We talked to the Austrian jeweller Alexander Skrein about his work, especially with Paraiba, the still relatively little-known tourmaline with a fabulous vivid neon greenish blue colour, discovered in Brazil in the late ’80s and one of the most eye-catching and rarest gemstones in the world.
Vienna is a paradise for jewellery lovers such as myself. Among the vast choice of jewellery shops and workshops in the Austrian capital, one of my favourites is Skrein. Situated in the heart of Vienna, Skrein is a mix of jewellery shop, gallery and workshop where all the luxurious pieces are designed and hand-made. Alexander Skrein, the owner, says that the secret of the house’s success is that even the salespeople are designers and goldsmiths.
Skrein manages to make sleek contemporary pieces that have an atemporal and classic feel. The high-jewellery brand uses only fair-gold and conflict-free diamonds and is one of the few to use the exotic Paraiba tourmaline in his creations, much to my delight, since I grew up in Brazil and have always loved the country’s colourful gemstones.
During our interview, Alexander Skrein spoke about Art history and design, his creations and much more. Keep reading to learn more about the fascinating world of jewellery making and the incredible Paraiba, which, by the way, is so rare that there is one Paraiba mined for every ten thousand diamonds.
Who are your costumers and what do they expect when they come to Skrein?
They are people who want something special, something they wouldn’t find somewhere else. My customers are looking for jewellery that is perfectly made and that is developed artistically instead of commercially. Our pieces are hand-made here, in our workshop, and it takes us from 20 to 150 hours to create a new design; once the concept is ready, we never produce large quantities of the same model.
What makes a jewellery piece timeless?
Fashion captures the Zeitgeist and trends are fast and short-lived. Nowadays, the industry dictates Zeitgeist, which is ephemeral. Timeless creations, on the other hand, don’t follow fashion trends. You may think that the jewellery you see here is modern, but in reality, if you look back in time, most of our creations could have belonged to the French Art Nouveau, the Ancient Greeks or Aztecs, in other words, they do not have a “time stamp”. Timeless jewellery belongs to its era, but the design remains good throughout time. Take the Austrian architecture, for example, Hoffmann’s furniture remains good, it is timeless. The lamps that Artemide made in the ’60s were modern back then and are still modern today.
What is the jewellery trend today?
Throughout history, we’ve had high peaks in design. Art Nouveau was one of these moments. After a pause during the war years, Design came back strongly in the ’60s; in jewellery, the creations were very extreme. Then in the ‘90s and 2000s, the creativity in jewellery design reached a high point Now, for the past ten years, jewellers have been concentrating on industrial mass-production hence the trend of very delicate chains and pieces like the ones made in China that, once broken, cannot be repaired; disposable jewellery that can sometimes cost ten to twenty thousands euros. But on the other hand, there’s an opposite movement growing, and many small workshops have appeared in the past years. We were the first ones to work in this manner – being an atelier more than a jewellery shop – 26 years ago, and if you walk around this area, you can find more than 14 workshops of goldsmiths that have learned and worked with us in the past and have now their own stores.
What was the most beautiful, or the most interesting piece you’ve ever made?
The most beautiful work is for me usually the latest one. What I find the most interesting is not the jewellery piece per se but the human being you have to get to know to understand what he really wants but can’t put on paper. When creating a jewel for a person, I do not concentrate on the piece; I focus on the human being I am making it for. 80% of my clients are men who buy jewellery for their wives. The problem is that very often, the kind of jewel they would like to see their wives wear is not exactly what the women would choose, so we have to work together to find something that will please the person who’s not sitting there with us. That’s the real challenge.
You use quite a lot Paraiba tourmalines in your jewellery. When did you discover this gemstone?
When I first saw this gem, around 15 years ago, I thought “My God, what is this? The colour is absurd!” This gem fits my jewellery.
What do the Austrian, and your clients in general, think about it, do they like this gem or is it too much for them?
Paraiba is the kind of gemstone that you love or hate. You either go “wow” or you shake your head. It isn’t something for the masses, Paraiba is a unique gemstone for confident women.
Some people argue that only the gems coming from the Brazilian mines in Paraiba should be called Paraiba, do you agree?
Paraiba tourmalines from Brazil are becoming very scarce and expensive since the mines are almost empty but you can find similar neon colour tourmalines in Nigeria and Mozambique, so for me, it doesn’t matter where the gem comes from but whether you like it or not. All the rest is intellectualisation of something which is pure emotion. Jewellery is emotion. Take a diamond for example, why would someone spend 40, 50 thousand euros on a white, translucid stone? It isn’t logic, but one does it. In my opinion, when it comes to jewels, one has to turn the logic off, it is a mistake to try to grasp jewellery with the intellect. Jewellery has to do with history; it is the most ancient form of art after the cave paintings; it is symbolic hence it falls outside the realm of logic. Jewellery is a declaration of love; it is a symbol of power; just look at the kings and queens. Jewellery has nothing to do with logic.
So now you know it: if you’ve ever tried to find a logical explanation for your love of jewellery; there isn’t one. Just keep loving it and enjoy the feeling!