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Barbara Heinrich


Barbara Heinrich (????-) According to an article published by Ganoksin and drawn from Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist Magazine, a Grimm’s fairytale inspired Barbara Heinrich’s early jewelry. In the story, an orphan gives her clothes to a shivering beggar and bread to a starving man. When she herself is lost in the woods, cold and hungry, she begins to pray. Suddenly, stars from the Milky Way drop at her feet in a pile of gold dollars. This story inspired Heinrich to use gold coins with hammered edges in one of her first creations.

“Most of my work comes from being one with the One, she says. “My pieces are organic, flowing endlessly from an infinite source.”

Barbara Heinrich was born in Heilbronn, Germany and grew up in the vineyards of her family’s winery. As a child, she began her love of jewelry by collecting pods, snail shells, and broken glass that she would make into necklaces.

As she grew older, Heinrich’s dream was to sell her jewelry in the United States. Her parents recognized her talent and enrolled their daughter in a four-year apprenticeship at Pestalozzi Kinderdorf Wahlwies, on Lake Constance, in southern Germany.

The School’s apprentices learned and worked in absolute silence imposed by instructor Rudolph Steiner’s holistic philosophy of jewelry making. He taught that nature was the jeweler’s muse and silence was necessary for the piece to speak and guide the designs.

Barbara’s next apprenticeship was at the Pforzheim Academy where she earned an MFA in jewelry and hollowware and two scholarships. The first scholarship gave her the opportunity to study in London and altered her work, but the second, a $20,000 Rotary scholarship to study at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), re-directed her life.

In 1983, Heinrich gathered her jewelry tools and traveled to Rochester. Her years at RIT produced new gold work as well as a second MFA. With these experiences behind her, Heinrich felt she was ready to test her skills in the gallery network and the craft show exhibitions near Rochester. After she married in 1986, she created a studio in the home she shared with her husband.

While she studied and apprenticed, Heinrich had used wood and anodized aluminum to make avant-garde head jewelry, light jewelry, and decorative jewelry for performance pieces that featured nude models. While these were well received critically, they reached a limited audience.

In her studio, Heinrich began to focus on creating classically proportioned gold jewelry with a contemporary look using traditional techniques. The market responded quickly to her new designs and, in 1989, she established the Barbara Heinrich Studio, LLC, in her home. It took 80-hour weeks to produce the line that bore the Studio’s oak leaf trademark.

Over the years, Heinrich’s studio has trained more than a dozen foreign jewelers and currently employs a full-time office staff of two, three full-time jewelers, and up to three part-time jewelers. With a team in place, Heinrich created a business that moved 1,000 new pieces a year into the market and display cases of 65 loyal galleries.

Barbara Heinrich’s jewelry is a mixture of hard geometric designs and flowing geometric shapes. Her work is created by hand in her studio. Using mainly traditional goldsmithing techniques and tools, she and her team of professionally trained jewelers produce pieces that display unique multi-textured finishes in 18 karat gold that have earned Barbara’s reputation. She combines colorful precious stones with the soft design of brushed gold to create jewelry that is a union of classic and contemporary design.

She is drawn to graphic forms – circles, squares, and wedges – by their simplicity. She transforms them by adding intricate surface textures of matte and polished gold.

Heinrich downplays her technical mastery when describing how she creates her jewels. “I am convinced that neither precious materials nor my technical skills as a goldsmith make my jewelry precious,” she has said. “What makes the pieces meaningful and precious are the thoughts and concepts, as well as the spirit and love, which the artist expresses in [the] work.”

Among her creations are triple strand faceted emerald bead necklaces with 20K gold ball spacers, 18K gold clasp, and 18K gold end caps with granulation and diamonds. She’s also produced domed earrings, with 0.15 cts of diamonds at the center of each flower and 18K yellow gold granulation. Her stackable rings are all done in 18K yellow gold, each with their own assortment of diamonds.

These days, when Heinrich creates a necklace, she sorts through mandarin garnets, eggplant spinels, and purple sapphires. Over 150 colored stones, canoe-shaped to kite-shaped, await insertion into gold and platinum “martini” bezels, channel sets, and “pillow” shanks. When she combines her technical mastery with the metal and brilliant stones found in her studio, the result is a series of high-carat creations that incorporate gold, diamonds, and colored stones.

The outer glow of a Heinrich piece often comes when lava stone, Pacific sponge coral, or Sleeping Beauty turquoise is paired with the gold and the sparkle comes from the diamonds. Although Heinrich uses brilliant-cut diamonds like confetti, for example, sprinkling her Embossed Brooch with 49 diamonds, she favors the newly created Spirit CutT diamonds with their boosted radiance that produces 20 percent more light.

Heinrich has also produced several generations of Milky Way jewelry using different techniques. Generally, the studio stays with a theme for a three-year interval, elaborating it and carrying it further and further. She and her designers produce many variations combining anything and everything to take a piece to another level that adds a new dimension. This process is built into the creation of her necklaces, earrings, rings, and pendants.

Heinrich says a piece can be successful and never sell. For instance, the Interlink necklace, which she carried for 15 years, didn’t sell for three years. She believed it was one of the best pieces she had made. Ahead of its time, it is now one of her classics and sells very well proving her belief that the piece was a success years before the market verified it.

Heinrich’s jewelry is often in the spotlight. Her work has been featured in a touring exhibition called, “Pearls: A Natural History” launched and organized by New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Heinrich’s showpiece was a pierced Milky Way collar featuring 10 round, 10-millimeter Tahitian pearls and .39 carats of diamonds.

When she described the piece, she said, “We got into pearls in a big way. I use black Tahitian and South Sea gray pearls, as well as freshwater pearls to make pink and peach necklaces. I also use Keshi pearls that are not cultured, which means no foreign elements were introduced into the oyster to make the pearl grow. Instead, the pearl is formed around a piece of the oyster’s skin, which makes them irregular and lustrous.”

Among Heinrich’s latest creations is the Ribbons of Gold collection. It was theme originally inspired by her time studying in Pforzheim. One weekend, eight jewelry students went to a farmhouse for a retreat. They made jewelry from found objects and one of Barbara’s projects was a blade of grass wrapped around the finger, the arm, and the neck.

This idea lay dormant until the jump in the price of gold demanded a complete redesign of her work. With experience gained through more than 25 years of making jewelry, she translated the idea into a series of rings, earrings, bracelets, and more without losing the fluidity and lightness of the original image.

Barbara Heinrich is currently president of the American Jewelry Design Council, is an active member of numerous professional jewelry organizations, and is considered a contemporary leader in the art jewelry industry. She is the recipient of various national and international awards, including the 2009 Couture: Best of Gold, the 2011 MJSA Vision Award for 1st Place in Gold Distinction, and both the 2011-2012 Fashion Award and Luster Award from the International Pearl Design Competition given by the Cultured Pearl Association of America. Her work has been published in a wide array of international books and periodicals.

In her artist statements, Heinrich has said, “I have come to realize that creating jewelry is a spiritual activity for me. It takes intense concentration of a special kind – an inner listening and seeing to conceive these gifts of jewelry in their entirety and purity. My motivation to create jewelry is like an inborn momentum, which I do not take credit for, for it has been with me as long as I can remember. … It takes the right time and circumstances for the inspiration to set off the creative process and serve as the initial impulse for a new piece of jewelry.”

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