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Travel News Namibia’s Amy Schoeman interviews Rolf Schmidt of Rolf Schmidt Goldschmiede on his design philosophies, aims and objectives, involvement in training, marketing strategies and what he believes are his special trademarks.
Rolf Schmidt established his workshop and handcrafted jewellery outlet in the Brauhaus Arcade in 2002, having initially worked from premises opposite the Europahof in Bismarck Street as from August 2000.
However, Rolf’s involvement in jewellery-making in Namibia goes back to the early nineties when he started an apprenticeship under Swakopmund jewellery stalwart Immo Böhlke, known for his pure, classic designs and impeccable workmanship, and for whom Rolf worked for eleven years.
Rolf qualified as a goldsmith in Johannesburg and went to Pforzheim, Germany, for further training. “Immo Böhlke had very much his own style, and in many ways I was influenced by him. Combining his style and my ideas, I gradually started developing my own line and it was successful, so I basically branched off and carried on with it. Now I’m doing my own thing, and the ideas keep coming. Most of my clients are local people and my approach is to cater for their needs. I carry a small stock of tourist-oriented jewellery such as southern crosses and designs with elephant hair, ebony and pearls. I’m currently building up my diamond range – in pendants, rings and earrings.”
Because Namibian artefacts such as elephant hair and ekipas have been used so prolifically in tourist jewellery, Rolf wants to move away from them slightly. “We already have five designer-jewellery shops in Swakopmund and all of us want to be different. My idea is to focus on locals and develop my own brand. I occasionally import silver jewellery from Germany, because there is such a large range, which brings the younger people to my shop. I would like them to relax, feel at home and look around, not necessarily to buy, but to get an idea of what I do in the workshop.
One of my focus points is informal jewellery for young people. It’s sad that smart jewellery for evening wear is becoming a “dying art”, although there is a demand for exceptionally beautiful designs for any event, e.g. pendants on the inexpensive black rubber band called caoutchouc, for which a small silver ball or blue topaz set in gold is a favourite choice.”
Market strategies are basically through the work itself and by providing good client services. “If my customers are happy, they’ll come back. Very often they’ll bring a friend along. So it’s primarily word-by-mouth marketing, and it’s working well for me.” Rolf regards his bangles and rings with “melted wire” as his special trademark, highlighted with a beautiful tourmaline.
He likes the combination of rough and smooth surfaces, and shows us a gold pendant with a section of silver wire melted into it. “The nice thing about these designs is that no two are the same. Of course you have basic lines that you follow, but in the end they emerge as you go, and they’re all different. The fact that you can’t plan them exactly makes it interesting. When I’m halfway with a piece, I sometimes call the customers to come and have a look, to see whether I’m on the right track. They can tell at once if they’re going to be happy with the outcome.”
The Brauhaus Arcade is accessible from Sam Nujoma Avenue as well as from Roon and Moltke streets. With its many boutiques, art and craft shops, a banking facility, restaurant and the Atlanta cinema only a few metres away, Rolf’s shop is in a prime position, also after hours. Many feet pass by and more often than not the owners stop to look at his windows.
As he puts it, “We’re in the middle of the middle here. If prospective customers give me a call, I’m more than happy to open up after hours.”
This article appeared in the May/June ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.