Fritz Falk - Trailblazer for an internationally renowned museum
The master goldsmith and holder of a PhD in art history began his career as a research assistant at the Jewellery Museum in 1969. He became its director in 1971, and remained in this position until he retired in 2004. Steering the museum’s fortunes for over thirty years, he significantly expanded its collection, and developed it into a specialised museum that is unique worldwide. May he always be remembered.
A contributor to shaping Pforzheim’s cultural life for more than 35 years
Press release dated 24 April 2020: Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum is mourning the passing of its former Director Fritz Falk (1939 - 2020). The master goldsmith and holder of a PhD in art history significantly contributed to shaping the city’s cultural life for more than 35 years. With his acquisition policy, he laid the foundations for what meanwhile constitutes the impressively comprehensive collection of this renowned museum specialising in the art and history of jewellery-making, and established its international reputation.
Fritz Falk began his career as a research assistant at the Jewellery Museum in 1969, and became its Director in 1971. Since back then, he significantly expanded its collection, and developed it into a specialised museum that is unique worldwide, one whose exhibits are much sought after as exquisite loans for exhibitions all over the planet, whether in London or Saint Petersburg, in Paris or in Tokyo. While the main focus of Fritz Falk’s activity was no doubt on collecting jewellery from classical antiquity, the Renaissance and the Art Nouveau period, he also felt particularly committed to highlighting modern, contemporary jewellery trends. These have been spotlighted in numerous special exhibitions at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum since the 1970s, as well as at the pinnacle exhibition “Ornamenta I” in 1989, which provided a broad overview of what was happening back then on the international contemporary jewellery scene.
As regards the subject of historical jewellery, Fritz Falk curated important exhibitions of Art Nouveau or Renaissance creations. In addition, he presented several shows featuring jewellery created by non-European cultures.
Thanks to the internationally esteemed expert’s excellent contacts to many of the world’s major museums, the Jewellery Museum was able to display exquisite pieces of their jewellery in Pforzheim, and to showcase parts of its own collection worldwide, for example in most European countries, in Australia, Japan and Russia.
Even if Fritz Falk’s era at the Jewellery Museum ended in 2004 after 35 years, he remained closely linked to it. In 2011, the year marking the 50th anniversary of Reuchlinhaus, he curated the exhibition entitled “Serpentina – The Snake in Jewellery Around the World”, and then, in 2016, the “Heavenly Bodies – The Sun, Moon and Stars in Jewellery” show. An exhibition with the working title of “Everything that Flies” was planned for 2022. But even beyond projects like these, he stayed in close touch with the museum, and was repeatedly consulted on specific issues.
From 1997 until his retirement, he worked together with Cornelie Holzach, who became his successor in 2005. “Fritz Falk strongly advocated my pursuing our common path when I became the museum’s Director,” she remembers. “I am deeply saddened by his passing. We had an amicable relationship, and also celebrated his 80th birthday together with the other colleagues.”
Fritz Falk was an honorary member of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London, and consultant to the Russian Museum of Ethnography in Saint Petersburg. He was a juror for numerous modern jewellery competitions in various European countries, in Japan and in Russia, as well as a member of the juries at art and antiques fairs in Amsterdam, Basel, Frankfurt, Hanover, Hamburg and Munich.
He died in the early morning of 23 April after a short illness.
Condolences from all over the world
Society of Jewellery Historians
Dr. Jack Ogden, President | Richard Edgcumbe, Victoria & Albert Museum | Judy Rudoe, British Museum | David Beasley, former Librarian, Goldsmiths' Company | Katherine Purcell, Joint Managing Director, Wartski | Beatriz Chadour-Sampson, jewellery historian
Stories and Anecdotes
All that glitters was (not) gold!
