Otto Jakob’s jewellery alchemy

There’s no better way to tell that story than to show it through the teller’s eyes. And the teller isn’t me, on Lostinjewels, who types the words, because the story isn’t meant for reading. It’s precious, made of gold and gems. It should be seen and touched, and worn – to live and to be shared with other generations. That’s how it was meant to be by the teller, Otto Jakob, in a story with a strange title – “The tulip petals, two mushrooms, a snake head and two merged pebbles that should have fallen apart but they just don’t”.

I was lucky to witness how he generously shared his wisdom with another jewellery artist at his TEFAF stand in Maastricht. Every word was precious, but also the intention to make the world of jewellery much richer in beauty and creativity. Now looking back at that scene I feel the magic of intimacy between the master and his accidental student. I still don’t dare to interrupt their conversation as though it’s frozen in time in my memory.

I leave it there and in the air, as a scenography and an epilogue, and bring you what is left – the secrets of four masterpieces he introduced to us. He chose two of them and I chose the rest and put them on the table in the tiny space behind the exposition’s walls. That’s how the story starts…

Lale earrings

Mr. Jakob offered me the earrings to take a closer look at them. It was obvious there was something exceptional about them. He was going to explain. Something beyond the beauty of tulips’ petals in their natural simplicity that I held in my palm.

Otto Jakob. Lale earrings. White and yellow gold, fancy yellow diamonds, vitreous enamel. Courtesy of Otto Jakob.

“Everything here is loose”. – He pulled a petal down and it turned around, the elements shook a tiny bit. – “Even stones here are loose. You know, those are typical parrot tulips. I‘ve made a 3D scan of their petals”.

“Is it a combination of 3D modelling and manual carving?” – I asked.

“Yes, it is”. – He nodded in agreement. – “In previous times I made casts from real things. But these petals are too thin. You can’t cast them. I developed a technique with the new tools: 3D scan, 3D print, and even a method for extremely thin cast. It’s extremely important to make earrings that aren’t too heavy because that’s 18K gold.”

“Why don’t you try new metals?” – my question was received with a wide smile.
“Oh, I don’t want to go away from gold. I’m really traditional, I’m conservative. I don’t like those things that others do. Some of the big jewellers use titanium, I hate it. I think it’s so ugly! Aluminium is ugly”.

His voice contradicted the lightness of the subject, the volume raised, and I heard a passionate remark after which I felt that there’s no stone left untouched. Mr. Jakob sounded as the brightest knight of historical heritage. I had ever seen, but only in the sense of the work quality. The designs, on the other hand, according to him, should be developed and be as modern, true to the sense of the time, and authentic as they can be.

“I’m a specialist in earrings”. – He got back to his creation. – “In the beginning when I didn’t earn money, when nobody wanted my pieces, I had people coming to me with ancient Greek pieces, or Etruscan, they used to wear but those were damaged. And I had to repair the things. So I learned about antique jewellery, and saw that it has always been made from extremely thin layers of gold. Because gold was extremely precious at that time”.

“Now gold is spoiled by industrial goods production for industrial jewellery. They cast it thick. It’s easier to make things that way. Thin casting is really difficult”, – I could see how fragile the petal elements were in reality, enamel visually added depth to their structure.

“I’ve learned from those old things. I decided to look for the equal quality. And now it’s about that for me – to be able to work with extremely thin layered gold and make it about the beautiful workout and the volume”.

Mushroom pendants

“I see you are really inspired by nature”, – I smiled.
“Nature, architecture, art.” – He caught my line.

“But your interpretations of natural design are always pretty precise and clear”, – I showed him two of his mushroom pendants. – “Let’s take these two brothers, for example”.

Otto Jakob. Porcini Pendant. Yellow and white gold, vitreous enamel. Photo: courtesy of Otto Jakob. Video: Lostinjewels.

“Mushrooms! I love mushrooms. I used to be a mushroom hunter, but now it’s not the same because of the dry summers. – Jakobs’s workshop is in Germany, and I immediately imagined the forests and hunting scenes. Somehow that felt natural, I could even smell the wet autumn wind, and see the muddy ground covered with fallen leaves, a bit sticky, sliding when you step on it, though looking dry from above. – “If we want to find nice mushrooms, we need to go for them to Romania or else where. There are forests that are good enough for hunting”.

