The Royal Jewellers S04 ep4 : Otto Jacob [Karlsruhe]

Interview with Otto Jacob

At 17 years old Otto Jakob began to teach himself to make jewelry. Inspired by the magic and artistic power of Etruscan, Celtic and Hellenic masterpieces, he learned their complex techniques using treatises by Pliny and Cellini. Between 1977 and 1980 he studied painting with Georg Baselitz. Since 1980 he has devoted himself exclusively to the creation of jewelry. The earliest collectors of his work were important artists and art dealers. The dealer Hans Neuendorf acquired the majority of his early pieces created between 1981 and 1986. Otto Jakob has collectors in Europe and the United States. He exhibits at the Daniel Blau Gallery in Munich, Colnaghi in London and at TEFAF in Maastricht.


Otto Jacob is my name, but is not the brand. I wanted to do artistic, unusual, intricate, one-of-a-kind things never seen before.

I wanted to become a world famous painter. I studied in Germany, I had a world famous teacher George Bazilitz [08:21]. When I
finished my studies I made an analysis of my work. I did until now and I said you are not a painter you have to do something

I wanted to do something, no one in the world would be able to do it like I do. And so I got the ideas for jewelry in this crisis.
And then I saw exactly the pieces. I didn’t have to invent them, I saw them. The only thing that I had to learn, was the technique
how to do this.

Otto Jacob ring

The start was very historic. The Ruscians, the old Greeks, because I knew you have to learn all the old techniques and they were
no more taught at schools and so that was one of the reasons why I said I have to teach myself.

All the contemporary jewelry was not good enough for my start. I wanted to be unlimited, I had my vision of my pieces of
jewelry I had to do one after the other. I knew what to do and now I am working since 32 years. If the benchmark is high
enough… you never end.

Benito Cellini for example. You wrote the book not only about his unusual life, he also wrote the book about
techniques of sculpturing, making jewelry and all the different things you could learn. When he wrote about enameling, how to
enamel he said “ Now I tell you how to enamel brilliant ruby red, you can try to do this but finally you will never do it like I am
able to do it”. So he was very self-confident and that was and forcing me more than making me anxious.

Otto Jacob earring

Fortunately I was at school learning Latin. I wasn’t very good in Latin but it was good enough to translate a book of Plini.
He wrote a very good book about all the different techniques of craftsmanship in the old Rome. So I found out how to
granulate, how to push, how to do a lot of things.

In the beginning I bought tools and I got the catalog. But I was so far away from practice and I bought some tools that were
three times bigger than I thought. Finally I found methods to be able to use them.

If I look to my kind of workmanship now, I see a range of very unusual different methods and different inventions made.
Because I was too proud to ask anyone how would you do this.

Otto Jacob cross

I did it alone. I didn’t ask anyone, I went to museums, I wrote those odd books and I was completely full of passion.

I taught myself to work with very thin sheets of metal. The repousse the Etruscans did or the Greek did that was always very
light, very thin and people who look at it, who are regularly taught in goldsmithing they say “How did they” and I had to so I

As long as I was a painter, I felt like a sailor without any harbor. When you are young and you are strong-willed, you know what
a pain. And so even when I thought the ideas and I wrote all the ideas down and I went over the years with all these beautiful
pieces. From the first piece I knew I’m at home.

Otto Jacob pendant

George Baselitz , we met again by accident and he said “What are you doing” and I said “I make jewelry”. He said “good”
and I said “good”. Then he said “3 o’clock this afternoon, where do you live?” and I gave him my address and he came. Then he
looked at it and he shakes his head, then he went out and left a thousand marked bills and said “Do something for Elke. I think that was my first commission.

Then came an important German art dealer who worked with David Hockney, Luciano Fontana and all the good stuff I love. He
saw my pieces at George Baselitz because he also was an artist that he dealt with. He wrote me a letter from a fancy place
of St. Moritz and said “I saw your work and never saw something as stunning like this in jewelry, we should meet soon to
talk about your future”. He said “I , would like to give you money, go and live a country life, go to a nice place. Don’t let anyone
in, come twice a year to me and offer me your things and I will buy everything.” And I asked him, “And what are you willing to do
with it in the future when you have 20 or 50 or more pieces”. Then he said “Oh, we will open a store at the Place Vendome
or somewhere else and we will find a good idea and do your thing”

It took five years. He bought everything, no one saw it, he took it into the safe. After three years I asked him sometimes “Don’t
you have an idea for an exhibition, you haven’t now yet enough pieces to do it”. He said ”No I have no idea, do you have an
idea?”. After a while my privilege turn to something like a burial, because it pieces are away and no one looks at it. Then I
thought probably he’s crazy, I’m crazy and no one likes it in the world. Probably one year later I thought I have to start my own

And then I started doing editorials, doing advertising in German vogue.
There was a big article about my unusual work in a important German magazine STERN . And they found me and made
a seven-page article about me, with some fantastic photographs and everything. I went to the bank with this article and said I
want to have my studio in this flat and I have to do a good renovation work. I need 80000 Deutche Marks [at this time], if you should
give me this I will bring it three times back for you. And they gave it to me. They wouldn’t do it today.

With advertising I had so much success that I was sold out. I have five pieces. I saw it works and then it started to engage in a
master, second master, after a while I had six masters. But in fact now I do something different, I start with the young people
that are open minded. And that’s much more interesting because they are not so limited.