Georgetown Gem

Georgetown Gem


Bettina Dittlmann, Red brooch, 2005, red ironwire enamel

Jewelers' Werk Galerie
3319 Cady's Alley, NW
Washington, DC 20007

In 1984 the Dutch jeweler Joke van Ommen opened vo Galerie in Washington, DC. The tiny space broke ground as a showcase for contemporary jewelry, primarily from Europe. When van Ommen died in 1988, one of her American artists, Ellen Reiben, took over the business and renamed it Jewelers’ Werk. It endures as one of the few and foremost galleries for leadingedge art jewelry.

How has Jewelers' Werk evolved?
Reiben: Well, we got a new location [in 2007]; that's been the biggest change. I had a fullpage review in the Washington Post that said I moved from a closet-sized to a kitchen-sized space. It's only 260 square feet, but it's huge for us.

You've made the gallery your own yet kept its international flavor.
It was important to keep [van Ommen's] idea intact. She only had the gallery for four years, had really just started. I followed her lead. She'd started to add American artists, and I expanded on that. I traveled widely in Europe. I felt I needed to show my face because Europeans weren't going to send jewelry to someone they didn't know. I met lots of the artists, such as Bettina Dittlmann, creator of Red Brooch; they got to know me, trust me.

What do you look for in the work you show?
I only take work that makes me feel I've never seen anything like it before. It has nothing to do with materials or imagery, but with having something to say and an original way to say it. I'm interested in subtlety. I usually don't represent people who are doing very theatrical, sculptural, big jewelry.

Some of my artists have been in the field for 30 years, some for a couple of years. I remember when I started showing jewelry by Karl Fritsch. I think I was the first gallery to approach him. He was right out of the Munich Academy, but his work was so innovative and ballsy. He would break the rules and get away with it. You get in his work a sense of his provincial Bavarian background, and then, of course, he's a rebel. That combination is incredible in terms of what he comes up with.

How do you get customers to be adventurous?
It happens on its own. I've had customers buy something classic and easy to understand. Then they'll come in again and take a baby step from that. They end up buying some really interesting pieces. I do sell production work as well. I have to. I'm in Georgetown, a very social area. I need for someone to be able to walk in and buy something for $100, so I have to have accessible work. I can't sit here and wait for the people who can afford to spend thousands.

People think of Washington as a city of conservative tastes.
But we're very international; that's the key. We have the World Bank, the imf, diplomats, people who travel a lot. They see things here in the gallery that they're comfortable looking at because they're European, or whatever. There aren't many places that show this kind of work, so they get hooked.