Weiner Werkstatte

Jewellery of the Vienna Workshop

The Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop) was founded in 1903 by designers Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser. They had been inspired by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the British Arts & Crafts movement and its aim to restore traditional handicrafts in an increasingly industrialized world.

They wished to supply the growing middle classes with well-designed items which were “gesamtkunstwerk” – total works of art – where art, design and craft came together in a single object. The workshop was based on Charles Robert Ashbee’s Guild of Handicrafts.
Initially, Werkstätte-designed pieces tended to be rectilinear in style. After about 1915, until the workshop closed in 1932, designs tended to be more organic.

Members of the Werkstätte, principally Hoffmann and Dagobert Peche, designed jerwellery from c.1904 to c.1920. Each piece was handmade by an expert craftsman and, as the design was seen as superior to the materials used, pieces could be made from fabric, beads, wood, ivory or bone. Metal jewellery – settings might be gold, silver or silver gilt – were usually decorated with multi-coloured enamels or semi-precious stones, coral or pearls.

The movement’s jewellery has no unified style. Hoffman designed symmetrical pieces, often featuring openwork and stylized plants set with semi-precious stones, mother of pearl or coral. Peche decorated his pieces with motifs, including whiplash vines and stylized trees.

Wiener Werkstätte jewellery was described by one commentator as having “an angular, geometric and square beauty”.

Other Werkstätte jewellery designers included Felice Rix, Max Suischek and Jacqueline Lillie. They designed sautoirs featuring a beaded tube decorated with “Vienna beads” – papier mâché balls covered with yet more beads.