LUXURY IN BERLIN
INTERVIEW WITH CLEMENS RITTER VON WAGNER
The owner of Wagner Preziosen Gallery Berlin on living contrasts, punk and flourishing business in the Covid-19 era.
Interview by Christoph Ziegler
Friedländer Tiara. Photo: Wagner Preziosen.
CZ: Mr. von Wagner, we met in 2017 as we popped by your jewelry gallery, Wagner Preziosen, in Berlin-Charlottenburg. A little later, you curated the exhibition Trash & Treasures, presenting our trash-made jewelry along with precious pieces.
Trash & Treasures was a juxtaposition of 'high' and 'low' end jewelry, highlighting the contrast between traditional and contemporary jewelry art.
RvW: In a global world nothing is more interesting than living contrasts. If you see the interior of my gallery, you will find many contrasts, for example it may be concrete combined with velvet. Only with these differences can each style and line shine in its individual way.
CZ: What was the idea behind the exhibition Trash & Treasures?
RvW: In Berlin´s diverse society I wanted to show the wide range of beautiful design, no matter what the value of its material is.
CZ: Before you started your own business, Wagner Preziosen, you worked with Donna Karan, Cerutti 1881, and later as a director for Cartier in various countries. You wrote a dissertation on the punk icon Vivienne Westwood. How did your interest in the punk culture affect your career and your world view?
Necklace with rock crystal. Photo: Wagner Preziosen
RvW: My supervising professor wanted me to jump into a different world. She thought that writing about Yves Saint Laurent was too close to my regular life. And she was right. I gained a new horizon by reading and writing on – and meeting – Vivienne Westwood. What a character, what strength, and yet what a sensitive, soft-spoken soul Vivienne Westwood is.
Although her designs from the 1980s were very controversial, her creativity was widely respected and treasured.
CZ: "Punk's not dead." Does this slogan from the 1990s still have any meaning today? What has changed since then, especially in Berlin, the city of subcultures?
RvW: Punk was born out of the wish to break with social differences. People wanted to break with given rules of old-fashioned, narrow minds. Berlin nowadays is a diverse and international city. Its vibes attract people from all nations, races, and cultures. It is becoming a melting pot filled with inspirations of all kinds.
CZ: Berlin is not a city for jewelry. Contemporary jewelry has hardly any relevance for Berlin Fashion Week or Berlin Gallery Walk. How do you explain why there is no great interest in jewelry in the German capital?
RvW: Berlin is a city for civil servants, and traditionally a Protestant place. Go to a Protestant church and you will find the answer to that question. Those places are nearly rough, without any decoration.
In a Catholic or Orthodox church, you can enjoy art, gold, voluptuous décor etc.; it celebrates life by stimulating all your senses.
Just compare Vienna to Berlin. Both towns had a court and an emperor. Catholic Vienna is much more into jewels and in presenting them compared to Berlin. In Berlin it is chic to be grey and poor…even if the Queen of England comes for a state visit, the capital city and the society of the fifth most important world economy will not dare to show its wealth by wearing jewels.
Pearl necklace with pink chinese carved tourmaline. Photo: Wagner Preziosen
CZ: You deal in Preziosen, precious items perfectly made, extremely valuable classical jewelry pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries to which the word "luxury" applies best. Some pieces are also made by high-priced avant-garde designers. And you design individual pieces and produce them in south Germany, using exclusive stones cut in Idar-Oberstein.
In both cases – when you purchase antique jewelry for your gallery and when you design your own pieces – what are your most important criteria for an exciting piece of jewelry?
RvW: It is very simple. I cannot compete with big companies such as Bucherer, Wempe, etc. – and I don't want to! I decided to enjoy the variety of a niche market.
Quality materials, perfect craftsmanship, and unique design are the bases for getting the attention of my clients. Most of them have items from well-known companies, but they have grown in their taste. They don't need a brand name to define luxury. Luxury for them is a more individual thing. They define their individual luxury. They just need to know that it is "great stuff" that they buy. They do not need to show off to anybody.
CZ: The ambience of your 'boutique' – this is how you describe your gallery – reveals that your clients are very special. Not everybody can afford to purchase jewelry from you. What is your strategy when you sell a piece of jewelry?
RvW: There are two different ways to sell in my store. There is the client who needs the support to find the right jewel for themselves. They want the communication with me, and they like to hear the explanations of each item. And there is the client who enjoys searching for the right jewel. Because of that, I redecorate my store at least twice a month. People like to explore the place, and I enjoy helping all of them.
CZ: Has the coronavirus pandemic had any effect on your business so far?
RvW: For the time being I am most thankful that most of my clients still enjoy the beauty of a jewel. Maybe even more these days.
CZ: Has the pandemic changed the way you work as a jewelry dealer?
RvW: I always offer to have a private viewing in private homes. Nowadays some clients just ask me to send them a selected variety of jewels and they choose in total privacy at home – even without me. Whatever the client wishes.
CZ: Do you use internet commerce?
Clemens Ritter von Wagner. Photo: Wagner Preziosen
RvW: Yes, I do offer some of my pieces on the US portal 1st Dibs.
CZ: How could one promote 'high' and 'low' end jewelry more effectively in a city like Berlin?
RvW: I would love if, for example, our president would open Bellevue for a presentation of German design in luxury items.
Germany has much more to offer than just great cars and technology. We have beautiful design, may it be in porcelain, textiles, jewels, or any other craftsmanship that is taught in Germany.