Memories of a life with and for jewellery
Originally, my life was supposed to take a different course: as the grandson and son of Pforzheim-based jewellery manufacturers – my grandfather Heinrich Falk and his brother Friedrich (Fritz) had set up the Gebrüder Falk [Falk Brothers] jewellery factory in 1897, and my other grandfather Hermann Hottinger and his partner Theodor Held had established the Hottinger & Held jewellery manufactory in the 1920s – it was practically a given that I (born in Pforzheim in 1939 as the son of Annelis, née Hottinger, and Max Falk; my sister Barbara was born in 1942) would follow in their footsteps and be the third generation to manage the family business. After World War II, the company had been re-established under the name of “Hermann Hottinger – Fabrikation feiner Juwelen” [Manufacture of Fine Jewellery]. After graduating from school, I trained as a goldsmith (while also taking courses with Reinhold Reiling, Karl Schollmayer und Curt Rothe as a guest student at Pforzheim’s State Arts and Crafts School). I obtained my journeyman’s certificate in 1961, and passed my master goldsmith’s examination four years later.
On the path to the Jewellery Museum
After longer or shorter working stints at jewellery studios in Luxemburg and Switzerland, as well as in London (at Solomon Stellman’s jewellery atelier in Hatton Garden), and much to the regret of my parents, who, at least initially, were not happy about my decision against joining the family business, which was still flourishing back then, I worked as an assistant to the Director of Pforzheim’s State Arts and Crafts School, the metal sculptor and excellent instructor Karl Schollmayer, from 1964 to 1967. During that time, I established contacts with Hermann Wahl, Director of Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum at Reuchlinhaus, who needed a temporary assistant to help him organise and manage the “First International Jewellery Competition of Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum” in 1965. Schollmayer “loaned” his assistant to the museum.
Afterwards, Hermann Wahl suggested to the then Lord Mayor of Pforzheim, Johann Peter Brandenburg, that I be “built up” into a potential successor to him as the museum’s director. (Back then, I was romantically involved with the goldsmith Monika Backhausen from Bonn since 1964. We married in 1967, separated due to my relationship since 1995 with Anna Ratnikova, jewellery curator at the Russian Museum of Ethnography in Saint Petersburg, and got officially divorced in 2007. Monika died in January 2013.) In 1972, I completed my studies in art history, classical archaeology and auxiliary sciences of history (heraldry, numismatics, etc.) at the universities in Munich and Tübingen with a PhD magna cum laude. The title of my dissertation, suggested by the then Director of the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Erich Steingräber, and supervised by my doctoral adviser Günter Bandmann in Tübingen, was “Gemstone Cuts and Setting Types in the Late Middle Ages and the 16th Century – Studies on the History of Gemstones and Jewellery.” The thesis was published in print by Kempter Verlag in Ulm in 1975.
Since the autumn of 1969, I had a full-time job (initially on short-term contracts only) at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum, working on and finishing my dissertation in the evenings and at night. In 1971, I was appointed Director of the museum on a permanent contract. Over the course of the years until I left my post upon reaching retirement age, I “was instrumental in helping the Jewellery Museum gain an excellent international reputation,” as Pforzheim’s Lord Mayor Joachim Becker phrased it during a ceremony for the former Head of the Cultural Affairs Department Fritz Wurster on 12 February 2012.
Building an internationally renowned collection
What started as a humble collection in Pforzheim (in the mid-1960s, the former Art Director of Goldsmiths’ Hall in London, Graham Hughes, referred to it as a “quite nice collection” (!)), has meanwhile grown into one that does not need to hide its light behind such famous jewellery collections as those of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, as is evidenced by the numerous loan requests by many major and smaller museums from all over the world.
With a lot of luck, plenty of expertise and, above all, the constant support of many colleagues both in Germany and abroad (some of whom have become real friends), thanks to collaboration with art and antiques dealers and private collectors all over the world, to public funds, donors and sponsors, as well as to something that was possible back then, i.e. that the State of Baden-Württemberg purchased particularly important pieces that municipal museums could not have afforded, and gave them to the museums as permanent loans, and not least thanks to the support of the Werner Wild Foundation, the Jewellery Museum was able to significantly expand its collection. This is how the museum obtained the golden garment fastener from Ireland, for example, or the reliquary pendant created in Burgundy about 1400. The large “Fish” corsage adornment designed by Georges Fouquet was purchased by the Sparkasse Pforzheim Art Foundation, and given to the Jewellery Museum as a permanent loan at the inauguration of the office tower called “Daum Tower” after the former Sparkasse bank Director Wolfgang Daum.
