In the 14th of the series of Sofa Chats, Award-Winning Goldsmith Sabine Roemer in conversation with Anke Summerhill about how she become a jewellery artist, her favourite piece and her meetings with Nelson Mandela and Morgan Freeman.
Sabine is an award-winning jewellery designer, goldsmith and silversmith who, in addition to her own brands, has worked with the world’s top jewellery, fashion and couture houses.
German-born Sabine fell in love with her vocation at the age of fifteen. Now London-based, Sabine was among the youngest female masters to graduate from Germany’s prestigious Pforzheim Goldsmith and Watchmaking School honing her skills from designing and metalworking to stone cutting and setting.
She then moved to London, where she cut her teeth at the top Bond Street Jewellers and Place Vendôme maisons, who quickly tapped into her talent and classical training.
Hit the play button below to watch the full conversation, or read the full transcript below:
Anke Summerhill: I’m Anke Summerhill from Minotti London, and today for the Minotti Sofa Chat, I have the lovely Sabine Roemer here. Sabine is a person I’ve admired for a long time, or more to the point, I really admire her jewellery.
It’s big time on my wishlist. Sabine is a master goldsmith, not just a goldsmith. Welcome, Sabine. Thank you for coming.
Sabine Roemer: Thank you for having me.
Anke: I’m really happy to have you here. Now, tell me, I know you had this wish of becoming a goldsmith, or a jewellery maker I guess, from a very young age. How did it happen? What made you want to be one?
Sabine: Yeah. It was actually funny. When I was little… I grew up in a very small town in Germany. It’s called Karlsruhe. It’s set in the Black Forest, and it was really lovely, but I couldn’t feel like I expressed myself there. I obviously wanted to be a fashion designer.
Then my grandmother, she was very, very tall for her generation, so she was like, “Okay. Let’s sit down. I show you how to do the pattern, and another pattern, and another pattern,” and I got so bored so quick. I was like, “This is not for me.” I couldn’t stitch a straight line, and I was like, “This is not my work.”
Anke: Not your passion.
Sabine: Then my mom was an architect, so she kind of fixed her houses. Every time she was finished, we moved again. I think, kind of, she always took me. I have two brothers.
Sabine: But she always felt like I was better with the hands and doing things quicker, so she took me on. Then she was like, “Well, if it’s design.” Then we had to do a work experience in school for weeks or five days going somewhere just see if we like it or not.
Then I arrived there the first day, and he showed me all the tools. He’s like, “Sketch something up, and by the end of the week you’ll probably have one piece done, and you can take it home.” I mean, I finished that first piece on the first day. I did six pieces in five days, and I was like, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Anke: So love at first sight, once you tasted a little bit of it.
Sabine: Yeah, and just the workshop and the tools, and it felt like I can stitch… I couldn’t stitch a straight line, but I could saw a straight line. The metal was more my medium. Fabric was fluid, and I couldn’t handle it properly. So for me definitely metal was, I found my medium in that sense.
Anke: Was your thing, yeah. We have to ask you to talk through the jewellery you’re wearing today.
Anke: Because I noticed, I can’t help, I know about that ring-
Sabine: Oh, yeah, and it’s probably really noisy. I’m sorry.
Anke: But tell us the story about the beautiful ring. What’s it called?
Sabine: Well, it’s the Camel Ring.
Anke: Taking it off?
Sabine: Yes. It kind of stuck, getting warm in the… I love this ring. First of all, it’s one of the first pieces I’ve done when I launched in Harrods. That was 2010, so a long time ago.
Why I like it, is it has so many different techniques in one piece. First is the sculpting and the moulding start to actually wax, and you carve the animal. It’s not perfect, but it’s nice because our faces are not perfect. When you do it on the-
Anke: I don’t know.
Sabine: Talk for yourself.
Anke: What are you saying?
Sabine: There’s a symmetry there, but because it’s with hand and hand has a human error, but it’s the beauty of it.
Sabine: Yes, you can do this with computer images. You can scan, you can duplicate it, you can mirror it, but then it looks like a computer spit it out. So this hand sculpting piece I think is very beautiful to me.
Anke: And incredibly skilful as well, because it is tiny it’s a very, very small piece.
Anke: So you’re a sculptor, you have so many skills. Do you find people these days, because it’s quite a consumer society we live in. People buy, throw away. That now when people do go for quality and bespoke pieces, that the story is… Yeah, the authenticity and what’s behind it.
How it’s made, and who’s made it, also your story. That people say, “Oh, I have a Sabine Roemer piece.”
Sabine: Yeah. It’s so different, because every Sabine Roemer piece will be different, because this person is different. But the one thing they have all in common is my hand signature.
