Fritz Maierhofer (b. 1941)
1971, silver and acrylic
1972, silver (unmarked), acrylic
Fritz Maierhofer’s radical jewellery combines precious and non-precious materials, often acrylic, with gold. Born in Vienna in 1941, he has been a major figure at the forefront of European art jewellery since the 1970s. Maierhofer was one of the first artist-jewellers to embrace and elevate non-traditional materials like acrylic by using them in experimental, technically demanding ways with spectacular results.
“In those early years it was important for me to make and show jewellery with a different form and meaning, clear and simple. My aim was to show the juxtaposition of gold and silver with acrylic, and to handle the acrylic with the same precision and refinement as the precious metals.”
Maierhofer trained as a master craftsman in Vienna in the late 1950s and early 1960s, apprenticed to a jeweller and working with gems and precious metal. In 1967 he moved to London to work for Andrew Grima and was struck by the vibrant colours of the city. He began working with multi-coloured acrylic, using his technical skills to combine the light-weight synthetic material with gold, silver and steel to create complex, sophisticated and striking jewels as well as larger-scale sculptures. Maierhofer’s ground-breaking work was exhibited with that of German artists Gerd Rothmann and Claus Bury at the Electrum Gallery in 1971, and at a solo show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1987. In 2015 a major retrospective of his work in Vienna toured to the Ruthin Craft Centre in Wales and the Palazzo Zuckermann in Padua, Italy and today his work is represented in museum collections internationally.
There are two rings by Maierhofer in the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection, both made in the very early 1970s and purchased for the Collection under Graham Hughes in 1976. The first is made of white and green striped acrylic and oxidised silver and is one of an edition of 30. The second, again made of coloured acrylic and silver, is one of an edition of five. Whilst working at the Grima workshop in 1967, Maierhofer oversaw the production of a watch collection in collaboration with Omega. The ‘Gondola’ watch bracelet in the Company Collection, with its textured band of 18 carat gold and fantastical, outsize face of smoky quartz, was part of this collaboration.
Maierhofer and Claus Bury were important influences on the British Jeweller Roger Morris (b. 1940), introducing him to the use of acrylics. Morris had worked as a civil servant before giving up his job in favour of studying jewellery at the Central School of Art and the Royal College. He began working with agate, inlaying precious metal into the stone, but found the process too slow and sought a softer material which would allow him to keep pace with his developing ideas. The coloured bands of acrylic in his work perhaps reflect the natural striations found in stone. Morris considered his jewels to be small, playful sculptures and they often involve moving parts to give the wearer something to play with; his pyramidal structure incorporates a removable brooch and ring.
Ring and brooch on stand, c1976
Acrylic, silver, gold
Gift of the maker in 1977