Taking delight in and having a passion for my work (something that my long-time assistant Heide Nies and the other colleagues shared with me), contributed to the Jewellery Museum’s evolution over the course of the decades – both as regards the historical collection and the collection of contemporary art jewellery – into a renowned institution that I was able to pass on to my successor Cornelie Holzach in 2004 with a feeling of contentment, and also a little pride.
Special exhibitions that meet international standards
The Jewellery Museum consolidated its international reputation by pursuing a consistent acquisition policy and, above all, by presenting exquisite special exhibitions (three to four per year on average).
These special exhibitions can essentially be classified into four categories. The first includes presentations on historical themes, covering the entire gamut from “Jewellery from Persia” from the collection of the American art dealer Patti C. Birch, and “Gold from Greece” from the Benaki Museum in Athens, to “Exquisite Jewellery from the Baroque Period” and “René Lalique – Jewellery Created Around 1900”, which was put together in 1987 mainly (more than 60 pieces) with major loans from the collection of the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon (something that led in 1988 to an invitation by the Federal German President Richard von Weizsäcker to a state banquet on the occasion of the President of Portugal’s state visit at Brühl Palace near Bonn). The exhibition entitled “Idol and Ideal – The Idea of Humankind in Renaissance Jewellery” in 1997 was assembled from loans from eight European countries, including Russia. The “Tsarist Gold” exhibition in 1995 also came from Russia, from the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, and was specially organised for the Jewellery Museum by Olga Kostjuk in honour of the former jewellery “manager” Johann Jakob Ador, who died in Saint Petersburg in the late 18th century.
The spectrum of ethnological and ethnographic themes involved the collaboration with the Museum of the American Indian in New York for the “Silver Jewellery of North American Indians” exhibition, and with the Japanese collector (and former Geisha) Okasaki for the “Ornamental Combs and Hair Ornaments from Japan” show, for example, and also included the “Traditional Jewellery from Italy” exhibition from the Museo Nazionale delli Arti e Tradizioni Popolari in Rome, as well as the particularly remarkable exhibition entitled “Treasure Chamber of the Tsarist Peoples” from the Russian Museum of Ethnography in Saint Petersburg in 1990.
Exhibitions of international modern art jewellery were held either as solo shows featuring individual independent artists, such as David Watkins and Wendy Ramshaw from London, Otto Künzli and Therese Hilbert from Munich, Peter Skubic from Austria, Reinhold Reiling, Klaus Ullrich and Rüdiger Lorenzen from Pforzheim to name just a few, or as group exhibitions showcasing creations by artists from Israel, Japan, the USA, Korea, Italy, Poland, Catalonia and man other countries. In addition, the museum organised overview exhibitions such as the “Tendenzen” [Trends] series and, as an absolute highlight, the “Ornamenta 1” show in 1989.
The fourth category comprises artistically crafted objects that are not jewellery per se, such as richly ornamented thimbles from classical antiquity to the present day from a private collection in London, for example, or savings boxes made of gold or silver from the collection of a Viennese bank; small gifts given to ladies at a ball, showcased at the “Ballspenden” exhibition, which also came from Vienna; lavishly decorated dog collars from a private collection in Ireland, displayed at the exhibition entitled “… and whose dog are you?”; as well as delicately embellished hand fans from the Carolino Augusteum Museum in Salzburg.
