Stones in Idar-Oberstein



It takes some time to get to know the facets of the history and current culture of stone cutting in Idar-Oberstein. There are many mysteries that reveal themselves differently to each person, so I’ll just share a few of my experiences with stones in I.O. I fell behind writing this blog when I started to know exactly how I would spend my hours each day at the Fabrik, and evening hours at the school cutting stones…. time on the computer was minimal.

There are two wonderful Edelstein museums in Idar-Obertsein, and visiting them both will help orient you to the history of stone cutting in the region, and possibilities intrinsic to both natural and synthetic stones. (The Deutsche Edelsteinmuseum and Deutsches-Mineralien Museum).  Both places are filled with feats of human accomplishment. A stone on its own from nature can be precious or non-precious, but it is the touch of skilled labourers, craftspeople and artists that make them valuable.

A unique experience I was privy to was a private showing of the historic stones and finished jewelry from the Gebrüder Wild collection. These pieces recently filled the Deutsches Goldsmithing Museum in Hanau, but I got to touch everything! I saw fascinating spring and pin mechanisms, hand-cut bee bodies and agate drop earring that looked so modern I would wear them today if I owned them.



I also visited the firm Lempke, a few miles outside Idar-Oberstein. When driving up, I saw huge boulders of rough agate with their centers scooped out. My friend Helen said, “Rebecca- you going to need one of the agate mortar and pestles they sell here”. I felt relieved- whew– I definitely did not need that- I have a porcelain lab type mortar from years ago, and also a heavy duty stainless-steel one I schlepped home from India. Then Julia casually mentioned, “Jewelers like to buy these to keep their (borax) flux in”. Uh-oh…as soon as I heard that, and saw how lovely they were, and how inexpensive…I knew I’d be schlepping them home for jewellers I know….


Lemke agate mortar and pestles

Lemke makes agate fittings and medical grade motor/pestles for the industry. Apparently, agate has a tightly closed grain structure that doesn’t allow contaminant particles and can be cleaned easily. There were hundreds of grey agate bowls lined up, which made picking ones with slight variations fun. The other stones they seemed to sell here were strange offcuts from stone cutting processes, and “dead-stock”, rescued from the cellars of stones cutters and dealers in the region. Apparently their in-store stock changes often and it was fun to purchase unusual rough materials and then try shaping them at school.




Helen and a number of other jewellers work with stonecutter Stefan Becker to have custom stones cut for their work. Visiting his workshop revealed the pared down version of the expansive studio at the Hochschule, and what would be core machinery needed to cut stones professionally. Stefan had nothing for sale in his workshop.


Occasionally we would stumble upon a half-finished stone bird model, (which revealed an amazing energetic surface in the rough cutting), or lovely tiny frog…He would not sell us anything. I finally realized that if I were to know the process/possibilities/price of getting a custom stone cut, I’d need to give him a commission. I spontaneous decided I would commission two tiny dachshund heads.



This was my well thought out order for custom carved stones

I have a dachshund and love them in general, and offered to send Stefan pics of my dachshund. He looked crestfallen. “Cutting stones to look like peoples pets is the worst, as it is a huge amount of work, (even though tiny), and it never looks like their pet”. I changed tack and said I would just send pics of Internet dachshunds…he grumbled and agreed.



It took a fair amount of back and forth over the next months. He talked me out of a frontal view dachshund, as he could not resolve how to cut the neck, and suggested a side view, almost cabochon style head. I picked a kooky green turquoise he had in his shop.


66e32402-62b8-4801-94fc-a82ab0b8b33d 2




Here is the finished pair, each one cut/engraved separately. The pair cost me 300Euro- more than I was expecting, but not so much after a month of cutting stones myself, all day, and often coming up with nothing.



                                          Stone Sculpture Museum



Stone markets, museums, mines, historic sites are everywhere in the region, and you can even go searching for agate/jasper at the local gravel quarry on Saturdays. The stones you see in the tourist walkways are not interesting, and most likely dyed, cut and shipped in from elsewhere in the world. To see the secret stone collections, you will need to talk to people and visit friends of friends. On one of my last days in IO, I got to visit the workshops of Pauly, a many generation stone-cutting family/firm who had worked on a commission to cut/sculpt stones for Damian Hirst‘s epic Venice Biennale presentation over the past years. The studios were amazing- like a postmodern dentist shop where the patients are huge chunks of malachite being shaped into medusa heads. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures there, so the stunning projects I saw being worked on in there will remain in my head….


