Johanna Gauder is a classically trained Goldsmith with an eye for contemporary elegance. From taking classes in copper forging during her time at a Waldorf school at the age of 15, to an apprenticeship with a Goldsmith, Johanna allows her experiences to shape her namesake brand: A jewellery label that invites us to reinvest in the pieces that lie so close to our physical being throughout the every day. Johanna’s trained eye touches each of her designs, whether modelling silver tampons in collaboration with the Berlin-based design duo Richert Beil or putting the finishing touches to a bespoke wedding ring.
aware_ sat down with the Berlin-based designer to understand the dedication of a Goldsmith working with recycled metals in today’s climate and how her varied experiences have paved the way for her ultimate vocation.
Can you remember the moment when your passion for jewellery was first ignited?
Since I was young, I can distinctly remember being interested in it. When I was a child, I started making my own jewellery out of this very cheap wire, crafting compositions for my mum.
When I was 15 I took part in a copper forging class. This was my first experience of transforming metal. Then it changed from copper to silver a year later and I made my first ring. I was really into hand-crafting in general, and interested in the techniques used to shape metal.
What motivated you to establish your namesake brand?
Whilst studying product design for 6 years it was never my plan to become a jewellery designer. I was spending time at the Goldsmith’s, not making my own pieces, but always assisting. For my diploma thesis at the end of my product design studies, the brief was “jewellery”, and I created a conceptual piece, a huge object that “dressed” the room.
After graduating I realised I wanted to create pieces that lay closer to the body. That`s when I started with Collection #1. I began working step by step, I had no projection for the years to come, it was an organic process building up over time. Gradually and also through the joy this has brought to me, it became clearer that it was my main vocation.
Where do you look for inspiration?
When I make a new design, it’s an extensive observation of what works with the metal. It’s all about experimentation, depending on which technique you use, it changes the characteristics of the piece. I’m inspired by watching the behaviour of the metal, I’m inspired by the material and the process itself.
I absorb a lot of my environment, not necessarily consciously, but it will shape how I move my hands with the metal.
Sustainability and recycling are at the core of your brand. Can you tell us about your sourcing process?
I buy the precious metals from a refinery in the south of Germany. They recycle gold, silver and precious metals from other goldsmiths and the metalworking industry. It’s a very labour-intensive process. For me, it’s important to buy the metals from a place I trust, where I can trace the metal back to the recycling factory, where they have strict certifications. I also send my offcuts back to the factory, it’s a circular system.
Could you talk us through the process of creating a piece?
Of course, it depends on which piece. Looking closer to the hand-forged pieces from Collection #4, I used my hammer to observe how it met the metal and the effect it left.
For example, with bespoke rings, I can meet the needs of the wearer, which for a piece as significant as a wedding ring is important. With the hammering technique, I can determine exactly how structured or “organic” the shape of the ring will be. After the forging process, it’s a lot of sanding, polishing, this takes up a big part of my working day, it’s a very time-intensive process. The craft is “basic”, it’s all in the detail.
Do you ever feel limited by choosing to work with recycled metals?
No, working with recycled metals doesn’t present any limitations. But those who make up the supply chain within jewellery are not prepared for the sustainability movement. For example, where I source the add-ons for the pieces, the back of an earring, smaller clasps, those places don’t offer them in a recycled form. I hope this will change in time, that there will be an increase in demand for a more considered approach. There is still a lot to do.
How do you see the future of sustainability within the jewellery industry in a wider sense?
Compared to 10-15 years ago, I can see that something is happening, customers are asking questions, they are interested in how it is made and where the materials I work with come from, particularly when it comes to stones or diamonds. It’s probably not like the awareness around fast fashion but gradually the ethics of the jewellery industry is increasingly being spoken about.
I want to offer well-made, timeless products, a piece that isn’t seen as a temporary fashion accessory but a piece that can be worn for life. Pieces that people wear for years, maybe even pass down to their children.
That’s an exciting indication from your customers that things are changing. Looking towards the future, what’s on the horizon for Johanna Gauder?
The jewellery is currently at a showroom in Tokyo as part of the DACH Showroom. It will be really interesting to see if my pieces will resonate with a different audience, see how the Japanese buyer reacts and potentially open an exciting new market for the brand.
Interview by Eliza Edwards