Loans showcased all over the world
The activities designed to increase awareness of Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum also included displaying pieces from its collection at other museums and cultural institutions, both in Germany and worldwide. A remarkable exhibition of jewellery “from Pforzheim” was shown back in the early 1970s at Berlin’s Museum of Decorative Arts (back then still located at Charlottenburg Palace), for example, and in 1977 in the culture department of the Odakyu department store in Tokyo, from where it travelled on to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. The Jewellery Museum’s exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London was particularly successful, as were those at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nancy, the Russian Museum of Ethnography (twice) and the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Involved in international projects
During the many years as Director of Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum, I was sought after as an expert and as a juror for both modern and historical jewellery at art and antiques fairs, as well as international competitions. In these roles, I worked in such different places as Gdańsk, Legnica, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Basel, Vienna, Frankfurt, Hanover, Munich, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw. In 1976, upon invitation by the World Crafts Council, I gave a multi-day seminar on the theme of “Human Imagery in Jewellery” on the occasion of the Council’s conference in Oaxtepec south of Mexico City. In 2004, in collaboration with Monica Gaspar from Barcelona, I curated a jewellery exhibition in Palma de Mallorca on behalf of a Catalan bank. From 1973 until the mid-1980s, I was the official consultant to the Gold- and Silversmithing Department of Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, which led to many in-depth visits to Israel.
In recognition of my activities centred around jewellery and my commitment to enhancing the Jewellery Museum’s standing in the international museum community, I was elected Associate Member of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London, and honoured as a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club of Pforzheim.
Things did not always work out as planned. There were successes and setbacks, gratifying achievements and unfortunate failures in equal measure.
Not being able to obtain the snake bracelet created for Sarah Bernhardt, designed by Alphonse Mucha and crafted at Georges Fouquet’s studio in Paris, was probably the greatest disappointment. A detailed account of all the endeavours, struggles and, eventually, the failure can be found under the headline “Monsieur P., Mister M. and Sarah Bernhardt’s snake bracelet”. Many a piece of jewellery could not be purchased, despite persistent efforts and tenacious negotiations, because the museum did not have the requisite means at its disposal.
The collaboration with the German-French artist and collector Barlach Heuer and his wife ultimately needs to be categorised as a “failure” as well. Although the exhibition entitled “Art Deco – Jewellery and Books from France”, organised with the Heuers and the Paris-based art dealer Félix Marcilhac, was shown at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum in 1975 and subsequently at Hamburg’s Museum of Arts and Crafts, the jewellery and cigarette cases concerned (created by Fouquet, Dunand, Miklos and Pemplier, among others), were unfortunately not given as permanent loans to the Jewellery Museum, contrary to what had been agreed upon. The exhibition was to be accompanied by a catalogue, for which I had asked Barlach Heuer to write an article. The text that Heuer presented could not – and not only in my opinion – be printed in its original form. Axel von Saldern, the Director of the museum in Hamburg, also thought that Heuer’s text was overblown and much too long, and needed to be radically edited and shortened, either by Heuer himself or somebody else. Upon Heuer’s refusal, his article was not published in the catalogue. As a consequence, the exhibits were returned to Paris. (Many years later, the collection was sold at auction and scattered to the four winds.)
Several exhibition projects could not be implemented either, such as the “About the Gold of the Pharaohs” show, for example, which could ultimately not be put together because it had become impossible to obtain loans from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The project of showcasing “Golden Treasures of the Etruscans” also failed, despite the willingness of several Italian museums (in Florence and Rome) to respond to our loan request, due to the Italian government’s refusal to lend objects to an institution abroad. (Even the efforts of the Minister of State Lutz Stavenhagen, who tried to convince the Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti in favour of the Jewellery Museum’s project, remained unsuccessful.)
In February 2004, I retired after working for almost 40 years for the Jewellery Museum. However, I continued to be involved in many activities, working as an honorary consultant to the Russian Museum of Ethnography in Saint Petersburg, for example, and remaining closely linked to the Jewellery Museum. Within the context of the 50th anniversary of Pforzheim Jewellery Museum at Reuchlinhaus in 2011, I had the honour of curating and presenting the widely acclaimed exhibition entitled “Serpentina – The Snake in Jewellery Around the World” in collaboration with those responsible now.
