Happy birthday Hemmerle: Harmony bangle celebrates landmark anniversary
Yasmin and Christian Hemmerle honour three decades of a timeless design
It was King Maximilian II of Bavaria who in 1850 first set about developing Munich’s Maximilianstraße, as one of four royal boulevards. Today, Maximilianstraße is testament to the monarch’s idiosyncratic take on architectural history: the city-centre street is lined with palatial buildings, their imposing facades a blend of Renaissance and Gothic Revival detailing seldom seen since. To Hemmerle, the address has been home since 1904, when the storied jeweller first moved to Maximilianstrasse 14.
Hemmerle’s boutique coordinates are far from its only historic connection to royalty. Joseph and Anton Hemmerle established their business in 1893, taking over a local goldsmith. Just two years later, in 1895, the two brothers received the equivalent of a royal warrant, invited to craft small gem-set treasures and medals for the royal court of Ludwig III, the last king of Bavaria. Their reputation soon spread across borders. In Paris, at the 1900 World Exhibition, a Hemmerle Pectoral Cross took home an award; it has since been added to the collection of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In short, Hemmerle is a picture-book legacy. The business has remained in the hands of its founding family; but, instead of relying on past successes, Joseph Hemmerle’s great-grandson Christian, his wife Yasmin and his parents have made innovation their leitmotif, placing freedom of creation above nostalgia. There is material wizardry to their work: ancient bronze coins, a 19th century micro-mosaic and pebbles washed up by Munich’s Isar river have all been worked into Hemmerle designs. Woods – tropical black Palmyra and fossilised Colla woods have been listed – are a forte, as are non-traditional metals such as textured iron and brushed copper.
Growing up in Munich, I for a while attended school within walking distance of Hemmerle’s boutique. And while I remember criss-crossing Maximilianstraße across seasons and at every hour of the day, I can’t recollect many memories of the jeweller’s storefront. At Hemmerle, this is likely to be welcome: here, a certain discretion has long been part of the set-up.
Aside from private appointments scheduled bi-annually at New York’s Hôtel Plaza Athénée, Hemmerle, which has been nicknamed a “jeweller’s jeweller”, only sells from its Munich boutique. The family exhibits at leading art fairs – London’s Masterpiece and TEFAF in New York and Maastricht among them – but has not dabbled in e-commerce or retail partnerships. To this day, each Hemmerle gem is unique – meaning no second version will ever be produced – and crafted wholly at its Munich master workshop.
It was to their family workshop – which is located close by the boutique and is staffed by 18 highly-skilled makers, many of which have remained with the business for decades – that Yasmin Hemmerle headed recently. She was on a quest to find out more about a Hemmerle piece she calls her “Wonder Woman bracelet”, alluding to the superheroine’s signature accessory. “It makes me feel invincible,” she says of the Harmony bangle, an open-ended bracelet that for the firm has become a totemic design. This year, Hemmerle celebrates its 30th anniversary. “For me, it’s like a security blanket,” says Yasmin, who sports an olive wood version, its two signature rounded ends capped with brown diamonds. “It’s timeless. It gives joy.” Rarely does she not wear hers. “I wear it all the time. I wear it to the playground, I wear it to work. I wear it to cocktails.”
Ease of wear, she learned at the workshop, was what first inspired her father-in-law to draft the Harmony Bangle. “He said, ‘Our main reason, our main aim was to make something that a woman could wear by herself, that she didn’t need somebody else to help her with’.”
Simple of line, the Harmony bangle is in fact a triumph of jewellery-making. The design is fitted with an invisible, seamless closure which opens at a twist; its pleasingly balanced silhouette is the result of precisely calibrated dimensions and volume. “To me, it encapsulates everything that Hemmerle is: the engineering, the craftsmanship, the materials,” Yasmin enthuses. “The funny thing is that it looks so easy,” Christian adds. “Proportion, shape, lines – all need to be in perfect symbiosis for a perfect Harmony bangle.”
Since its inception, the Harmony bangle has been a canvas for creative flights of fancy and experimentation. Yasmin says: “As we evolved with our materials, the Harmony bangle evolved with us.” Only a handful of designs are finished per year; previous models have been crafted from textured nut wood – its ends a pair of moonstones set in aluminium and white gold – or dotted with bead-like red carnelian and sparkling pink spinels.
In London, the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2010 added a red-patinated copper and white gold iteration bookended with red spinels to its holdings; an Egyptian themed Harmony bangle can be admired at New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum since 2014. “The bangle is anchoring so many milestones of what Hemmerle has achieved,” says Christian.
Back in Munich, the team recently finished a lightweight Harmony bangle made entirely from aluminium. Is there any material, I ask, that the brand would not experiment with? “No,” says Christian. “When it comes to it, we just do it.”