Secret Archives

The amount of tooling, jewellery, architecture and history on the first two floors of the Bengel factory provide so much visual stimulation, it takes a while to absorb it. I somehow hadn’t realized there was a stairwell to the third floor.


Frau Hartenburger’s office, second floor

Julia has been generous with her time, making sure I experience all the highlights of Bengel and life in Idar-Oberstein (and beyond), in general. She took me on a wander through the rooms way upstairs.


Some pics of the third floor of Bengel for those who love old things…..




Each room on the third floor has some distinctive wallpaper. Nowadays-walls in most German houses are first covered by a sort of stucco flecked wallpaper before they are painted. In the past, there were simply pattern/printed wallpapers, or even a roller with a simple design that one would roll across the walls.



The Rhineland-Palatinate region invested a few million Euros in the Bengal monument over the past few years- to stabilize the building after some flooding occurred in the ground level. Now it is a mix of untouched, super oily and lead paint surfaces, in tandem with beautifully crafted steel staircases, higher-end radiators, new electric, and these amazing knob switches to turn on lights in each room. Its super satisfying to hear them pop. They are old-fashioned, but I understand they are re-issued from Manufactum and cost about 40 Euro a pop.


Some of the rooms on the floor hold archives of materials from the costume jewellery industry. Not just Bengel- also local firms that have gone out of business and wanted a final resting place for their sample boards and “halb-fertig Schmuck”, (half-finished jewellery) have brought their materials here and it is waiting to be cataloged.



Enamel sample board



Cataloged Bengel hub and die punches

A few empty rooms were filled with these boxes. The walls are coved with Tyvek now, as the historic wall coverings are under “DenkmalSchutz” (protection). Apparently, the rooms up here first served as rooms for single ladies working in the factory, and in more recent times, the rooms were rented to emerging goldsmiths in the community. Sadly goldsmiths cannot work up here anymore due to the protection. (It would be an amazing way to activate these spaces.) The red bins hold the punches that have been cataloged. I was told that at some point the government assigned people without jobs to work on this project of cataloguing. A punch was cleaned, photographed, numbered, and put in a box. There is no way to search this cataloguing other than visually looking. It fills 12 thick binders already. The thing that makes me sad is the people who cataloged paid no attention to putting the parts of a tool needed to work together, together in the archive… They could be five, unsearchable binders apart. At least the tools up here are protected from the elements.






Office, Chair of Bengel Foundation

How amazing is this office? The art deco wallpaper, the Sottsass inspired typewriters and lamps? Herr Wenzel comes upstairs to conduct Foundation business in this timewarp office.


These rooms were the strangest. Apparently, there was a Hartenburger family member who liked to keep pigeons in a room in the house. The room pictured here with (formerly) white walls was surely an unpleasant task to clean for someone. The attic (4th floor) held these pigeon keeps.



View out window

TV Day


Everyone was pretty excited that the regional TV station SWR was coming to Bengel today to do a story on the factory and region. I am always happily surprised when I read tourist information and magazines that the Bengel Fabrik is prominently advertised. Never the less, there seem to be only a few people who come for a guided tour of this amazing pace each day.

Half the crew came a day early to scout the place. They deemed my actual working place too dark, and had me set up a faux workbench in the middle of the stamping/punching room.




Herr Wenzel is the tireless head of the Bengel foundation. He worked in cultural development for the region before retiring, and the Foundation is lucky to have his energies now. Here he tries to explain the stampling and cutting process in a pithy manner.



I was told my hair wasn’t looking too good, and also got a super-speedy makeover with some shared German make-up. 




I am not sure who the interviewer is, but I hope she is very famous in Germany. They were surprised that I was from America/Canada, and could speak German. They offered to do my interview in English, to be translated later, but I said I would do it all in German. It was pretty scary with many people around, but I glad I tried. I feel like I have spoken more German in my weeks in Idar-Oberstein, than my 5 years in Munich. I don’t think I will ever know what it means to be “fluent”, but it feels pretty good to be “fluid” in another language. You have to be willing to be wrong, and embarrassed all the time. Trying to weed the “Gruss Gott!” and “Schaut gut aus!“, from my vocabulary, as I have been told I have an American-Bavarian accent.