Fritz Falk, October 2018
Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum and the wide world
Establishing and cultivating relations worldwide and thereby helping Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum gain international recognition and esteem were the tasks and goals I had set for myself to achieve for our museum. This involved not only staying in touch with jewellery artists in many different countries, and perhaps purchasing their creations for the modern collection, as well as establishing and maintaining long-term contacts with renowned art dealers in Germany, Switzerland, London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York and elsewhere to enlarge and enrich the historical collection, but I also felt particularly committed to collaborating with other museums, with arts and skilled crafts organisations and with public institutions for the benefit of the Jewellery Museum.
Often, persons and institutions from abroad sought to establish contacts with us, but our own activities also led to many successful collaborations. The jewellery artists Keiko and Hidero Yamahara from Tokyo, for example, visited Pforzheim in the early 1970s. Not only did we build up a personal friendship, but we also laid the groundwork for collaborating on exhibitions in both countries. In the following years, exhibits from Pforzheim’s collection were shown in Japan several times (in Tokyo, Kyoto, Kobe and Osaka) in collaboration with different partners, such as the cultural department of a large department store in Tokyo, for example, the Mikimoto Pearl Company or the organisers of the International Garden and Greenery Exposition in Osaka, and often with the support of official institutions such as the Embassy of Germany in Tokyo and the Goethe Institut in Kyoto.
Vice versa, the members of the Japan Jewellery Designers Association were able to showcase their creations at a comprehensive exhibition in Pforzheim, and, thanks to the Yamaharas’ contacts, a representative selection from a private collection (comprising more than 3,000 pieces) of Japanese hair ornaments from several centuries could be shown at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum.
In Australia, the collaboration with Sydney was made possible mainly by Darani Lewers and Helge Larson, and in Melbourne, it was Wolf Wennrich in Melbourne who enabled our cultural collaboration with the National Gallery of Victoria on several occasions. We owe the opportunity to show jewellery from Pforzheim’s collection at the National Gallery of Western Australia in Perth to the help of the Australian artist Rex Keogh and the colleagues in Melbourne. Occasionally, however, commercial interests also played a role, such as when the Pforzheim-based Henkel & Grosse company showcased its collections in Sydney and Brisbane and the Jewellery Museum was expected to contribute to a successful presentation in two large Australian department stores. Also, an exhibition at the Bijenkorf department store in Amsterdam was ultimately influenced by the partners’ commercial interests.
Europe and beyond
Pieces from Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum were displayed in many European cities, not only individual ones on loan to other museums, but also at exhibitions comprising exclusively pieces from the Jewellery Museum, like a show in Den Haag, for example, which featured a selection from Pforzheim’s ring collection. Pforzheim’s being twinned with Staint Maur near Paris, with Vicenza in Upper Italy and with Częstochowa in Poland led to the exhibition of pieces from the museum’s collection at the Villa Médicis in Saint Maur, at the Palazzo Chiericati in Vicenza and in a renovated Art Nouveau building in Częstochowa.
The Art Nouveau jewellery exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nancy (where Pforzheim’s then Lord Mayor Joachim Becker made a big appearance) could be held thanks to the initiative of the Director of the local Goethe Institut, while we owe our activities in the Netherlands – in Den Haag (Gemeentemuseum) and in Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum, where the façade above the entrance was decorated with a huge, eye-catching image of our “Octopus and Butterfly” brooch, designed by Wilhelm Lucas von Cranach, that called attention to the exhibition) – to the Amsterdam-based couple Ida and Rom Boelen, as well as to our direct contacts with the colleagues at the respective museums.
The long-standing amicable relationship and close collaboration with the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London (above all with Graham Hughes and Chris Walton) led to an exhibition of exquisite pieces from Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum in the magnificent rooms of Goldsmiths’ Hall.
The Jewellery Museum’s guest exhibitions in Saint Petersburg – two at the Russian Museum of Ethnography and one at the State Hermitage Museum, in return for these museums’ exhibitions at the Jewellery Museum – were absolute highlights. They were opened by the respective Directors (Vladimir Grusman of the Museum of Ethnography and Mikhail Piotrovskij of the Hermitage Museum) and Pforzheim’s Lord Mayor Joachim Becker.