I always say, because people with jewellery, can’t capture the concept of it. I always say to them, “Okay, you put three artists with a painter with the same stencils in front of a tree, and they draw that. They will always look different, because everyone put their hand signature into it.”
Sabine: Or like you have your signature, right? You might not be reading the label, but you’re like, “Okay, that’s Minotti.”
Sabine: It can be a chair, so it’s the same with jewellery. It might be earrings. It might be a ring. You can see it’s me, even if some are very architectural and some are very ornate. I think you can the difference.
Anke: Yes. You mentioned earlier that when people ask you what’s your favourite piece, and you will say, “It’s my next piece.” But is there anything you’ve made in your career so far that stands out for you?
That you have fond memories of, or are particularly proud of, or maybe it was a very, very special person, or I don’t know.
Sabine: Well, I think it’s probably the timelines. I always say maybe you thought you were going to be there, but then this happened, and it put you on a different path. I think for one was meeting Nelson Mandela, working with him.
Anke: That’s a pretty big highlight.
Sabine: Yes. And I felt it drove me from my jewellery skills, the goldsmithing skills into the silversmithing skills. When I met him, I’m like, “I can’t make a jewellery piece with his history,” and I didn’t want to do the bling out, and he can’t even wear it on top.
So before I went to South Africa, I read all the books I could find. I was like, “Okay, let’s see where this goes.” He loves boxing.
Anke: Does he?
Sabine: He was a boxer before he then turned into law and politics. When I went to him, I was like, “Okay, I don’t know if I want to do a boxing glove, particularly gold or diamond encrusted. I leave that to someone else. Then the story, I was really captured by the story with Enugu cattle.
Because for them it was food, it was wealth. He grew up in a little hut. He always calls it the mystical attachment in the Long Walk to Freedom book. So we chose that symbol. Then I silversmithed it, because it was too big that you call it goldsmithing. So it was like a mini sculpture, and then we framed it.
Then we auctioned it off on his birthday for his charity. That kind of changed my life, because at the same time I was working and got mentored by a lot of people who tried to drag me into this other box of like brand and duplicate, and running and managing a company, and finding jewellery designers who work for you, makers who work for you.
I was like, “I’m getting so removed from what I actually wanted to become.” I think with him as well, it kind of changed my thought. I’m like, “I’d rather do, if it’s 10 pieces and they’re meaningful, a year. I prefer that instead of doing millions, and it’s one design.” So I think that was for me a big path.
Anke: Okay. Tell me what happens with the Oscars?
Sabine: Yes. Through the Mandela concerts and stuff, I got in touch with Morgan Freeman and all the team there, and he was up for an award. So I was lucky to create a piece for him. When I was speaking to him, I was like, “The obvious choice is to make a diamond across a bow that everyone sees and talks about.”
I’m like, “That’s not what it’s about.” So I was like, “I wanted to put the story on the red carpet, how we met.” We met through Madiba. That year, he was nominated for Invictus, where he played the role of Nelson Mandela. So we created these bangles, at the time which was sold through the charity. It has the prison number on there, so it’s 46664.
We made two one-of-a-kind pieces, which he then wore at the Oscars on the red carpet, and he talked about it. Yeah, it was a very special moment.
Again, I was like, “Auction them off to his charity.” Again, for me, it was the storytelling. There’s more than just a jewellery piece on the red carpet.
Anke: Sabine, so not only are you a great designer, but you’re also a businesswoman, obviously. You’re running your own business doing your bespoke jewellery, doing what I call your everyday jewellery. And you’re doing it more or less by yourself, so you’re a little entrepreneur.
Anke: Tell us about the ups and downs of running your own business.
Sabine: More downs.
Anke: Because that’s very challenging. There are no downs.
Anke: Also obviously during COVID, you had your creative moment. We’ll come back to that.
Anke: But the business side is a big part really too.
Sabine: I think because I have to say the German system probably prepared me for that a little bit. I think when you are just doing your design degree, I mean, I don’t know, but in Germany, we had like 16 subjects.
I was like, “Oh, I just wanted to learn how to sketch and to draw and to make.” Then you walk up there, and they’re like, “Oh, this is the law side. This is how you do calculations. Because if you calculate and you’re off by 10 pounds, it’s okay. But 10 pounds per gramme can get expensive,” you know?
Anke: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Sabine: So I think they actually prepared me quite well, especially the Master’s degree.
Anke: For the business side, yes.
Sabine: In Germany, you were only at the time, now I think it changed. I haven’t been there for a long time, but they prepared you with your Master’s degree that you are then allowed to open a shop. So you learn all the kind of-
Anke: So they make sure you’re really well prepared.
Anke: That you don’t open a shop just because you’re a good designer-
Sabine: And you’re like, “Oh, let’s see.”