Working with Aluminum



Previous to arriving at Bengel, I hadn’t really worked with aluminum. In a goldsmith’s studio, you don’t really work with ferrous metals or metals with a low melting point that will create pits and holes when they come into contact with your gold or silver through soldering, etc.


Aluminum samples that have been pop-riveted

Aluminum is often worked in a metal shop or machine shop, (or garage, etc….), but these are places goldsmiths don’t usually like to work as the tools are rough, and not accurate. Bengel presented an interesting situation as all their jewellery and chain wares in recent years had been made from aluminum, and the jeweller’s workbench area I had to work in was clearly filled with aluminum and steel dust and scrap everywhere.


I decided t keep my own hand tools free of aluminum and store them at the school. After a two-day “tidy-up” of my Bengel working space, I was ready to start experimenting to see if aluminum could be a compelling contemporary material for jewellery.


Many jewellers have a distaste for the way it feels- kind of crackly and airy, but I found two things compelling. The material is free at the factory, and because it is strong but lightweight I could optionally make larger forms. I love making big, bold earrings, but as soon as they get too heavy, they are not working and it’s a delicate balance to not cross this line.


No one at the factory could tell me much about fabricating with aluminum, and it was also not being used too much at the school. (No one really wants aluminum in their workspace.)


I did what anyone would- turned to Youtube to watch some tutorials. Silver is ‘Soldered”. When you put two pieces of silver (or gold, copper, nickel, brass) together, clean them, paint on flux, you then melt a lower-melting-point alloy of silver between the two and the metal is strongly connected.


The process for connecting aluminum is sometimes called “soldered” and sometimes ‘welded”. At a larger scale, there are rods made of aluminum, tin (maybe lead) that are heated and drawn into seams. At a larger scale, a welder is also used to braze or weld the metal together. (Simply melt the two sides of metal together and hope they connect in a strong way.)


I was also keen to try the Puk Welder at the school. Puk and Orion make very small welding machines, where you look through a microscope at a tiny needle,  hold your metal job up to the welding needle, and when contact is made, an incredible charge of heat is sent to one tiny spot. More and more of these micro welders can be found in jewellers studios, as they are very handy for tacking components together before soldering, for adding new material onto prongs near stones, and other fabrication processes where a huge soldering flame would ruin a work.


NSCAD has an Orion welder that is a few years old and I’ve had limited success using it. (Likely due to limited experience.) The Hochschule here has two Puk4’s. They have a setting for aluminum, so I decided to try.


Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 10.34.14 AM

From Lampert/PUK website

I made aluminum samples with different challenging connecting- a butt joint, T joint, bent connection, jump ring, ear post into a hole, etc. I read online that aluminum needs to be really clean for success, so I scraped it, and also put it in the ultrasonic.


Looking into the welding microscope is so amazingly fun, I could do this all day. It’s hard not to get distracted by the terrible condition of one’s fingernails up close when trying to weld.


I started to weld without adding any additional material. (called “speed wire”). It was working pretty well, but if every side of a piece is not thoroughly welded, the connection is brittle and can be snapped apart. Unlike silver solder, the merging of the two sides of metal is happening right at surface contact, there is no strong pool of liquid metal making its way inside the joint.

IMG_4426 2

One of the MFA students who had previous experience working with aluminum at a larger scale told me he would share his “beautiful setting” for aluminum welding with me. On the welder, you can set the amount of power, and the milliseconds it fires for. There are pre-sets for different materials and types of joints, but most people experiment and keep a log of what setting worked for them.


my first completed Bengel earring

The “beautiful setting” for aluminum is:

The icon of the point welding a 90 degree corner,


45% power

Thanks, Oliver- this setting produced a strong, clean weld.

I had also purchased some thin ALMG3 welding wire from Horbach to see if it made for a stronger weld. After my experience welding with and without extra wire,  I would say it is not needed unless a hole/pit forms that you need to start building material back up on.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 10.33.43 AM

from Lampert website

It’s also important to know which alloy of a aluminum you are using. There are many, and its best to keep it consistent if you want to have the same results every time. Frau Hartenburger told be they order the same alloy of aluminum for all the stock they have at Benegl- sheet, tubing, wire. I can’t confirm this is true, but she did show me the invoice of their last order of Aluminium wire from Guttman. The alloy specified is: AW1090



Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 10.01.10 AM

The Welding of Aluminium and Its Alloys By Gene Mathers



Annodized chain samples

After fabrication, the aluminum pieces can be “Eloxiert”, (Anodized) with bright permanent colours on their surface. You can also do a clear anodizing so the surface is strong/hard/protected, but the aluminum colour does not change or oxidize. I’ll be trying this later, as there is a local firm here that specializes in this.