His laugh deepened the warm feeling after the brown-goldish shades of the jewellery. The object, a Porcini mushroom, to be precise, felt alive in my hand: “Well, here’s all about the work. I enamelled the surface and then patinated it. But, when you enamel, you need to put away a lot of the coated surface, because it gets too thick. So I did, in a thin layer it looks much nicer. These are parts filled with fine 22K gold. The model was carved by wax”.

Otto Jakob. Morel Pendant. Yellow and white gold, vitreous enamel. Video: Lostinjewels

“And that one…” – He gave me a Morel pendant, and my hand almost sagged. I didn’t expect the thing to weigh so much, he took a pause to watch my reaction. – “It’s also carved by wax and enamelled. You see the snails. Few pieces of gold set together, no computer work. I’m a carver, I really love to carve. Then it’s oxidised white gold, 22K yellow gold and enamel. I think, pendants are wonderful when they are heavy, and rings should be solid and heavy as well”.

Danbala ring

A ring with a diamond centrepiece waited its turn to be observed. I put it on my finger. It was heavy as well, and felt like an old time talisman, not because of the purpose or the shape, but out of the spirit of the ancient kings – a mixture of respect and honour. It also looked like a high jewellery version of a rock-n-roll-kind-of ring. So basically it was an anthem in gold and diamonds.

Otto Jakob. Danbala ring. Yellow gold, partially oxidised white gold, antique diamond, vitreous enamel. Courtesy of Otto Jakob.

“Doesn’t it remind you of a snake?” – the master asked me.

“The head is a very flat diamond. It’s underlaid with a mirror, the mirror creates bigger depth”, – he continued his tale. – “You think the body is deeper than it is in reality. An old style trick. They did it in the Renaissance, but with rose cut diamonds. Also the Indians always put fine silver files under their gems. Those darken over time, and it’s not nice”.

I looked inside the stone, and really couldn’t tell if it was a physical depth or only an illusion of it: “Mirror doubles the thickness of the stone and helps the light to come out.”

“Yes, I use platinum or white gold foils. Mirrors are highly polished. Then I set the stones and make sure that no water nor dust can get in. And the mirror multiplies the radiance”. – he took a pause to resume the thoughts. – “I want to create a heritage. Something that people, their children and their grandchildren would wear”.

Manaos ring

After the previous ring that one seemed a bit naive. It was weird in its design, though more elaborated in the gem pave-set around the centrepiece, which, in its turn, reminded me of the bottle glass polished and shaped by the sea.

Otto Jakob. Manaos ring. Ring with two perfectly matched engraved pebbles – green tourmaline and a blue aquamarine (both from Brazil). Painted gold and micro pavé-set black diamonds. Photo: courtesy of Otto Jakob. Video: Lostinjewels

“The name of the ring is Manaos”, – said Mr. Jakob. – “Like the city at the beginning of the Amazon river in Brazil. It’s because of lianas, the flow of the river, and pebbles in it. And the pebbles are set in the way you think they will go out, the set won’t hold it”.

“What are those gems?” – I was curious if they were gems at all.

“I use very precious things and unprecious things. It’s only about the beauty. I can decide to use wood, or something else. I’m an artist, so I’m free”, – he smiled. – “Aquamarine and tourmaline from Minas Gerais, Brazil. The stones look like pebbles, therefore I didn’t polish them. It looks like I’ve found them on the beach”.

Then he turned the ring around exposing the sets of tiny gems in between lianas like relief of the ring: “It’s necessary to use very good stones. Those are the black diamonds”.

“But, for example, regarding the rubies of the same size: those come to me from a German man who is married to a Chinese woman and lives in Bangkok. He makes the best of the tiniest cuts in the world, and provides very precisely cut precious gems for the watch companies, like Patek Philippe. They fill the clock face with those. You need to pay more for such rubies than for diamonds. The gems are so tiny. I love them because they are so outstandingly good. It’s the essence of quality” – he concluded the story.