The Jewellery Museum’s exhibition in Aberdeen, however, did not turn out as we had desired. Neither the exhibition rooms nor the showcases or the lighting conditions lived up to what we had been promised. In contrast, the exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, organised by Arie Ofir and Izika Gaon, was a big success.
The Jewellery Museum began to engage in this kind of activities back in the 1960s, when Hermann Wahl exchanged exhibitions with several German museums. Its fruitful collaboration with the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague (our partner there, responsible for jewellery, was the art historian Vera Vocacová) and with the Museum of Glass and Jewellery in Jablonec nad Nisou (its Director back then was Stanislav Urban) started towards the end of that decade upon the initiative by Karl Schollmeyer, who, as Director of Pforzheim’s State Arts and Crafts School, had regular contacts with both institutions.
And last but not least, the Deutsche Post’s special stamp editions, featuring various pieces from the collection of Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum (for example the snake bracelet and the Baroque agraffe inspired by Paul Birckenhultz), contributed to consolidating the Jewellery Museum’s reputation. Many and varied were the activities that helped the Jewellery Museum establish its excellent reputation in many parts of the world – something that the museum still benefits from as regards the numerous challenges that need to be met and mastered nowadays.
Monsieur P., Mister M. and Sarah Bernhardt’s snake bracelet
We visited the German-French artist and collector couple Barlach and Laurence Heuer to prepare the exhibition “Art Deco – Jewellery and Books from France”. Back then, Heuer, whose first name suggests that his parents were friends with the German sculptor and graphic artist Ernst Barlach, owned what was probably the most magnificent collection of jewellery from the Art Deco period, comprising superlative creations by Georges and Jean Fouquet, Jean Dunand, Gérard Sandoz, Gustave Miklos, Raymond Templier and many others. (This unique collection does not exist any more. The pieces have meanwhile been scattered to the four winds – the whereabouts of some of them are known, but many others are presumed “lost”.)
Heuer suggested visiting his friend, the art dealer Michel Périnet, at the latter’s gallery on the Rue Casanova the next day. Périnet showed us some amazing jewellery created by René Lalique and other Art Nouveau greats, and said that if wanted to come back the following day, he would show us something very special. So we visited him again, and saw the most remarkable piece of Art Nouveau jewellery: Sarah Bernhardt’s snake bracelet. Périnet had fetched it especially for us from his safe-deposit box at his bank. It was an unforgettable experience to see this piece – which had probably been designed back in 1898 by the artist Alphonse Mucha from Bohemia for the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt. (Mucha had already been designing the posters for Sarah Bernhardt’s Théatre de la Renaissance in Paris for many years, and adorned the actress’ left arm with a snake bracelet in the “Medée” poster from 1898.) The bracelet and the ring connected to it were crafted at Georges Fouquet’s studio in 1899. Périnet was visibly proud to own this treasure, and he made it clear that he would never part with it.
New York 1985
A short stay in the city that never sleeps, and a short visit at the Fred Leighton Gallery on Madison Avenue. A parallel experience. Murrey Mondschein, who owned the gallery (or maybe not?), asked us whether we wanted to come by again; he could then show us something extraordinary. So we came back the following day, and saw it again: Sarah Bernhardt’s snake bracelet! Thoroughly astounded, we remembered Périnet’s statement that he would never part with it. (Later on, upon our request, Périnet confirmed that he no longer owned the piece.) Mondschein now offered it at a price that far exceeded the Jewellery Museum’s resources. But we couldn’t stop thinking about it.
On our return flight to Germany, my then wife Monika, who had also seen the bracelet at Périnet’s gallery, encouraged me to try everything to ensure that it could be bought for the Jewellery Museum. I informed Pforzheim’s Lord Mayor Joachim Becker, who wanted to support our endeavour to obtain the piece, and promised to help raise the amount of almost one million U.S. dollars. Private and public patrons, the State Government of Baden-Württemberg, the city of Pforzheim, which provided special funds – they all contributed to making sure that the enormous amount was available after almost nine months of continuous efforts.