Apparently, certain alloys can also be hardened with heat. I’ll have do more research to find out if this alloy can.


“Soft” soldering aluminum with some low- solder and “soldering-fat” I found laying around on the workbench did not work at all. The aluminum crumbled into a ball before any of the solder spread out onto it.


I have not tried aluminum brazing/welding rods from the hardware store…


Now, can I make anything interesting with this material?


Some updates after more work with Alumnium~

I thought my first completed Bengel earring (above) was pretty clever. I had found all the parts needed to puff/press a shape and then cut it out, and I could use pre-stamped off-cuts of material in a new way. I then created an integrated earwire, and Puk-welded the form closed. It never needed to go in the pickle (acid) to clean which was great, and I believed I could make many of these earrings, drop them off at the Anodizers, and come back later to pick up some wildly colourful fully complete earrings.


I took my earrings and some aluminum samples with different finishes (tumbled with stones, sandblasted, glass-brushed, shiny and pre-plated) to the local annodizer, Jakob Wild. He was not happy to see me and my small job. He said he had all the colours of anodize, but no samples. He told me things could not be shiny, just matt, (at his firm), and he also said any wires that were already in my aluminum pieces (brass, silver, steel) would just dissolve in the caustic anodizing baths. He really did not want to do my sample job, but I wanted to see how the electroplating would actually look so he told me I could pick 1 colour and for 30€ I could put in any number of pieces I wished.



The finished sample pieces did not look that great. The matt finish loses much  of the interesting faceting effects of the stamping process. The chain looked the best- I had used a chain that was already anodized clear and shiny from another firm. The red coating feels very superficial- some bits of a silver show through in places. I read on the internet that you could buff gently on a wheel after anodizing, which I tried, but it does not have that rich satiny finish you see on water tumblers from the 60’s. Mr. Wild said if I had a black anodized piece, and graved into it, it would not be possible to put a clear coat on top,  the electrolytic process just gets rid of the colour underneath.


I had hoped to make a group of pieces and have them fully completed here, but I am sensing I may need to find an anodizer back in North America.


I got in touch with professor Frankie Flood from Boone State to ask a few questions (gratefully in English!). Frankie gave me lots of good information and also suggested if I switched my ear wires to a Titaium wire, they could withstand the electroplating bath. This was a great tip, although it did send me down another path of trying to find some Titanium wire locally and having exhausted every firm, buying wire from Ebay. Having never worked with Titanium before, I have since learned it is very hard to work with. It is grey matt in colour, very springy, can’t be drawn down, but wow-it welds beautifully with the PUK! We will see if I can tame a bit of this material in my quest to get a single pair of earrings strongly made, and done.


I also found some solder/weld rods at the local Building supply store Globus Baumarkt. They say “hard-solder” and have integrated flux. Soldering with these rods is tricky, and it leaves a lot of solder in the area which is not desirable for a goldsmith. Mr. Wild also told me that any aluminum soldered pieces will fall apart in the anodizing bath, so I am ruling out this way of working for the moment. Frankie suggested I try some weld wire sold by Kent White in America so I will try this when I return home.




Among other things, I am in love with the stools scattered around the factory and often in different places I have been in Germany. My friends Helen & David, and Gabi had lovely ones in their apartments, and I remember Otto Künzli telling us not to steal the lovely and historic ones we had at the Künste Akademie München.



This one on the left looks to have a comfy piece of asbestos stapled to the top?



I think I like them so much because they embody the idea of “sehr praktisch“, which is often heard. Well-made, utilizing strong readily available materials, and continuing to remain handy for countless years.

Mr. Bauer

Mr. Bauer jumped up from his sitting place on the first day I arrived in Idar-Oberstein, and pitched right into showing me the chain making machines, presses etc.



Ever since that day, when I meet him again, he re-introduces himself. “I’m Ludwig”. Like all the past times, I’ll continue to call him Herr Bauer.



