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Our Manufactory - Creations for the senses

At the Wempe jewellery studio in Schwäbisch Gmünd, creativity and master craftsmanship come together. The jewellery of Wempe and the BY KIM brand is created by the expertise and experience of an international goldsmiths’ workshop. Each piece, refined by a special talent, bestows on its wearer enhanced individuality and a radiant aura.

Catherine Plouchard and Dietmar Steinbrecher
Creativity and intuition: Catherine Plouchard discusses the details of aesthetics and craftsmanship with pattern goldsmith Dietmar Steinbrecher

With great patience, a polishing specialist works on a small white gold sphere that encloses a sparkling brilliant cut diamond. A piece of jewellery still requires absolute concentration even at the end of the production process. Achieving a fine lustre requires total focus as well as skill. After delicate operations with abrasive wheels made of felt, fabric and leather, the artisan continues to work on the piece using polishing pastes and powders, carefully milling and rubbing until the nugget is polished to perfection and attains its full beauty. Later, it will be one white gold element of many in an exquisite necklace that, like all the other jewellery of the BY KIM brand, has been made here in the light-filled rooms of the Wempe studio.

It was more than ten years ago that Kim-Eva Wempe returned to her hotel empty-handed after visiting the Munich Jewellery Show. She bumped into Alfred Baumhauer in the hotel restaurant and shared her disappointment with him. At that time Baumhauer was the Managing Director of the long-established L.C. Köhler workshop, where he was also a partner. Kim-Eva lamented that she hadn’t found anything at the trade fair that would appeal to her customers — modern women with an international sense of style. The ensuing discussion marked the birth of the BY KIM brand.

Kim-Eva Wempe

A great deal has happened since then, but one thing has not changed: Alfred Baumhauer’s ability to make himself understood. »We got married,« he says as he welcomes guests to the studio in Schwäbisch Gmünd. What he means is that Wempe’s acquisition of a 50 per cent share in the L.C. Köhler company in July 2007 was much more than a financial investment.The intense collaboration brought a creative family into being. The contemporary BY KIM brand of jewellery took on its distinctive character in this workshop full of master craftsmen because the combination of good »chemistry « and skill were there from the beginning.

The long tradition of first-class handmade jewellery in Schwäbisch Gmünd goes back to the 17th century. And the reputation of L.C. Köhler as one of the best jewellery workshops in the world was established in 1900 — at the latest when it won a silver medal at the World Exhibition in Paris. This was exactly the team that BY KIM required in order to evolve into something more that just the bold vision of a woman entrepreneur, to take shape and, above all, to develop its own innovative design vocabulary — one that has a feminine aura and is beautiful and individual, yet never overbearing. This vocabulary can be seen in the Helioro ring, which is made of nine strands of gold that are magically interwoven, and in the Sensual line of jewellery with its rings and bracelets with wide, flowing feminine shapes.

Master goldsmith Dietmar Steinbrecher freely admits that in order to create modern jewellery, a person has to shake off old ways of doing things.

It took us a while to find our own signature. Creative Director Catherine Plouchard and I had many discussions. You have to develop a lot of drive and ambition to be able to develop jewellery designs that have never been imagined or produced before.
The background »music« for discussions at the studio is the continuous sound of sanding, grinding, milling and forging. On deeply notched wooden workbenches, skilled craftspeople create the jewellery for which the studio and its young BY KIM team have won prizes. For example, the Chronos necklace with a Cosmos pendant won an award in the international De Beers competition. »The small diamonds of the Chronos necklace stand for the passage of time,« explains Anja Heiden, the member of the Executive Board who is responsible for jewellery and gems at Wempe. »On the other hand, the Cosmos pendant symbolizes the Big Bang. Just lookat it! It’s so thickly encrusted with sparklingwhite brilliant-cut diamonds that you can’tsee any white gold!« The necklace, whichseems so obvious and fresh as we look atit now, took over a year to develop from the concept to the finished necklace. This piece unites beauty, volume and international flair.
Collier Blu BY KIM
The necklace from the Blu line combines a deep-blue tanzanite with brilliant-cut diamonds.
Kim-Eva Wempe and Catherine Plouchard
A harmony of ideas: Kim-Eva Wempe and Creative Director Catherine Plouchard discuss their ideas and develop jewellery in collaboration.