We had stayed in touch with Mondschein the whole time. Sarah Bernhardt’s bracelet had not been sold in the meantime. Filled with happiness and pride, I called New York when the funds had been secured. Mr. Mondschein’s wife was delighted to hear that this piece could now become part of the Jewellery Museum’s collection. Her husband, she said, was currently in Geneva attending the auction of the jewels of the Duchess of Windsor. A few days later, when Mondschein was back in New York, we received a telegram: “This piece is not available any more.”
Sitting in my office – I admit it quite frankly – I was not able to hold back my tears of anger and disappointment.
The auction in Geneva, from which Mondschein had returned, had achieved amazing results. Hence the art dealer in New York thought that Sarah Bernhardt’s bracelet could fetch substantially more than what he had asked us to pay. So the bracelet with the ring was not available any more; Mondschein remained adamant.
The bracelet was up for auction at Christie’s. The text for the superbly produced accompanying catalogue had been written by the London-based jewellery historian Vivienne Becker. We were in touch with the auction house. Our contact person was Frederick Schwarz, responsible for the jewellery department there, and in particular for the jewels from European noble families. We wanted to bid for the bracelet, although the funds available were scarcely more than two years earlier.
We had an agent in Geneva, and Schwarz even told us on the morning of the auction day that our chances weren’t all that bad because the professional dealers might be reluctant to invest such high amounts that had to be financed by their banks. In the afternoon, Schwarz contacted us again saying that a bidder from Japan had called in on the phone, and that the Japanese were capable of anything. Thus it happened that our agent called us on our personal phone around 10 p.m., telling us that the bracelet had been sold by phone through a middleman to an anonymous bidder. Schwarz even told us the price fetched. It was so high that we would have never been able to outbid the buyer. The dream of obtaining Sarah Bernhardt’s snake bracelet was shattered again.
We were busy preparing the exhibition entitled “Lalique & Co.”, featuring creations by himself and seven of his jewellery artist contemporaries. These included pieces from Berlin by Wilhelm Lucas von Cranach, from Brussels by Philippe Wolfers, from Barcelona by Lluis Masriera, and from Paris by Lucien Gaillard, Léopold Gautrait, the Maison Vever and, of course, Georges Fouquet. The Musée du Petit Palais generously loaned us its most exquisite pieces that were crafted at Fouquet’s studio, and some of Lalique’s finest creations came from the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. Yet we were haunted by the wish and the question of whether it wouldn’t be possible to show the Mucha-Fouquet-Bernhardt treasure at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum for at least a few weeks. But the attempt failed. Frederick Schwarz at Christie’s still did not know (or was not allowed to tell us) who bought it. So once again we were not able to make a dream – even if it was a much more modest one – come true.
A comprehensive jewellery exhibition was on display in Osaka in 2003 – organised by the London-based jewellery historian Diana Scarisbrick and the Japanese art dealer and collector Kazumi Arikawa whom I had known for many years. Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum had been asked to contribute to this exhibition by loaning several pieces from its collection. I flew to Japan as a courier, and one morning took our pieces to the exhibition room, where the set-up work was in full swing.
And there it was again!!! Displayed very decoratively – just like the Japanese love it – my dream lay before my eyes, fascinating as ever, so near and yet so far. The owner, I learned, was a Japanese businessman, who had built an Alphonse Mucha collection and had included Sarah Bernhardt’s bracelet in his private museum as the showpiece of his collection. Memories of the fruitless efforts in the past mingled with joy and sadness. Originating from Paris, this treasure had finally made its way to Japan via New York and Geneva. The originally private Mucha museum is now the property of the city of Sakai in greater Osaka.
In 2004, one of my last official travels as Director of the Jewellery Museum led me to Paris once again, coincidentally to a gallery that was situated diagonally opposite from Michel Périnet’s former gallery.
Only a few days after my return, we received an e-mail from New York. Professor Kenneth E. Silver was organising an exhibition for New York’s Jewish Museum, planned to be held in 2005, and entitled “Sarah Bernhardt – The Art of High Drama”. Silver had learned from Michel Périnet that I knew the present whereabouts of the famous piece of jewellery (this is how fast this information was communicated from Paris to New York!), and asked me to establish contacts, if possible. Kazumi Arikawa was called in for assistance, and thanks to his successful negotiations, the piece, which one hundred years before had belonged to the extravagant diva, could be exhibited in America for the first time.