Anke: … and then have no idea of what to charge.
Sabine: Yeah, exactly.
Sabine: So I think that was very helpful. Then obviously it’s a lot of learning by doing, especially in a different country. But then I have to say, then you just have to go and bite the bullet and find an accountant who does the accounts for you. I’m not going to sit there and-
Sabine: What he does in half an hour, it probably takes me three weeks. You know?
Sabine: There are certain things you have to outsource.
Anke: Delegate, yeah.
Sabine: I mean, bless him. He’s been with me from the beginning.
Anke: So he actually-
Sabine: I always just give him a box of like, “This is Atelier Romy, these are the receipts, here.” Then he does his thing.
Then obviously when you employ people, you have to have certain things that you learn, and there are different regulations and rules. I think I slowly grew into the role and running a company. In Sabine Roemer, it’s just me like in the high jewellery.
Sabine: Yes. I felt like when I launched in Harrods, and it kind of grew too quickly, that you needed like a sales representative, a press person. Quite frankly, I’m like the press always wanted to talk to me anyway.
Anke: Exactly, yeah.
Sabine: In the end, I was like, “Why do I have this person when I end up doing my emails as well anyway?” So yeah, in the end, it’s just me. No else to blame.
Anke: So you’re keeping the Superwoman Ring for yourself.
Sabine: Yeah, for myself.
Anke: Exactly. During the lockdown, you had time you couldn’t travel, you were stuck at home. So you could lock yourself into your workshop. Did anything amazing come out?
Sabine: Yes. I mean had two challenges. The one business, Atelier Romy, which you call everyday jewellery.
Anke: Yeah. I call it your everyday, easy, not the other stuff you can’t wear every day.
Sabine: No, no. I wanted to always create a brand, because obviously, this stuff comes with a different price tag. I think my mom turned 60, and me and my brothers, we were like, “Okay, let’s just chip in, but let’s buy her something nice.”
I remember we were living next to a Harrods. I was like, “Let’s walk into the jeweller,” and what could you actually buy 300, 600 pounds let’s name it. But what can you buy that you will actually treasure forever? I was like, there’s nothing.
There’s obviously, I don’t know names again, but there’s a lot of sterling silver brands, which then at least you have precious metal. It’s not the brass, gold plated, which breaks.
And then you can throw it in the bin because you can’t repair it. I think that’s the big difference, which fashion companies are picking up now slowly as well. They’re starting to do sterling silver, gold plated and not overpriced. Brass, gold plated, which you can put in the bin.
Anke: Sabine, I also know that you’ve been working on your home recently?
Anke: Just briefly touch on, being in interior design and architectural business, tell me what’s your style at home?
Sabine: I think I realised when you start from scratch, it’s worth investing into that one furniture piece you love, because it will make a room. But if you have these timeless pieces, they don’t overpower either.
Sabine: Like they’re subtle statements. It’s not like you walk in and you’re like, “Oh, there’s like green velvet.”
Anke: It’s not in your face.
Sabine: Yeah. So fun, you see it. And it’s a skill to put black, grey, off-whites together, that it actually works. It was another thing where I was like, “Oh my God.” I thought you just plumped them together and it works.
Anke: Is there-
Sabine: It’s all about proportions and depth, and the off-white. We painted all the, I think this is all off-white as well, right? It’s not white, and all our walls are-
Anke: There are so many shades of white. There are so many shades of black. It’s unbelievable. Yeah.
Sabine: Yeah. And all of a sudden, the ceiling has this colour and this, and I got really into it.
Anke: You got carried away.
Sabine: Yes. And now it’s like-
Anke: Are you happy with the result, now you’re coming towards the end?
Sabine: Yeah, I mean it’s still not done. We’re getting there, but I felt, and then you don’t want to do the obvious design. Which you then blast over Instagram, and then it disappears in a year’s time. I felt I was more drawn, yeah, Minotti and other brands where they’re more like-
Sabine: Timeless design classics, you know?
Anke: Like your jewellery, forever.
Anke: Or for a long time at least.
Sabine: For me, it was then the art can speak. They can be a bit noisy.
Anke: Exactly, yeah.
Sabine: Have I mean not too much colour, but a little bit of-
Anke: Some colour.
Sabine: Some colour, and then an art statement, and that thing can speak for itself.
Anke: Sabine, it’s been so nice having you here. I love it, love your work, love you. So thank you very much.
Sabine: Thank you for having me. Yeah, thank you for making me part of this, and I love all your stuff as well. The nice big box.
Anke: Thank you.
Sabine: With shades of greys and whites and blacks.
Anke: Yeah. Yes, thank you so much.
Sabine: Thank you.
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