Originally a graphic designer, goldsmith Diana Holstein now creates unusual contemporary jewelry at her Copenhagen studio and shop, Emquies-Holstein. Outside of the studio, she leads Denmark’s Goldsmiths’ Guild, one of the oldest goldsmith guilds in the world. Diana shared her views on Copenhagen’s interesting jewelry scene on the Jewelry Journey podcast. Read the transcript below.
Sharon: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Jewelry Journey podcast. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Diana Holstein, a goldsmith and partner in the goldsmith studio and shop at Emquies-Holstein in Copenhagen, which specializes in making personal jewelry with a modern twist. Diana is also Master of the Goldsmiths Guild in Copenhagen, which just held its City of Jewellery event. Today we’ll hear more about Diana’s work, the Goldsmiths Guild and the City of Jewellery event. Diana, so glad to be talking with you.
Diana: I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for having me.
Sharon: Thank you so much. Tell us about your jewelry journey. How did you become attracted to jewelry and metals?
Diana: I’m originally trained as a graphic designer. It became an interesting journey because after a few years working as a graphic designer, I started doing designs of tables, cookware and textiles, and I also started making jewelry with my drawings, and I did some watercolors. It’s just something that suddenly attracted my interest. I never thought I wanted to do something about it, but then somebody said, “You could do something about that part of your career.” So I approached some companies in Denmark and I started working with them.
Sharon: Wow! On your website, you have a video of you drawing and sketching. It sounds like that’s where you started.
Diana: Yeah, I would say my craft is drawing, meaning that’s where it all started for me. I really wanted to do art more as a drawer and a painter, but then it made a turn where I started to do more design and drawing, and I worked with companies presenting my designs.
Sharon: Did you take metalsmithing? When you draw it, can you think about how something is made?
Diana: That was the challenge. I came to a wall when it came to jewelry because I did not know how a piece would look from the back, for example. I realized I had to learn the techniques and the craft, so I went to a school called Institute of Precious Metals in Copenhagen. It was a school that, when you were trained as a goldsmith, afterwards you could go to Institute of Precious Metals to explore design and art to develop your skills in design. I was not aware of that school until I met, by coincidence, a goldsmith who told me about it because I was interested in pursuing that direction. I went to Institute of Precious Metals and I was quite mature; I was 39 when I entered that part of my education there. That’s where I met my partner, Hanan Emquies, and that opened up a whole chapter for me that made me enter this family of jewelers, you would say, because it’s a small community here. I felt at home somehow; I don’t know why, but I really felt I was part of something, a group or family that I related to somehow.
Sharon: Wow, that’s wonderful. Not everybody finds that, but you found your place. Tell us about your business at Emquies-Holstein. What do you? Who are your clients? When did you decide to open your shop? How did that come about?
Diana: Because we met at school, Hanan and I, it was clear that we became partners. We both had been working on our own for many years before we met each other and found that we always wanted a partner, so it was quite obvious for us that we wanted to do business together. When we both were out of school, we started our company. We actually wanted to start out with wholesale, but the financial crisis came and even though we did pretty well in the beginning, in order to survive, we had to have the retail business and our own shop here in the center of Copenhagen. I’m really glad we did that because it’s such an essential thing, to meet up with clients and talk to them. You get really close to people when it comes to jewelry and it needs the personal, the face to face—at least that’s what I think. That’s how we started out, and in the beginning, it was very much Hanan because he came out of school earlier than I did. He worked together with an art group called ByUs. They were getting different exhibitions each year working with different themes, and I think that’s how we started making conceptual jewelry with interesting and fun themes, which we continued doing when we had our own business afterwards. That’s how many of our collections came from those exhibitions.
Sharon: Looking on the website, some of the collections are very whimsical and fun. For example, the Bubble Gum collection, how did you get the idea for that?
Diana: Early on, we had a very popular collection called the Chocolate Collection. It’s inspired by the paper that chocolate is wrapped in, the gold paper that is wrapped around the chocolate. At least here, we all play with this paper and make jewelry and fun things out of that paper. We wanted to make another collection that had the same kind of playfulness translated into jewelry. Since Hanan especially is very fascinated by organic and sculptural pieces, he wanted to work with this technique of making a very soft ring that looked totally made of bubble gum, and he did.
Sharon: It does, yes.
Diana: It really succeeded. We also thought about how to simply paint the silver so it looks like bubble gum. We always try to see how far we can go and still have a saleable piece. It’s simply also to have fun sometimes.
Sharon: It looks like it was a lot of fun to put together. I looked at it and I thought, “Oh my gosh, how did you do that?”
Diana: Also, I would say in silver and gold it’s amazing. They look really good. For example, the gold piece really reminds me of pop art, like Jeff Koons, his very polished sculptures. You can see we have definitely been inspired by American culture and pop art, and that has been fun. It’s fun to explore that.
