Travel News Namibia’s Amy Schoeman interviews Herbert Salomon of Salomon Goldschmied on his design philosophies, aims and objectives, involvement in training, marketing strategies and what he believes are his special trademarks.
One of Swakopmund’s “old timers” when it comes to hand-crafted jewellery by goldsmiths who qualified in Germany is Herbert Salomon, who arrived in Namibia in 1966 in response to an advertisement in a trade magazine. “I wanted to see the world, and working as a goldsmith with Immo Böhlke seemed to be a good way to start, except I ended up staying with him for plus-minus 16 years, and became so involved and committed to the local jewellery scene that I opened my own business in Swakopmund in 1982.”
Initially working from home, mostly with silver and gold alloys of all kinds, Herbert made custom-designed jewellery for specific customers. He also reset stones, designed individual pieces and did repairs, all of which he still does. The only difference is that in the early days his customers were mostly local, whereas following Namibia’s independence his customer base broadened to include tourists as well. In 1996 he moved to premises in Swakopmund’s main street, now Sam Nujoma Avenue, just around the corner from Roon Street opposite the Namib-i tourist centre, where nowadays 70–80% of his customers are from abroad.
“When I started I simply produced what the customers wanted. However, based on my years with Böhlke, I gradually developed my own style. I like my jewellery to be more or less timeless, so that the pieces that my customers buy now will still be right in 20 years’ time. I was quite conservative in the beginning and never wanted to work with unfamiliar materials. However, to answer to the tourist trade, I started using indigenous artefacts like ivory, ebony, elephant hair and interesting local stones. Even stones with natural shapes found in the desert, and objects like driftwood and porcupine quills. Nowadays we do everything.”
Does he still enjoy the business? “Yes,” he says, “very much so. I welcome the design challenge of what people want these days. Namibia needs the tourist trade, so we must cater for this market.” One of Herbert’s aims is to pass on traditional workmanship. “I’ve learnt that only 150% is good enough for the future of our trade in this country, so it’s important to maintain the high standards we’ve already set ourselves.”
What are his marketing strategies? Herbert shrugs. “I don’t have any! The best advertising you can get is a satisfied customer. This is what I aim for, even though I don’t always succeed. A good indication that a customer is happy, is when he comes back to buy a new piece. I do everything for my customers. Repairs, valuations, re-setting, the works. An important part is having discussions with them, and, of course, everything has a price. In the end the customer must make the decision. I must only inform him of the facts and not try to talk him into or out of anything. Sometimes people want something done for sentimental reasons, and that’s their business. It’s not for me to interfere. And they mustn’t ask me if it’s nice. What’s nice? They must decide themselves whether they like it or not.”
What are Herbert’s special trademarks? “Definitely not my friendliness,” he says with a laugh. However, according to an old customer, he’s very patient and is always prepared to explain why an idea won’t work, and to take the trouble to work out the right design. “Many times people come here with ideas that I don’t think will work and this I tell them. In the long run it’s building up a good relationship and understanding what a customer wants that pays off.”
This article appeared in the April ‘04 edition of Travel News Namibia.