some sparkle to your time in Vienna.