Four-leaf clovers are considered lucky charms. Or they are trademarks – such as the hallmark of Wiener Silber Manufactur? I grab my black and white WIEN PRODUCTS city map and pay a visit to the silver boutique on Spiegelgasse. There, I ask the nice ladies about the factory and make an appointment. A few days later, I am on my way to Weigelsdorf to a tall, bright factory building that is has been home to the workshop for a few years now.
Art Director Dr. Barbara Kamler-Wild welcomes me and takes me through the individual departments. We pass long sets of shelves housing tidily lined-up molds. Each one of the molds is labelled. I would like to know if it is possible to find the way around here? “Of course,” my guide says with a laugh – “we know our treasures inside out – each piece has a specific number and is part of a series.”
Cutlery from the classic to modern design and hollowware are part of the manufacture’s portfolio. “We place great emphasis on our craftmanship. We are a genuine silversmith’s,” explains Dr. Barbara Kamler-Wild – “we do not cast or press – handcrafting skills and a deep knowledge of materials are what we are looking for. We are very glad to have young, up-and-coming talent on our team,” she tells me as we approach a young woman who works patiently on the prongs of a fork with a piece of sanding paper. Up to this point, the silver – that is “940” silver that tarnishes less easily – has already come a long way. It has been worked into its flat and, later, curved shape using a very old drum built especially for this process. You have to watch carefully that the material has the right thickness in the appropriate places, so that the item works and sits well in the user’s hand. I pick up a blank work piece and realize that such a fork has quite some weight. The young journeywoman tells me about the processes she uses before this processing stage is finished and the fork goes to another colleague. The employees basically work “hand-in-hand” here, everyone has to be able to rely on the quality awareness and reliability of their co-workers.
She loves her profession, she says, because it allows you to see what has been done every day and you can be proud of your work and its results. This is a great attitude – I think it is wonderful that young women are turning to crafts and show interest in old techniques.
Someone puts a sample spoon in my hand. It was designed as part of a cutlery set by Josef Hoffmann, an icon of the Wiener Werkstätte. This round coffee spoon sits in my hand perfectly – the designer has thought of everything, the human hand and its functionality were the basis of the design. I love this piece of silverware – plain and simple, it illustrates the desire to design shown by the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte. Some of them, such as Kolo Moser, Otto Prutscher and, later on, Werkbund architect Oswaldt Haerdtl, designed silverware. And it is also largely thanks to Wiener Silber Manufactur that we are able to buy these designs today.
Wherever I look it feels as if there are a thousand different hammers, files, polishing wheels, tongs and molding tools around. To know how to use them is a challenge. Every worker has his or her own toolbox at the workshop – tidiness is a priority. The tool is the extended hand of the master. Obviously, this helps achieve good results.
Meanwhile, we have passed various departments and have arrived at the galvanization shop, where the silver receives its unique shine or is even gold-plated. Such as the fragile vases by Ted Muehling, a contemporary designer from New York.
“We work with the best designers,” Dr. Kamler-Wild says, summarizing the company’s design strategy. “There are excellent designs by young designers such as Marco Dessi, Alexandre Echasseriau and Tino Valentinitsch and we also bring to life creations by world-famous designers such as Zaha Hadid and Erwin Wurm.”
Last but not least, I can take a closer look at the pieces during the final inspection – this area resembles a treasury. The Fat Car box by Erwin Wurm – the strictly limited edition has already sold out. Collectors were quick to seize the opportunity. Who knows, “ZIZI” by Zerunan and Weisz might be the next must-have item from this factory. This fragile silver box with the pink tutu attracted quite some attention at last year’s Vienna Design Week….
I am interested in what else will be happening this year. At the moment, the final preparations for the ICFF in New York are underway, where Wiener Silber Manufactur is represented on the WIEN PRODUCTS booth every year and uses the opportunity to visit its local partners. This will be followed by a second trip to a design fair in China this year – the Chinese are showing great interest in Viennese craftsmanship. Of course, it is also important to ship all customer orders in time – there is really no shortage of work.
I thank my helpful guide for all the information and bid goodbye to her and the silversmiths. I am already excited about the new designs – the quality of the silverware is definitely worth a walk to the Wiener Silber Manufactur shop on Spiegelgasse.