Professional Jeweler Archive: A Legacy of Creativity

July 2004

Precious Metals/Metalsmithing

A Legacy of Creativity

Generations benefit from the know-how and skill of Switzerland's Kurt Aepli

This abridged article originally appeared in Gold’Or, Switzerland’s leading trade magazine, and was translated into English by Robert Ackermann, an Oceanside, CA, jewelry designer who executed many Kurt Aepli designs while working as an apprentice at Trudel Juwelier in Zurich in the early 1980s. The article was originally written by Peter Widmer, who succeeded Aepli as trade instructor to metalsmiths at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. Writer Robert Kilborn helped with the translation.

The incessant drive to discover new, highly stylized shapes and forms characterized the work of Kurt Aepli, one of the great jewelry designers of the 20th century.

Aepli is a paradox in the jewelry world: his influence through teaching and design has spread worldwide, yet his name remains little known beyond his students and devotees.

Born in Switzerland in 1914, Aepli went on to train as a silversmith at the School of Applied Arts in Zurich (now called the General Trade School) and eventually to work at Burch-Corrodi, where his creative potential and exceptional know-how and skill were quickly recognized and appreciated.

His designs were revolutionary for their time, questioning traditional forms and materials. This was particularly evident in the ecclesiastical designs for which he gained renown, but also in his jewelry and objets d’art. Depiction of the human figure and its silhouette was his pursuit for many decades. Basic geometric shapes and a never-ending playfulness also marked his designs.

Bruch-Corrodi gained an international recognition for its courage to be innovative. However, the creator behind these works of art remained largely unknown.

In 1967, Trudel Juwelier acquired Burch-Corrodi. The years that followed proved to be productive and were marked by a sense of mutual trust and tolerance that developed between Aepli and Christoph Trudel. In fact, Aepli was allowed to work in the Trudel studio just a few hours a week. The lion’s share of his time was devoted to teaching at the School of Applied Arts, where he had been trade instructor for goldsmiths, silversmiths, chasers, engravers, stone setters, jewelry designers and polishers since 1945.

His last classes graduated in 1980, joining generations who now apply what he taught them in positions throughout the world. But retirement didn’t mean settling down. From a small studio in his basement, Aepli worked on jewelry for his granddaughters until the day before his death Dec. 22, 2002. Six days later, the Linth Zeitung newspaper remembered Aepli: “Personal recognition for his life’s creative work did not come until the last few days prior to his passing on. In an exhibition at the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, some pieces were displayed under his name. It was both a great pleasure and a belated satisfaction for him to attend a private showing before the exhibition opened.”

– by Peter Widmer

Pink gold brooch from 1974 is just one of many examples of Aepli’s depiction of the human figure.
Kurt Aepli relaxes in the sun in 1982.
Pink gold brooch from 1967 demonstrates a playful interaction between the shape of the head and the curls of the beard.
Pink gold brooch from the 1980s.
Enamel wine cup from the 1980s.

Copyright © 2004 by Bond Communications