A major retrospective exhibition of the jewellery of Kobi
Bosshard opens in Gore on Saturday. Shane Gilchrist examines
craft, pride and a pioneering spirit.
Kobi Bosshard, who has enjoyed a career in jewellery spanning
more than 50 years, knows only too well the dangers in
overworking a piece of silver or gold.
A self-described ''craftsman jeweller'' who followed his
Swiss father and grandfather into a world of precious metals
and stones, he was brought up to do things well, to deftly
conceal the catches and clasps, the working elements.
Yet over time he has come to embrace the functional. Take the
hanging mechanism on a brooch; why hide it? Or the delicate
marks of a hammer used to shape a silver ring; let them be.
In short, Bosshard's work might be highly crafted, yet it is
''That's how I would like my work to be treated,'' he says
from his Middlemarch home.
''There is an expectation that things should be original all
the time. Well, that's not possible. I just set out in the
morning to make a ring that will be the best at that time. If
it is a new design, then it is new, but that's not the
''I see myself as a goldsmith; a tradesman. This hierarchy of
artist-jewellers ... to me, it doesn't exist. I make good
things, but that should be expected of a tradesman.
''I'm modest, but I think I'm realistic about my work. I know
when it is good.''
Others do, too.
Damian Skinner, curator of applied arts and design at
Auckland Museum and a Newton International Fellow at the
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of
Cambridge, has recently completed a book celebrating
Kobi Bosshard: Goldsmith, published by Bateman NZ, was
released in conjunction with Auckland arts entity Objectspace
and its Masters of Craft exhibition, which ran for 10 weeks
late last year and will tour nationally this year, including
a two-month showing at the Eastern Southland Gallery, Gore,
starting on Saturday.
According to Objectspace, its exhibition aims to ''celebrate
the achievements of outstanding New Zealand practitioners
working at the highest level in the fields of craft, design
and the applied arts whose practice is distinctive, enduring,
influential and redefining of tradition''.
The exhibition acknowledges Bosshard's significant
contribution to New Zealand jewellery, which is examined
through a series of installations, from the 1960s to the
present. The exhibition includes works loaned from leading
public and private collections around New Zealand and
overseas, including Auckland Museum, Te Papa and the Dowse
In Skinner's book, which includes a range of interviews
conducted in recent years, Bosshard states his jewellery
should not be regarded as museum pieces, nor should his work
be elevated to a higher status. He can only laugh then when
asked of his thoughts on a book that celebrates his work -
and an exhibition that has borrowed items from museums.
''I'm comfortable with that. I know my work is OK - actually,
sometimes it is very good. ''I think when I first sold
something to the Auckland Museum, I had said all my pieces
should be worn by a person first, that they need to have a
life before they go to a museum. Then when I had an
exhibition, the museum people asked if they could buy
something. ''I must say I was very flattered. Though I still
hold to that belief, I definitely let them have it.''
Bosshard insists people should use their own judgement when
viewing his work. Ultimately, he'd want a person to like a
piece so much they'd buy it. ''People should look at
themselves, at what they like. Don't think just because there
is a book out about this guy that he must be good.
''I think it is about communicating my view of the world. I
think everyone does something that others can relate to, but
in art or craft this is just more pronounced, more visible.
''When I look at things, I might think, `Gee, that person
cares about the detail; they care about what they are doing.'
Lots of things come out that reveal what a person thinks of
Bosshard's pursuit of the unpretentious extends to his
insistence that the photographs in Kobi Bosshard:
Goldsmith be reproduced at real-life scale. Not bigger,
nor smaller, just as is.
''I find we live in a time where pretentiousness is
dominating,'' he says.
''You see jewellery books in which pictures of rings are the
size of a hand. It just doesn't mean anything. Of all craft
objects, jewellery is one we can reproduce in its original
size. I think that is important - it reminds you that it is
something to be worn.''
Bosshard moved to Middlemarch with wife Patricia in 2001,
having decided to do ''less jewellery than I did before'', he
says in reference to a career that has, significantly for
Dunedin, included the establishment in 1983 of co-operative
and exhibition space Fluxus (first in Dowling St, then in
Lower Stuart St, where it remained until 2004).
''Basically, I am fading away ... gracefully.
''I have no plans to reinvent myself. I just go to work and
try to improve on what I did yesterday.''
Bosshard says one of his most enjoyable current projects is
of a human kind. Every second week, he opens his studio to an
Otago Polytechnic jewellery student.
''I feel a responsibility to pass on to her the information
and skills that I have. I like to deal with young people,''
the 73-year-old says.
Bosshard might possess an understated personality, but there
is more than a hint of pride when he recollects his decision
to shun the potentially comfortable arrangement of remaining
in the family jewellery business in Switzerland in favour of
a journey to New Zealand in 1961.
''Our family had made its living from jewellery for two
generations already. I don't think I was consciously pushed
to do jewellery but I think there was a hope I would take
over the business one day. ''Initially, it was just my
grandfather on his own, then my father worked with him. Then
under my father it grew and he took on more of a management
role. I saw my father becoming more and more like a
businessman and I definitely didn't want to do that.''
In his book, Skinner describes the development of Bosshard's
craft as crucial to the development of contemporary jewellery
in New Zealand, a ''pivotal link between the modernist
jewellers of the 1960s and the following generations of
contemporary New Zealand jewellers, a maker who, steeped in
the tradition of modern European goldsmithing, came to New
Zealand and built upon his inheritance to make works that are
of this place and time''.
Bosshard explains his foundations: ''Although we were just
taught what we were taught, in retrospect I think this was
modernism. It comes from the Bauhaus movement in Germany:
it's about truth to the material, truth to the function. It's
The difference, Bosshard says, between modernist and
contemporary jewellery lies in personality, being
self-conscious about the work, exploring an idea.
''I think in the beginning it was straight design. Very
little of my personality came into it. But later on I became
more interested in the materials and I was more interested in
my attitudes; the work became closer to me.''
In light of the fact a major retrospective exhibition of his
work is now touring the country (Gore is the closest it comes
to Dunedin), it seems fitting to allow Bosshard the final
word on his career: What does he regard as the most important
aspect of his work over all these years?
''For me, it is important that I have held up the tradition
[of crafting jewellery]. I haven't tried to replace it,
though I have added my little bits to it.
''I haven't let myself down. And I haven't cheated anybody.''
The Objectspace Master of Craft exhibition will open at the
Eastern Southland Gallery, Gore, on Satrday, February 2, and
will run for two months.