Picture: Loukia Richards, 2018: The Jeweller’s Hell_Credit: Christoph Ziegler
Jewelry Week of Munich Faces Challenges
Europe’s Top Jewelry Event Seeks to Stay Independent
By Loukia Richards
While Germany’s vice chancellor claims the “fat years are over,” Munich’s jewelry scene wonders if this year’s slowdown should be attributed to temporary consumer fears or reflects an imminent market problem that needs to be addressed. Loukia Richards, an artist, curator, and journalist who was a Herbert Hofmann Prize nominee in 2017, has co-curated five group shows during Schmuckwoche München (2015–2019). The last one, The Sacred & The Profane, was funded by the city of Munich. She reports on the 2019 Jewelry Week of Munich—there are very particular reasons to call it by this name, as you’ll learn—and offers potential improvements.
A few days after Schmuckwoche München (the Jewelry Week of Munich) ended, Zurich’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung newspaper predicted a worldwide economic recession within the next two years. The gloomy statement was followed by Germany’s vice chancellor Olaf Scholz’s renewed warning that the “fat years” of state budget surplus are over, acknowledging that neither the taxpayer base nor the demand for consumer goods and services is increasing.
At this year’s Schmuckwoche, the drop in the number of visitors and the reduction of Jewelry Week to five days from last year’s seven was a topic of discussion among exhibitors. The lobby at the Pinakothek der Moderne’s Friday opening was half full this year, although no admission was charged and the wine was free. The evening stood in sharp contrast to the crowds of outsiders besieging the same lobby packed with guests two years earlier.
Although exhibitors state that participating in the Jewelry Week of Munich is an enriching experience, when asked how they evaluate networking, promotion of work, connecting with new customers, and sales, they mostly admitted that neither the affluent Munich public nor the local press show any interest in the event. A column in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung was the exception.
“I have the feeling that the week of jewelry in Munich is a bubble,” a local jewelry dealer told me. The dealer, who requested anonymity, hosts jewelry art shows during Schmuckwoche in her posh downtown venue. She did not expect to make any sales during the event.
It’s the economy, be lucid!
Cost-benefit analysis lies at the very heart of neoclassical or market-oriented economics. It assumes that each individual makes rational decisions and judges the results of her/his economic actions by how much they cost and how much they return. Sooner or later, if predictions of an economic slowdown prevail, designers investing in fares, accommodations, gallery rentals, and advertising fees to attend or show their work at the Jewelry Week of Munich will have to calculate in numbers the event’s profitability.
“I’ve exhibited at the Handwerk und Design fair every year since 2010,” a Munich jewelry artist said. “This year we paid the same price for the stand for a reduced number of days. My stand is always in the same hall with the special shows (Exempla, Schmuck, Talente, Meister der Moderne). This year, jewelry art professionals and gallerists who used to visit the fair did not come. There were times during the day when the halls were completely empty. For the past few years, the city-wide events held [during Jewelry Week of Munich] have competed more and more with the artists who pay a lot of money to get a stand in the fair. Up to now, most fair artists didn’t care, or even considered this development a plus: the whole world comes to Munich—wow! But now we know the deal; everyone who has a few square meters to rent keeps them free for the occasion and makes a huge profit from it,” the mid-career artist added, requesting not to be named.
The death of business-as-usual and its resurrection as the intensively customized approach
In a headline, the German business magazine Markt und Mittelstand underscored the plight of many small and medium German enterprises in its March 2019 issue: “More cooperative, more digital, and more certain to meet clients.”
The headline reflects the way the fairs that wish to remain in business have to go. Last year, the prestigious Karlsruhe Design Fair Eunique shut down after 23 years of operation, while Germany’s IT pride Cebit said goodbye shortly before its 50th birthday. According to the Markt und Mittelstand review, fair visitors demand more infotainment, more content and context, more customized approaches, more digital marketing tools.
Munich designers and curators gave the following explanations for why interest in the jewelry world’s major event is fading:
Too many events, shows, and fairs at the same time in Munich which have a more successful communication policy than Schmuckwoche and its city events
Bad communication strategy: no posters, no leaflets, no advertisements in the local press, no local radio announcements, no contact yes: outreachto the Munich bloggers’ scene make it difficult for potential customers outside the jewelry scene to find their way to the shows
An up to 100% increase in prices for lodging in Munich during Schmuckwoche
An aggressive marketing strategy by other cheaper jewelry events in lower-cost countries which, via unauthorized references, pretend to be on equal standing with the 60-year-old Schmuck
The absence of a distinctive narrative, curatorial concept, or theme which may attract buyers from related branches such as fine art, fashion, or design
Last but not least, the arbitrary patronizing of Schmuckwoche by nonlocals, unfamiliar with the strong local identity, business customs, and art and design traditions which make the richest city of Germany a very distinct cultural destination
How Schmuckwoche was born: How Munich Jewelelry Week was born
Fifteen years ago, Munich’s Chamber of Crafts (Handwerkskammer) started to publish a map/booklet including the galleries and events of independent makers and jewelry artists who were presenting their own shows in Munich parallel to the IHW Fair Schmuck and its highly reputable Herbert Hofmann prize. Eva Sarnowski, co-organizer of Schmuck, said, “The IHW Schmuck fair organizers cover the cost of printing this map/booklet and distributing it. It is free of charge to place your event in this map and you need buy no magazine to get it.”
