Perhaps best known for inspiring a bold strand of Art Deco design, Theodor Fahrner is still celebrated today as one of the most successful European costume jewellery designers of the early 20th Century. Now, we know a lot of people might be put off by the word ‘costume’ for the simple fact it evokes inexpensive materials and imitation gems. However, you shouldn’t be too hasty to dismiss this designer – at least not before you’ve heard his story and seen his stunning and affordable creations.
Business began in 1855 in the forested town of Pforzheim, Germany, when Theodor Fahrner Sr. and Georg Seeger co-founded a jewellery house under the appellation: ‘Seeger and Fahrner’. It was Fahrner Sr.’s son, Theodor Fahrner Jr. who – having already specialised in steel engraving at Pforzheim Art Academy – was proven to possess the artistic flair that has since made the company so popular around the world. In fact, he took over his father’s company in 1883, after he died, and immediately began to make his mark with a series of stylistic changes.
Enamel Smoky Topaz, Lapis, Turquoise and Silver Bracelet
In the past, when Fahrner Sr. was in charge, fine rings had been the staple item in their jewellery collection. Then came the sudden decline of Historicism, as less and less people showed interest in the aesthetics of antiquity and turned instead to flourishing new styles that would come to pervade the 19th Century. Fahrner Jr. was part of this budding movement, compelled to seek out fresh design trends and to align with the freelance artists, painters, sculptors and architects of that period. The modernist creations that came about as a result of this paradigm shift began to elevate, in many ways, the artistic quality of mechanically made jewellery. The company had taken a turn in a progressive and bold direction, employing artists from Darmstadt, Munich, Berlin and Stuttgart, as well as local designers from Pforzheim and other cities around Germany, gaining numerous patents, whilst also flooding the market with fine ‘designer jewellery’.
Although Fahrner embraced the idea of ‘wearable art’, he also decided to distance their aesthetic from the common manifestations of French, botanical Art Nouveau, in favour of Jugendstil and classic Celtic revivals. Then Fahrner’s son, Theodor took over in 1883 and continued the family business. In fact, he was so successful that he was actually awarded a medal at the Paris Exposition in 1900 and commended for proving that steel was not only a cheap material, but also one with infinite artistic value.
Silver Marcasite Gecko
From 1900-1919 the company used its esteem to enhance the reputations of the designers Georg Kleeman and Joseph Maria Olbrich. Over time, the artistry of jewellery was being considered increasingly more and more important. At the same time Fahrner’s son, Theodor, was using cheap adorning materials like silver, enamel and semi-precious stones, from Marcasite to Chalcedony.
As a result, the company came to represent affordable and considerate artistry. Unfortunately, Theodor Fahrner, who’d remained as a kind of creative advisor, died in 1919, after which the company was bought by Gustav Braendle. It was at this point that the first Art Deco collection was revealed, replete with intricate geometric designs that epitomised the popular styles of the early 1920s. This went on for over half a century, until, sadly, the company closed in 1979.