Sharon: It’s definitely very different. You’re a Master of the Goldsmiths’ Guild, or are you the Master?
Diana: Yeah, it’s the Master. I have been that for five-and-a-half years. It’s an interesting thing, because it’s one of the oldest goldsmith guilds in the world. We have a lot of traditions, but we have modernized it, so it’s become something that all members—it’s almost like a family. Often, I hear the word “family” in the guild, because a lot of members are sitting in their goldsmith shops or working alone in their shop and you need family somehow. You need to have colleagues to talk to, and we do that in the guild. We try to do things where we can work together and do things together. It’s really interesting for me to have that part, to have that role.
Sharon: Can any goldsmith become a member of the guild, or do you have to go through a certain program? Do you have members and non-members? What differentiates them, those who join and those who don’t?
Diana: Originally, it was goldsmiths and silversmiths who could join the guild, but around 10 or 12 years ago, they started to open up for people who were trained in different fields. For example, we accept architects and graphic designers who got into the field of jewelry like me, but what is required for us, since we’re not really trained as goldsmiths, is that we have to have a serious business. We have to be serious about it. It shouldn’t just be a hobby; you have to have a professional life doing what you do. It has opened up a bit and I think that’s wonderful. It’s always an inspiration to see what other people are doing. They are adding something completely new to the whole community, but you need to have your own business. It’s not enough that you’re a goldsmith and you are hired somewhere and you don’t have your own business; then you cannot be a member. You have to have your own business.
Sharon: That’s interesting. You’re the Master. Is that like being the president or the director of the Goldsmiths’ Guild?
Diana: Yeah, it’s like the head. It’s something I do besides my work. It’s not a full-time job. It’s something that’s an honor, to do this kind of work, and I speak for the community, if you can say that.
Sharon: Is this Goldsmiths’ Guild connected with goldsmith guilds in other countries?
Diana: That’s a good question. For example, we have worked with Sanchi in China. We like to collaborate with people, but we don’t really have anything to do with other guilds in other countries. We’re quite busy with what we’re doing here in Denmark, so it’s mostly a guild where we’re taking care of our small community. We are not that many members, but we are quite active compared to our size. We need to stick together and do something to show ourselves in this busy world and show how exquisite the things we make are. We need to continue growing and showing new things. That’s basically what the guild has been doing the past few years, at least for the time I’ve been there. We open up for collaborations, but mostly inside the guild.
Sharon: Does the guild put on the City of Jewellery event or do you just participate? What is the City of Jewellery event?
Diana: No, it’s actually our—I would almost call it our brand because it’s something we started. We had an event going on and it was the 20th time that the guild was giving a singular prize to a young goldsmith. In doing that event, we also wanted to make City of Jewellery, which is the event that happens in the city of Copenhagen where people invite colleagues to make little exhibitions in their shops. We wanted to stir up the awareness of how many amazing small goldsmith shops we have here in Copenhagen. This is the second time we’ve done City of Jewellery, so I call it a brand because we have an illustration of this event. It’s a ring that symbolizes the tower over Copenhagen and I think that’s a wonderful symbol. Why we call it the City of Jewellery is that Copenhagen is quite unique when it comes to small jewelry workshops. In the small streets of Copenhagen, you would be amazed if you came here to see how many small and interesting workshops we have here in Copenhagen. I have not been to a city in the world where I’ve seen as many. It’s something that has grown over the past 15 years, and it’s quite interesting and worth it to come and see.
Sharon: Why do you think that is? Is it because people in the city turn to small, independent goldsmiths to get what they want as opposed to other places? Somebody has to support them and buy from them. Why do you think you have so many?
Diana: I think that’s interesting. I don’t know if that’s the truth, but I think there’s a trend where people want to meet the jeweler; people want to have a more personal connection with the one who makes the piece of jewelry. Before, it was big companies—Georg Jensen, for example—who were famous, that were really known. If they wanted a piece of jewelry, everybody went to those big companies, but today I see a trend that people like to come to their own personal jeweler. Just like you have a family dentist or a family doctor, you have your own personal jeweler. That’s what I see here, at least. I don’t know how it is in other countries, but I see here that people connect very much to one jeweler.
Sharon: That’s really interesting because you don’t see that in a lot of other places.
Diana: Exactly, yeah.
Sharon: Diana, thank you so much for being here and for giving us the lay of the land.
Diana: Thank you.
Sharon: I’ve certainly learned a lot I didn’t know. To everybody listening, we’ll have Diana’s contact information as well as a link to Emquies-Holstein in the show notes at TheJewelryJourney.com. That wraps up another episode of the Jewelry Journey. If you like what you heard and you would like to hear more, you can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts, and please review us. We’ll be back next time with another thought-provoking guest giving us their professional take on the world of jewelry. Thank you so much for listening.
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