There are three relatives of Jakob Bengel who come to work in the factory each day, right at 7am. Sadly Mr. Bauer does not arrive at that time, but it can be forgiven. While the family members are in their 70’s & 80’s, Mr. Bauer is almost 90. He’s been volunteering to give tours at the factory for about 2 years and worked much of his life as a steel engraver at a different company. He seems to be the only one who knows how the machines work at Bengel, and this worries me a bit. There may come a time when the foundation decides that as a protected “denkmal” the tools and tooling can’t actually be used, as they are also a protected archive. Again I am very grateful I get to blow off dust, poke around and try to use what I find.



Steel tool maker/engraver’s workbench



Herr Bauer is a master at a job that does not exist anymore. He used hand engraving tools to cut and file into a block of steel to carve a positive “punch” or “hub” that would make a jewellery stamping. The punch was always made and hardened, and then a softened piece of steel was heated and pressed into it, (and then hardened  again), to make the die (recess.)


Hub and die carved by Mr. Bauer


The Bengel factory has a corner set up with his tools, the first dies he cut, his diploma, and occasionally, without warning, he also wanders in which is the best. One case holds the very first hub and dies he cut. He became a steel apprentice in 1943 at the age of 15, and trained for two years as a “lehrling”  before he began his life’s work. Looking at his first punches, and imagine him cutting and cleaning steel with such finesse, makes me consider the huge gap of expectations of young people from this era and now. My son is almost 12 and would be impossible to image him or his schoolmates undertaking something like this in the next years.





First punches carved my Mr. Bauer between the ages of 15-17.

I remember when I first arrived in Germany more than 15 years ago, I was pretty shocked to hear that all students were not on the pathway to University, as it the American Dream. Towards middle school both the learner the and the school system start to acknowledge the student’s interests and aptitudes. Some students will go on to “Gymnasium” high school which will lead to university, and some will go to a “Realschule” or Berufschule”. Students on this latter path usually work within a firm and do theory/book learning at school when not working as a trainee or apprentice. You might be on this pathway if you are learning lay cobblestone driveways, repair aircraft, become a goldsmith, etc. Germany acknowledges that it will need all different types of workers to support their economy, so they do an excellent, (in my untrained, outside opinion~), job of training students well for work they can do. This engenders a sense of pride in the work that is done, and in most cases, a comfortable living wage is earned. I also undertsnd that if one is not on the pathway to university, but decides later that is right for her, there are ways to get there. Vocational training and unversity are free for everyone, so people are by and large very well educated.


As the years go on, I mourn the loss of a sense of pride in doing hand-work and seeing it as a rewarding life pathway that has happened in North America. As the world becomes globally linked, and the economy and quality of life continues to rise around the world, (as it should), we all have the aptitude to design, manufacture, desire, and purchase goods. People who can build, make and repair locally will always be in high demand.


Hand tools of a steel engraver

Mr. Bauer is definitely in high demand by me. Often when I ask him if he can help me get a tool working, he’ll say, “Lets do that on Wednesday” (three days from now!) I have been advised to adjust my expectations about what can get accomplished in my 2 months here, and “enjoy the atmosphere” and make good contacts. I am trying to ignore the New Yorker side of my personality and just do this.



Likely it will be the small observations I will take away. One day Mr. Bauer and I were looking for the two pins that fit in a hub and die, and allow them to register against each other in the press. In a factory filled with more than 20,000 punches, we could not find two pins that fit. In frustration, Mr. Bauer took a pin that did not fit, popped it in the lathe, and just started grinding it down to size with a file to make it fit. It was kind of refreshing as every time I have used a lathe in the past it seems like it took an hour to set up, and then I spent countless hours trying to make a finished piece of work. For Mr.Bauer it is just a huge tool in his toolbox. His gnarled hands are knowledgeable, just like my grandfathers were, capable of making or fixing almost anything.



Making sense of a wild archive


My workbench at the Factory

Imagine stepping into a historic factory, with machines powered by spindle belts, with a collection of more than 20,000 hub and die punches and cutting-out tools. The Bengel Fabrik has taken some stabs over the years at cataloguing the punches, but it really ends up only been searchable in a tactile/visual way. No one has given me any direction, so I am free to search and find what I would like to use.



