In a studio-workshop at the bottom of her west London garden is a white jeweller’s workbench that was built for Sabine Roemer by her uncle Werner when she was 15 years old and deeply committed to becoming a jeweller. At this bench, she has created framed animal artworks for Nelson Mandela, the Prince of Wales and many other outstanding clients, as well as bespoke high-jewellery rings and earrings in precious gemstones.
The custom piece for Mandela was a sculpted cow’s head, perhaps an unusual choice of subject. “I started reading books about his life, and one of the most touching things was the chapter on the mystical attachment to Nguni cattle in South Africa,” Roemer says as we sit in her studio. “They mean wealth and warmth, and the Nguni were a very special animal to him.” The piece was carved in wax, cast in white gold, set with black and white diamonds and then framed; Roemer flew to South Africa with it for the presentation at the annual charity gala for Mandela’s foundation, to celebrate his 89th birthday. “I was only 27 years old, and hyperventilating about getting the piece to the event as I was meant to introduce it for the auction!”
Sabine Roemer’s commission for Nelson Mandela: a sculpted cow’s head, cast in white gold, set with black and white diamonds.
The following year she made another piece for Mandela, this time a hand, chiselled into sterling silver plate, based on a comment the president made: “It’s all in your hands, guys.” That piece is now owned by Morgan Freeman, who wore a Sabine Roemer bracelet inscribed with Mandela’s prison number to the 2010 Oscars. One of the treasures in her studio is a piece of brittle white rock from Robben Island that Mandela gave her – labelled with that very number: 46664 – which she displays.
In collaboration with conservationist Damian Aspinall she also sculpted a white gold gorilla’s head that was auctioned for the Prince of Wales’ Tusk charity. “As a jeweller, I cannot save lives like a doctor or make you feel safe like the police,” Roemer says. “But I can make a change … Mandela especially showed me this. That’s what I learned from him.”
Away from her philanthropic projects, Roemer makes bespoke jewellery that starts at £11,000. Her most recent collection, Superwoman, is a series of seven bold rings featuring contrasting gemstones in an array of cuts, including kite, pear and trapeze. The stones are set at a slight angle because, she explains, “I don’t like flat stuff. I love three-dimensional pieces. I like movement, texture and the play between faceted and dull stones.”
Left, Sabine Roemer’s Dreamcatcher earrings; right, ring from her Superwomen collection.
Roemer is a Master Goldsmith, and she produces a limited number of wearable art pieces each year including The Key to the Past, ammonite-shaped earrings set with smoky quartz; and Grace ear climbers with pink opal “feathers” inspired by flamingos she saw on a trip to the Bahamas. These earrings are part of Cornerstones, a limited edition she made during lockdown marking key moments of her life, including a period spent in Los Angeles where the Château Marmont rainforest garden inspired her green Dreamcatcher Tree earrings. “Ideas sometimes start as a feeling from a place where I’ve lived – or with a stone, like the Superwoman rings,” she explains. “Now I would like to do a big, serious necklace.”
Sunflower earrings from Romy London, Roemer’s more affordable, demi-fine jewellery brand. Made of sterling silver dipped in 18kt gold vermeil.
Aside from high jewellery, Roemer launched a more affordable, demi-fine jewellery brand – Romy London, named after her daughter, Romy – eight years ago, when Romy was born. The jewellery, which is made mostly from sterling silver dipped in 18kt gold vermeil with topaz, citrine, turquoise and pearls, includes trendy huggies, tennis necklaces, bold flower earrings and eternity rings. There are also classic hoop earrings in 9kt gold. Everything is priced from £50 to £1,000, and each design is prototyped by Roemer and produced in Thailand.
Roemer grew up in Karlsruhe, a small town near Pforzheim, where she received rigorous training in her craft. “It’s like Birmingham for jewellery making in Germany,” she states with a smile. At 15, while still at school, she did a week of work experience with a local old-school jeweller, who explained patiently that she could keep the piece she made that week. On the first day, she made a ring and, to his amazement, made six pieces over the next five days. “I thought, I love this, I am going to do it for the rest of my life,” she says.
Roemer became his apprentice at 17 while studying at Pforzheim’s prestigious goldsmiths’ school (founded in 1768) learning everything from gemmology and chemistry to metalworking, the lost-wax process and stone cutting. Such was her aptitude, she completed the three-year course in two, and won a scholarship that took her all over the world to study aspects of the craft from inlay to granulation to brushed-gold techniques. Having completed this by the age of 22, she enrolled for her two-year master’s degree and completed it in half the time.
“… I am an artist, as there is only so much my hands can produce.”
– Sabine Roemer
In 2004, when Roemer was 24, she joined Stephen Webster; yet even after seven years of study, she says she still felt like she knew nothing. After two years with Webster, she worked in other Bond Street workshops honing her skills with one-of-a-kind jewels. “I felt the level went up and up,” she says, “producing pieces for Graff that had to be perfect under the microscope.” From this experience she learned mastery and craftsmanship: “I love the engineering and perfection of it.”
It is experience and quality that separate Roemer from many independent jewellers; hers is Bond Street standard. Does Roemer now see herself as an artist or a brand? “Someone once said, ‘A brand can live on without you; and when an artist dies, there are no more pieces.’ That clicked with me,” she says. “In that sense, I am an artist, as there is only so much my hands can produce.”
For more information visit: https://sabineroemer.com/
Words: Francesca Fearon
Photos of Sabine Roemer: © Patrycia Lukas. Photo of Sunflower earrings: © Susan Buth.