The salons of Paris might be the first port of call for the international jewellery connoisseur, but Austria also has a rich history of jewellery production, with an international standing that rivals that of the fashion cities of the world. The country’s rich and diverse history of jewellery making continues to push the boundaries of design and style, marrying contemporary panache with historical legacy.
A cut above
Swarovski, founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, is arguably the best-known of all Austrian jewellery brands. The house revolutionised the jewellery industry when Daniel Swarovski invented the first machine for cutting and polishing crystal. The technique made his stones so brilliant, perfectly cut and faceted, that they were taken up by the finest fashion houses, including Chanel and Dior. In 2014, the brand is more successful than ever, with boutiques across the world. It has reinvented itself as a fashion collaborator whose high-octane sparkle is found in collections from the most cutting-edge international designers, from Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent to Christopher Kane and Roksanda Ilincic. Swarovski pieces are still created at the brand’s original home, Wattens, Austria, where visitors can discover Swarovski’s Kristallwelten (Crystal World): an experience that includes unique crystal-themed art exhibitions, mazes and landscapes.
FreyWille is another instantly recognisable jeweller, known for distinctive enamel pieces. The company was founded in 1951 in Vienna and still produces its jewellery in limited quantities at its original Vienna address, to ensure the highest standards of production FreyWille’s current signature style was developed in the 1980s by a team of designers, goldsmiths and enamelling experts led by Simone Grünberger-Wille. The company, run by Grünberger-Wille and her husband Friedrich Wille, is still 100% privately owned and continues to push the boundaries in terms of aesthetics; the label’s designers aren’t afraid to embrace vivid, painterly colour palettes, bold patterns and arresting textures. Although it’s a relatively young jewellery brand by Austrian standards, FreyWille is devoted to its craft. The company uses a unique and complex process to create its fire enamelling and the application of the enamel takes an arduous 80 to 100 steps to guarantee a flawless finish. Testament to the brand’s skill is the showstopping Lumière des Diamants bangle. This limited-edition bracelet took several years to create and is adorned with 96 diamonds and made of 18-carat pure gold – only a few examples are available worldwide.
AE Köchert is one of Austria’s most important heritage jewellers, while Halder, another royal favourite, founded in the same year as Swarovski, began by creating hunting jewellery for the Austrian Emperor and other noble families of the day. Halder’s jewellery is still handmade in the company’s workshop in Vienna, maintaining the excellence that caught the Emperor’s eye over a century ago. The current owner, Katharina Sturzeis, has embraced Halder’s illustrious sporting heritage to produce modern designs that pay tribute to the brand’s history while also attracting a modern clientele. Simple but elegant gold and silver bracelets, modelled on a horse’s bit, epitomise Halder’s effortlessly elegant style.
The Schullin boutique is located on Vienna’s Kohlmarkt, in the city’s fine jewellery district. Founder Herbert Schullin is mindful of his country’s lengthy jewellery tradition and also of its future. Schullin works with young designers from the Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Vienna’s university of applied arts, to create distinctive, contemporary designs. The many accolades that Schullin has received, including the Austrian state prize for fine jewellery, a Diamonds International Award, and an honourable mention in the Red Dot competition, are testament to the jeweller’s success at what he describes as combining ‘the art of design with the art of craftsmanship’. Schullin’s beautiful flagship store in Vienna, designed by famous Austrian architect Hans Hollein, reflects the brand’s commitment to exemplary craftsmanship and contemporary design.
It is thanks to jewellers such as these that Austria’s long and noble history of jewellery production continues. Not only are many of the country’s historic jewellery brands, including Swarovski and Halder, still producing covetable collections and promoting Austrian craftsmanship worldwide, but younger companies, such as Schullin and FreyWille, are also embracing tradition while simultaneously bringing new skills and expertise to this legacy. The future of Austrian jewellery looks as sparkling as its past.