Perhaps less known than other great jewelry designers with a strong business and entrepreneurial talent, Victor Mayer should none the less be recognized for the great contributions he brought to the European jewelry market in the early 20th century.
Born in 1857 in Pforzheim, Germany, Mayer took an apprenticeship at age 15 to become a steel engraver, a common path to learning a skill for a lifelong job. However, five years later, he decided to enroll in the Pforzheim Arts and Crafts School (Pforzheimer Kunstgewerbeschule), which was just opened by Grand Duke Friedrich I , a great supporter and promoter of liberal causes.
In 1879, two years into his studies, the restless Mayer enlisted, serving in the military until 1882. After completing his military service, Mayer moved to Vienna, an important European economic and art center, where he developed his skills in enameling and guilloché-engraving while working as a steel engraver and model maker. After three years in Vienna, and with a new set of skills, Mayer decided to return to his hometown of Pforzheim and continue to expand his studies. He re-enrolled in the Grand Duke’s Arts and Crafts School, where he continued his studies, and received significant praises for his drawing, modelling and design. These skills would serve him in the future as an accomplished jewelry designer and jewelry maker.
In 1890, 33-year-old Mayer made two important decisions. The first, to marry his long-time sweetheart Lina Niemand. The other was to finally make the leap and start a jewelry business where he could apply his many skills and create the objects of desire he was so well prepared to do. Together with Herrmann Vogel, a trader he got to know, he founded Vogel & Mayer, a Pforzheim-based jewelry manufacturing company. While Vogel was responsible for the commercial side of the business, Mayer was responsible for artistic management.
At first, all went well. Europe entered a new era, La Belle Époque or The Pretty Era. During this period, which lasted from the end of the Prussian-Franco War (1871) to the outbreak of World War I (1914), the continent enjoyed flourishing cultural activity, regional peace, economic prosperity, social optimism, and scientific innovation.
Prominent artists in Paris led a revolution in the visual arts. Among them were Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and above all, Pablo Picasso. Auguste Rodin transformed modern sculpture, and the artistic style Art Nouveau became one of the most popular art movements to emerge in this time. Mayer was swept up by this new era, little of which was introduced at his art school. That did not prevent Mayer from adapting this style, using his acquired skills in enamel and engraving, backed by his superb drawing talents and creativity. The perfection that he invested in his artistry and craftsmanship paid off, and his interpretation of Art Nouveau led to wonderful designs for his jewelry collections.
By the turn of the century, Mayer became renowned for his opulent and precious enamel collections, resulting in a growing list of clients. Despite their success, Mayer and his partner Vogel ran into a series of disagreements. Finally, in 1895, the two decided to part ways, and Mayer continued working without Herrmann Vogel, renaming his company Victor Mayer.
As a smart business owner, Mayer supported talented artists and artisans, providing them with work or design commissions. One of these artist was budding jewelry designer Anton Krautheimer, who later became known in Munich as a Sezssion artist.
As evident from his early days prior to establishing his jewelry manufacturing company, Mayer had a knack for travelling. He kept travelling afterwards as well, delivering his works to customers throughout Europe. This was also one of Mayer’s ways of finding new talent, learning of the changing needs of his clients and gaining first-hand understanding of their wishes as well as exposing him to artistic developments throughout Europe, allowing him to remain relevant, fresh, and cutting edge – all traits deeply desired by his clients.
Baden-Baden, known as the "summer capital of Europe" and hometown of his wife Lina, was an important center of inspiration. Mayer’s clientele haled from the foremost cities of the day, including Berlin, Paris, London, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Warsaw and even Cairo, but not only. He found them at resorts such as the Swiss spa resorts in Davos, St. Moritz, and around Lake Geneva
Thinking ahead, Mayer encouraged his six children to gain an education that would lead them to support the family-owned company. His three sons were educated in the jewelry-making crafts: Victor Junior was sent to learn from international masters in Paris, London and Madrid. The twins, Oscar and Julius, attended their father’s old school, the Grand Ducal School of Arts and Crafts. Daughters Marie, Else, and Erna were raised to be independent women with an excellent education.
In 1914, as La Belle Époque ended, so did an era in the Mayer family. WWI broke out, and soon afterwards Mayer’s oldest son Victor Jr. was drafted. Not long afterwards, Julius volunteered to serve as well. Oscar, never a very healthy child, was forbidden by his father from volunteering too. In 1915, Victor died from a shot to the chest. Three years later, just before the ceasefire that brought the war to a close, Julius was killed as well.
The death of his two sons was devastating. The war not only cost their lives together with the lives of many millions of people around the world, but his business was near ruins as well. Few in Europe were considering buying objects of beauty or spending on jewelry with an unclear future. In response to the personal and economic tragedy, Mayer started designing emotive mourning and remembrance jewelry. The work on these items brought him consolation as it did to other families of fallen soldiers.
With the support of his son and three daughters, Mayer succeeded in navigating the company through the difficult times, bringing it back to full commercial activity. Oscar took over the difficult, yet inspiring, trips to customers across Europe, yet Victor Mayer remained well informed on the changing styles. He soon dove into a new and emerging style, Art Deco. This was to be the third style era that he was to dedicate his artistic designs to. Now over 60, but very creative and skilled, he went on to create many successful collections.
In 1932, Mayer decided to retire from day-to-day operation of the business. He passed his holdings in the company to his son, Oscar, and son-in-law, Edmund Mohr, giving them equal holdings. Victor Mayer died in Pforzheim on October 13. 1946, age 88.
His sophisticated techniques continue to be used at the company to this day, and his original designs still serve as the basis of their current products. Today, the company is owned and led by Edmund Mohr’s decedents.
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