The Jewellery Museum at Reuchlinhaus was inaugurated in 1961. Its 50th anniversary was to be celebrated with a very special exhibition. Cornelie Holzach, the museum’s Director since 2005, asked me to organise and curate the anniversary project together with her and her colleagues. We soon agreed upon focusing on the snake as a jewellery motif. So we started to prepare the exhibition entitled “Serpentina – The Snake in Jewellery Around the World”, which then opened in November 2011.
We had chosen this theme due to the fact that Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum owns several important pieces of snake jewellery, from Hellenistic Greece and from the 19th century, from the Art Nouveau period and from the classical modern era. Serpentina is the name of a fictional character created by E.T.A. Hoffmann in the first half of the 19th century. In his novella entitled “The Golden Pot”, she sometimes appears as a snake and at other times as a young woman.
An exhibition featuring snakes in jewellery would have been unthinkable without Sarah Bernhardt’s bracelet. Once again, Kazumi Arikawa was called in for help. After all, he had managed to achieve that this unique treasure was shown in New York a few years earlier. But even for him, it was not easy to persuade those responsible in Sakai City to allow the piece to be exhibited in Pforzheim as well. We were in agonizing uncertainty almost until the last minute, torn between high hopes and bitter disappointment.
But then it did arrive, just a few days before the exhibition opening, accompanied by two gentlemen from Japan and an assistant from a fine art transportation company. They removed the customs seal from the special case, opened the lid, and then we finally saw the precious piece right before our very eyes. Placed in the showcase by the Japanese themselves (on black velvet, and appropriately spotlighted to underline its uniqueness), Sarah Bernhardt’s bracelet – the most valuable piece of snake jewellery in the world – could be admired, at least for three months, in Pforzheim, where it was undoubtedly the greatest attraction of the “Serpentina” exhibition. But, alas, only for three months. The gentlemen from Japan came back, took the bracelet out of the showcase, put it in a case and sealed it, left the Jewellery Museum and went on their journey back home. The big dream of giving Sarah Bernhardt’s bracelet a permanent home in Pforzheim was shattered back in 1987.
But at least a small dream had come true, i.e. that of being able to admire it every day in a showcase at the Jewellery Museum for several weeks.
Fritz Falk, 2011/2012
Popov’s greatest treasure in the Jewellery Museum’s safe
Pforzheim, 5 March 2009: 20 years ago, the hat of the Russian clown Oleg Popov was exhibited at Pforzheim’s Jewellery Museum. Back then, twelve celebrities had been asked to display one favourite object of theirs, something that had a special meaning for them. In return, a jewellery artist designed a very individual piece of jewellery, a unique piece, for them. All the objects and jewellery creations were displayed on the “Treasure Hill” at the “Ornamenta I – International Exhibition of Contemporary Art Jewellery” show."
Since back then, we have kept Oleg Popov’s favourite object safe at the Jewellery Museum. He had previously worn it every day while touring Germany for several months,” says the museum’s former Director Fritz Falk. Wearing this hat, he visited Oleg Popov at the Russian State Circus. The only difference in the hat that Popov was now wearing, apart from being newer, was the colour of the flower. The hat has obviously remained the clown’s favourite – as can be seen in the photo taken when the museum’s former director visited Popov during a guest performance in Pforzheim in 2009.
Fritz’ passion for camels
Fritz Falk liked camels in any form, whether in the shape of a figurine, a piece of jewellery or a biscuit cutter. So he did not only collect jewellery but camels as well – and one day in summer 2017, brought a Linzer Torte cake decorated with camels for the Jewellery Museum’s team. Because he also liked to bake.
He also gave us the recipe for his Linzer Torte: 125 g flower, 125 g sugar, 125 g almonds, ¼ tsp. cinnamon powder, a small pinch of clove powder, 1 egg, 125 g butter, red currant jam