In the mid 2010s, the Dutch magazine Current Obsession trademarked the name Munich Jewellery Week, which is the English translation for Schmuckwoche München—as the event is called by every German-speaking jewelry artist—and began distributing an event map. Any exhibitor may place an ad by paying a fee. To artists and visitors not familiar with Schmuckwoche München, Current Obsession appears to have founded the event week.
Schmuckwoche should remain a collective, nonprofit event
“It’s a hostile takeover,” jewelry artist and curator Unk Kraus said. Kraus sits on the board of Handwerkverein Munich, the Association of the Crafts. He explained, “Munich Jewellery Week undermines the longtime efforts of the local initiatives and puts them in the shade.”
This “hostile takeover” is a very hot topic of discussion in the Munich jewelry scene. Munich Jewellery Week, alias Current Obsession, is heavily criticized for taking credit for the work of other people and for giving the jewelry week a direction that’s “faster, easier, hipster” (as an interviewee put it) and not necessarily compatible with the desires of the local jewelry scene and state agencies. German jewelry artists are not happy that their own collective, nonprofit efforts over the years have turned into a lucrative business activity by Current Obsession.
Let’s not forget that Munich is a German city, very proud of its local traditions and with highly reputable art institutions and academia. German artists call the event Schmuckwoche, the Jewelry Week (of Munich), to distinguish it from the private profitable enterprise that is the Current Obsession event. By calling it Schmuckwoche, they do not exclude anybody. On the contrary, there are German institutions and artists who do not wish to place an advertisement for their event in Current Obsession’s map—for all the above reasons.
I would also like to emphasize that it’s impossible for a foreign designer or artist who doesn’t speak the language to know these details; I didn’t know them either before I discussed the issue extensively with the Schmuck special show organizers and other fellow artists. It is this ignorance that makes artists (myself included) vulnerable. But ignorance can be cured with facts and information.
But it’s not only credit that’s at stake. Many artists’ initiatives in Germany have opposed the reduction of the city to a stage for events since the early 2000s. Artist and curator Christoph Ziegler, co-founder of the independent ZLR Jewellery Awards 2019, summed up the feeling many German designers and jewelry artists share.
“Stadt als Beute/City as Loot is the title of a René Pollesch theater piece of 2001. City as Loot means that the city as a specific social, cultural, and historical unity is more and more transformed into a stage/playground for—local or non-local—events that focus on quick commercial profit and exploitation rather than on a slow process of creating a sustainable urban environment. The idea is: How can I make more profit out of a special feature, as long it is profitable? And if it is no longer profitable, then I change the city,” Ziegler said.
Rethinking jewelry tactics
The loss of consumers’ power and the heavy taxation of the middle class; the concerns of many Europeans that the economic and identity crisis (rise of populism/nationalism) YES!may escalate into social conflict; the uncertainty regarding the upcoming elections in East Germany and the European Parliament; the threat of a trade war between the US, the EU, and China; and the chaotic conditions of an unfriendly Brexit are the main reasons why customers are reluctant to buy jewelry art—a luxury good, not needed urgently for daily use—even if they have money.
Following the same presentation strategy, targeting the same customers, supplying through the same channels, promoting through the same agents, using the same concepts, styling, and slogans all have to be reviewed or even abandoned if they don’t move us forward. Expensive events should at least try to generate income and professional opportunities for all participants—not just illusions for the many and unethical profit for the few.
I strongly believe that every one of us who wishes to actively contribute and co-shape Europe’s major meeting event for jewelry art should forge alliances with colleagues with the goal of creating:
A network of jewelry shows with a common communication strategy targeting a clientele with purchasing power
Individualized tours for selected guests via all-night-long opening hours (these Lange Nächte, as they’re called in German, are very popular in the art scene of Europe), special previews or group discussions, and jewelry art educational campaigns
More politics- and social-issues-oriented shows instead of fashionable slogans void of meaning
More active protection of copyright against malevolent abusers
The alchemist’s list for overcoming Schmuckwoche’s crisis might be longer. We need to experiment with tactics taken from the real market and overcome the bubble syndrome. The problem will become still more evident next year if the prognosis of tougher times ahead becomes reality. Jewelry designers must understand that forgetting the cost-benefit analysis might be fatal for their business in the bearish years to come.