10 January 2013 Archived
Contemporary jewellery is very much in vogue as traditions are being challenged.More than ever, jewellers, designers and collectors are coming together to create interesting pieces through a combination of craftsmanship, creativity and patronage. Highlighting the jewellery session of Strauss & Cos forthcoming auction which takes place in Cape Town on the 4 February 2013, are 44 lots from the personal collection of Pretoria-based German Jeweller, the late Erich Frey.
The collection features individual hand-crafted pieces of extraordinary design, some of which were special commissions. Each piece is eye-catching, original, theatrical and a “conversation starter”. Joanna Hardy, world renowned jewellery consultant whose belief is that contemporary jewellery is an art form in its own right, describes creations such as these as “wearable art”.
During his time in South Africa he brought innovation to the design approach of local manufacturing goldsmiths. He drew inspiration from the South African landscape, plant life, African art and the abundance of local and precious and semi-precious stones. He incorporated materials other than precious stones (such as wood and ivory) in his designs and explored these materials’ natural form, texture and colour in composing their precious metal settings.Born in Düsseldorf, he came from a family where the teaching of handcrafts was the order of the day. He underwent his apprenticeship and, in 1947, he was accepted as a member of the German gold- and silversmith guild. He lectured at the Kunst und Werkschule in Düsseldorf and opened his own studio. It was during this period that he was to meet his future wife, Ilse Hallen, who was serving her apprenticeship at a diamond and gem wholesaler in Düsseldorf.
He arrived in South Africa in 1952 and began his career in Pretoria. He was joined a year later by Ilse and, in 1963, they opened Erich Frey Jewellers. Theirs was an ideal partnership with Ilse running the business and managing the showroom while Erich focused on designing and manufacturing his innovative and stylish jewellery. They were described as the ‘gold and silver couple’ and developed associations with local artists and connoisseurs including Walter Battiss, Esias Bosch and the young Albert Werth who, in 1963, was appointed curator of the Pretoria Art Museum and went on to become its Director. But it is perhaps through Frey’s close friendship with Alexis Preller that one can see the kaleidoscope of ideas that the two men shared. The strong influence that Africa had on his designs is particularly evident in lots 94, 113 and 114, the silver, gold and hawk’s-eye pendant which was a gift to Ilse on the birth of their daughter, Uta, in 1954.
Through his distinctive vision, Frey produced strong sculptural statements, as seen in lot 93, a carnelian, diamond and gold pendant, or through the use of bold, geometric forms on square-banded rings, lots 86 and 88. It is fascinating to trace the development of his style from early pieces such as the moonstone necklace, lot 101, made for Miss South Africa in 1966, to the 1981 diamond, sapphire and gold bangle, lot 82.
Frey lectured at universities both in South Africa and Germany. He was a founder member of the Pretoria Gem and Mineral Club in the late 1950s, and helped set up the first degree course in precious metal design at the University of Stellenbosch in 1966.
Technically speaking, Frey’s use of cut and faceted semi-precious stones and innovative ways of setting stones, opened a new dimension of gemmological use in local design of precious metal, jewellery and other articles. As such, he made a significant contribution to the establishment of a gemmological industry in South Africa.
Throughout his career, Frey gained both national and international exposure through his lecturing and participation in exhibitions. He clearly gained the respect of his peers both locally and in Germany as having made a unique contribution to the design and manufacture of precious metal works of art as well as the teaching thereof.
His daughter, Uta, recalls “My father was an artist by nature – a craftsman, creator, great story teller, and lecturer who inspired and awed many with his creative insight and knowledge; a solitary and disciplined person who followed his own inner drum”.
cf. Fred van Staden, ‘Erich Frey and his Associates: A Unique Contribution to South African Jewellery and Design and its Goldsmith Tradition’, SA Tydskrif vir
Kultuurgeskiedenis, 25(1), June 2011.
? Joanna Hardy, ‘Collect Contemporary Jewelry’, Thames and Hudson, London, 2012
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