Chain making machines on the first floor

There are chain-making machines on the first floor, true innovations themselves which show the mark of the hand in how each distinct tooling works. At this point, the machines that are working are making aluminum chain, as aluminum chain curtains were some of the last products being made/sold in the 1950’s or so…. (guessing on that date~) I find a few small samples of chain that looks a little more “jeweller-ly”, but I am told they cant be made anymore…The ones that are functioning are making larger simple oval or “Panzier” kette.



The array of steel stamps is dizzying. I have seen so many photos from previous jeweller’s who have visited this place, but it can’t be truly comprehended until you are here. In the past I’ve worked at costume jewellery companies in Providence RI, and have seen old stamps and stampings at Wolf E. Myrow or Metalliferous in NYC (both buy out-of-business jewellery firm’s stock), but Bengel Fabrik is even more stunning.


Huge press for stamping

I’ll share the words for the parts to make a successful stamping, to save some future artists a few days of grasping around for the right words!



Top punch, called “Gesenk” or “Stempel”

Top punch- I hear it most often called “Gesenk”. I call it a “Stempel” which everyone seems to understand, and I have seen the top part written as: “Obergesenk” and “Praegesenk”.



The metal is then pressed into a matching underneath part. Everyone seems to call it “Gesenk”, and I do too. I have seen it written as “Gegen gesenk”. If you can only find this part, you can still make a solid stamping out of aluminum with just a flat (or textured) over-part to punch the metal in.


To make a hollow form, pressed out of thin metal, you need to find the top and bottom (Gesenk and Gegengesenk.)


As I was rooting around by myself, it took me a few days to discover this. I would find one lovely part, but not another.


So if you want to have a machine shear the stamping out of the waste metal around it, you need to find the cut-out tool. This is called “Aushauer”. If you just find “Aushauer” with interesting silhouettes, you can simply cut sheet metal with them.


I started my search through the stamps by looking for lucky symbols. I have had a note in my journal to myself from 15 years ago to try to make the “luckiest neckpiece in the world”. It seems many cultures have their own auspicious symbols for luck, and often rituals and traditions that accompany them. Religious traditions assign value to stones , and use beads as prayer tools, or badges and medals as religious signifiers. There is a lot to mine here, and I have started with the German “Lucky Symbols”. Many are the same as the ones I grew up with in North America, but a few are different.


German Lucky Things/Symbols:






Cute (but poisonous) red and white spotted mushroom

The cross-heart-anchor symbol symbolizes faith-love-hope. I have seen this throughout Europe and made piece based on it when I lived in Germany before.


If there are more- please send your thoughts to me!



Working at the School

Artists who come for this residency, have the possibility to work at the Bengel Factory, or the Hochschule Trier (actually located in Oberstein). The school is about a 45-minute walk from my apartment or a 20-minute bike ride. I have been persevering trying to get a bike (rescued from the cellar) in working condition to ride to the factory. It is not a biking town- I am often the only one on a bike, and I need to weave in-and-out of walkers on the sidewalk as it is verboten to ride in the street with cars.


The beautiful village of Idar is bisected by a highway that makes this a driving town!

As mentioned before, Ute and Theo are professors at the school. Julia teaches the theory classes, and Jutta is the technician and artistic assistant. Winnie is the workshop meister for the stonecutting room. It’s amazing- he assists students working in the room all day. A few pics from the lovely workshops at the Hochschule:


The students in the undergraduate Bachelors program are mostly German. They have a structured education, and classes are held in German. The Masters students are international, study for two years, and come from all over the world. Many are ramping up at the moment for their final presentations in the third week of June, when the academic year ends. There are also guest students, exchange students, and graduates who can prolong their stay a bit. I look forward to participating in some of the final critiques, as well as interviewing students for my “lucky traditions” research project. The ability to work in a fully equipped stone cutting facility, in an artistic way, seems to be one-of-a-kind in Europe. Its all the more interesting that this program is nestled in a region known historically for both its mineral deposits, high-quality cutting and trading.



The Bachelors workroom


So great that the tool drawers are labelled in German and English


Basic shared hand tools are available


The stone cutting room


The wood and unusual materials room


Jutta showing me how the use the PUK welder


Now it is my challenge to decide how I will spend my working time. I can work 7am until 4pm at the Bengel factory, and 24 hours at the school as long as a buddy is there. Staff at the school have normal weekday hours @9-5, minus lunch, so if you need help cutting stones-come during the week!