The individuality of the special design vocabulary can also be found in smaller pieces. For example, a striking graphic such as the fine engraving »tempus fugit amor manet« (time flies, but love endures) can ennoble a piece of jewellery, transforming it into a small keepsake that one wears as a talisman.

I’m really proud of our BY KIM Blu line of jewellery, because such a collection isn’t born of its own accord.

Catherine Plouchard


Kim-Eva Wempe had been searching for a successor to the classic heavy link necklace. Then, a rivière with a central element gave her an idea. She placed the diamond bracelet on a copying machine and faxed the image to her Creative Director. Plouchard made some sketches and soon the idea for the new necklace crystallized in her mind — a chain of free-floating spherical elements strewn with individually set diamonds.

rubber moulds
casting tree
casting tree
Left: Microscopic precision: Wax is injected into the rubber moulds for the settings. Once it has cooled, the wax models are used to make the casting trees. Right:The individual settings are separated from the casting tree by hand. Up to 300 individual settings on a casting tree

»At that point Mr. Bichler entered the picture, « recalls Kim-Eva Wempe with a smile. Anton Bichler is a young designer and master goldsmith who helped to introduce CAD — computer-assisted design — technology at the studio of master craftsmanship. Today, thanks to digital technology, complicated shapes can be modelled on a computer. What to the untrained eye looks like an abstract network of lines on the computer screen is seen by the craftsman as a model that can be stretched, bent and rotated at will. Bichler had already discussed with Catherine Plouchard the idea of a ring consisting of a string of pearls. The problem was that a perfectly symmetrical sphere seems cold, technical and lifeless. »A string of little spheres can easily resemble a caterpillar, « says Plouchard. With creative poetry on the one hand and modern technology on the other, an organic form similar to a pearl was developed that, when strung together, had a satisfying and sensual look. A new dimension of suppleness and flexibility was found — just as Catherine Plouchard hoped that it would be. »The necklace shouldn’t be perfectly flat, as if it were machine-made, because then it will stick to the skin. It has tolie on the skin, but it also has to pleasantly stroke it. The way a piece of jewellery caresses the skin is something I always keep in mind,« she confides as she toys with the Blu elements lying on the studio table, moving the necklace around in different directions. »Jewellery should blend with the wearer’s own aura. That’s why it’s so important to listen to the body,« she says. She’s referring not only to women’s bodies but also to those of precious stones and finished jewellery.

New technology has allowed us to come up with an extraordinary necklace

says Kim-Eva Wempe happily. But, as Bichler emphasises, a computer is just a tool. »It’s not a magic box,« he says, »It’s only as good as the person in front of it.« It’s important to have common sense, experience, skill, a feeling for sustainability and a sensible pragmatism. You hear the same ideas from Magdalene Schmucker, who is responsible for creating the wax models. In the past, a mould was cast in rubber. Today, however, it is made of a high-tech material. Schmucker, who is also a goldsmith says that a person learns a little bit with each model. She then demonstrates using an oldfashioned injection moulding machine that she prefers to its modern counterpart for particularly difficult tasks. At first she had laid out the settings needed for the Blu necklace as a little tree with four twigs, but one of these »runners« was always broken. Now there are only two branching hollow cells in the mould. With a hiss, the air is extracted from the mould; then the industrial wax shoots into the vacuum at high pressure. The subsequent cutting open of the rubber is an art in itself. Schmucker frees the finished model. It is accurate to the last millimetre.

18-carat gold alloys
Blu BY KIM collier
When a person at the Wempe jewellery studio refers to a particular handwriting, it is meant to be taken literally. The signs of valuable manufactory work are present everywhere. Anja Heiden says that the Cosmos pendant is so popular worldwide »because it has the character of a palm stone, a talisman«. Volume, transparency and beauty complement one another in an attractive way that gives the piece of jewellery a sensuous perfection. How a piece of jewellery feels is as important as the material it is made of. In order to create jewellery that makes gift giving as easy as this, everyone has to work together closely and smoothly, and this process has to be sustainable. Kim-Eva Wempe and Alfred Baumhauer have therefore established a Jewellery Academy for Wempe employees. Ever since the employees were given the opportunity to have a look around in Schwäbisch Gmünd, there has been a lively exchange of e-mails and telephone calls between the studio and the 29 showrooms worldwide. That’s why in all the shops from Hamburg to Beijing, one can sense not only artistic mastery but also something of the tranquillity of the craftsman that pervades the traditional goldsmith studio in Schwäbisch Gmünd.

BY KIM Jewelry

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