In an exclusive interview Roberto Stern, the president, creative director and son of the founder of Brazilian jeweler H. Stern, explains his passion for collaborating on designs and talks of his latest collection made with Oscar Niemeyer.
Linhameyer: A Song to Honor the H.Stern by Oscar Niemeyer Collection
Brazilian musicians Carlinhos Brown and George Israel composed a song to honor the launch of the H.Stern by Oscar Niemeyer Collection. Titled Linhameyer (a blending of Niemeyer’s name with the word Linha – Line, in Portuguese), the song speaks of the sinuous lines in the architect’s drawings. Linhemeyer is the soundtrack to this video on the collaboration which animates Niemeyer’s signature sketches.
Where did the idea to collaborate with Oscar Niemeyer come from?
A friend of mine asked, ‘why have you not done anything with Oscar Niemeyer,’ and I told him, ‘I don’t know, it’s a good idea.’ Simple, like that. So I went to his office and knocked on his door, his wife was there and I said I want to speak with Oscar Niemeyer – he was just there – and I said I want to do a jewelry collection with you and he said fine let’s do it.
Very simple, I didn’t know him or if he wanted to do it, so I just asked. I took some time to see how I would do it. I came back to him and I said I don’t know where to start because the buildings are very massive and there’s a lot of concrete. I don’t know how to translate it to jewelry. He said ‘I’m not an architect; I am a designer so look at my drawings. From my drawings you will get inspiration.’ So I went to his archives and chose randomly some drawings I liked, without purpose, not thinking of a building, not jewelry, just how I found it.
His drawings are very fluid, very light, and very organic. So I said I am going to do something very light, which will not look like concrete. I explained to him the concept and he said ‘yes, we have to do something beautiful. As long as it is beautiful I will approve it.’
We took the drawings and through his drawings, the lines, we did the jewelry, which is a little bit organic, not straight lines just pieces of his drawings. And we got back to him with the drawings in a bigger size because his eyesight is not that good although he is very sharp, so he approved the drawings and then we did the prototypes, he approved the prototypes, and then we did the jewelry. It was a one-year process. And if you see the jewelry, it’s minimalist in a positive sense, it’s not pretentious; its very light, it’s very fluid and so modern.
Was it a challenge for your regular designers who make the prototypes to work with these new shapes?
Working with perfection is already the way we are used to working so technically it was not a challenge; the challenge was how to start the idea, how to work with Oscar Niemeyer in a different way, how to make them look light and not like a building. This is what really was a challenge. If you look at the jewelry it does look very light and not architectural even though it came from an architect.
It is the opposite of architectural; it’s very poetic and soft.
He is a poet. He writes a lot. He writes a lot before he does a project. He wrote the poem of a curve. He writes essays before he starts drawing. He’s like a poet and writer. And he starts with a light draft, a drawing. He smokes a lot, too. And he said the secret of a long life is that he loves women a lot as well.
What did you learn about the process of collaboration by working with him?
Each collaboration is different. We did one with Campana Brothers and Diane von Furstenberg, among others. It forces me to think out of the box and to have a different methodology of creation. As we design the jewelry ourselves, we don’t ask them to design the jewelry for us, we give them an input and we get their input, so we gain a step up higher after each collaboration; and, it changes our method of creation.
So it actually changes your business a little.
Yes, the collaboration allows us to avoid repeating ourselves; it incorporates a new way to see things. With the Campana Brothers, I learned how to see a city that is ugly, in a beautiful way. And with Oscar Niemeyer, I learned how to see the curves he does in a non-geometrical way, in a light way, like his designs. I don’t see it as concrete. And the idea of working with the sketch was also a great idea that I had never done before. So each time is different. The diversity of the people who work and the diversity of the matter make the collaborations and make our projects very interesting. And we keep our style in each collection we do.
Which piece do you think is the greatest success in this collection?
The piece that people like most 9 out of 10 is the Copan bracelet. The piece I like most is the simple pair of earrings, the Sketch earrings, which came out of a church design.
In general, what values did you learn from your father about the jewellery business?
My father was very much focused on the stone. For him the whole jewellery was around the stone. The design was much more like a frame for the stone, a setting. He didn’t care so much about design. So in the 1990s, I decided to add another level to H. Stern, to become also known as a design house. I started to concentrate my efforts on design, so today we are known for the stones and also for being very innovative and creative in design, with just gold or crystal whatever.
I read you source most of stones in Brazil, where H. Stern in based.
It used to be the core of the business, it’s not anymore, just part of the business; the business grew on top of that. Now we have very much the design element on top of it, we still have the sources of the best stones and when we have a very rare and huge stone we don’t do much design around, we keep it very simple. But now we have another level to the company, which is the design element.