The workbench near the door for the Artist-in-Residence


First impressions of the Bengel factory

Here are some first impressions of the Jacob Bengal Factory.


Amazing and overwhelming! Fresh off the plane & train, I received a late afternoon introduction to the chain making a machine, the upstairs machine rooms complete with zillions of punches, the offices and the brand new permanent exhibition room. (There was a terrible flood here in 2005 that filled the first floor, (Filled with steel machinery and punches), with water. It has taken until now to clean and repair the tools and create a brand new renovated exhibition/display space. It is a beautiful balance of old and new, and I just missed the grand re-opening on the space.


Bengel exhibition rooms, “Galalite” samples


Any visitors who come to the Denkmal will receive a personal guided tour through all these amazing spaces for the too-low cost of 4.50Euros.


Sneak peek inside the Bengel villa, and view to the street from the factory.




These are two very special people I met on the first day. Mr. Braun is married to a descendant of the Bengel/Hartenburger family and is the patriarch of the firm. He served in the military and became more involved in the Bengel factory/Foundation after his retirement. Mr. Bauer (on the right), is a master steel engraver, 91 years old I believe, who does tours of the factory, and seems to be the only one who currently knows how the machines and punches work. I’ll highlight his amazing history in a future post.


Some of the beautiful stampings/machines/impressions of the space


To sum it up briefly from what I have garnered from reading Christianne Weber’s book, ” Art Deco Jewelry, JAKOB BENGEL, Idar-Oberstein/Germany“, this firm was founded in 1873 by Jacob Bengel to make chains for pocket watches. This was a booming industry and his firm grew, and both waxed and waned according to the economy, wars, availability of materials, and interest in the objects being produced. I would say that not much has changed on this site. Almost everything is still here save for the business of 50+ people working on site punching, plating, assembling, packing, etc~ You can read much more on the fascinating history in these few links: an article by Rudy Collier, a short blurb from the current firm that now licences the designs, and more…..



Of most interest to everyone seems to be the jewellery produced at this factory in the 1930’s. It is called both Art Deco style, and Bauhaus style, and stands out for being uniquely clear, innovative and modern designs, made with relatively inexpensive materials so it could be purchased by women throughout Europe. “Galalite” was a special new plastic made from milk and formaldehyde that came in many colours, could be polished and was not flammable like celluloid.



One of the many “Musterbuch”


Being a designer myself, I ask who designed the hundreds/thousands of stamps/punches/finished jewellery pieces….almost no designers seem to be known. I am often told the steel engravers were the designers. I look forward to learning more about this but suffice it to say the volume of distinct designs is extraordinary.

Getting There

I got a great one-way flight on Condor Airlines from Halifax to Frankfurt, the nearest airport to the residency. Shortly before my arrival, the contact person for the residency Julia Wild got in touch with me. Julia is a ‘gem’ in more way than one, and I’ll highlight the work she is doing in a future post. Julia comes from a long line of Wild stone cutters, is an art historian who teaches theory in both German and English at the Hochschule, and is the liaison between the Bengel Foundation, the Hochschule, and most things that need to get done. Julia wrote a fascinating article about pin backs– who knew?


Condor was nothing to write home about, but they did let me check my bag for free, and provided a free (terrible) meal on the cross-Atlantic flight.


IMG_3320The weight limit was 23 kilograms!


This is what I saw when I first got off the plane in Frankfurt airport. At first, I thought- finally-the airports acknowledge how tired everyone is at the airport. Then I thought later that perhaps these cots were set up for refugees and asylum seekers who would not be allowed through customs right away? There were hundreds~




Once you are in the Frankfurt airport, you can take a train right to Idar-Oberstein, right from the airport.



Follow signs first for “Bahnhof” (train station), and then Regional Bahnhof area. I think this is also “S-Bahn”. You can buy a ticket from the DB kiosk, or from a human if you can find one at a DB office. Trains go right to Idar-Oberstein direct, or you might need to do 1 transfer in Mainz. Cost me 27Euro in 2018, and took about 1.45 hours. There are trains often.






Here is the artists-in-residence’s apartment. It is former worker housing, right next to the Bengel Fabrik. Its a one bedroom with great light, 2 beds, washing machine, large desk, all linens and kitchen things, and Julia nicely stocked it with some startup treats.