Urbis: Until recently, in New Zealand, there was a perception that your father and grandfather were both goldsmiths. Is this why you went into the same craft?
Kobi Bosshard: I think it probably was why I chose to become one because, when I was 16, I didn’t know any better. So I think it was quite a natural thing to fall into. I was expected, in the long-term, to take over my father’s business which I eventually did. So I think the choice of becoming a jeweller was probably made quite a few years later.
U: When you arrived in New Zealand in 1961, was there a contemporary jewellery industry here?
KB: I came out here and worked for a Swiss jeweller who had a business here in Wellington; he got me over. I made contact with him and came to work for him. From my point of view, it was extremely conservative work. It was mainly diamond rings and very, very conservative.
U: How do you go about designing a piece of jewellery? Is it like designing a piece of art and somewhat separate in your mind from how someone might wear it or is wearability foremost in your mind?
KB: I think this has probably changed over time. Initially, I think I designed it as a piece of jewellery. Essentially I think that is what it is and it has to be able to be worn reasonably comfortably – and then I do my thing.
U: What are your favourite materials to work with?
KB: I can work with gold and silver and so they are the only ones I know how to do. I also like precious stones; I think they’re quite a magical thing and so I make a lot of rings with them.
U: What is the importance of detail in your pieces?
KB: I think anything, whatever we look at, can look superficially very good from a distance. Then we start to look at the details and they start to give away things and for me I think it’s always when I look at the detail in a car or a machine or in anything, and I find the detail is a bit shabby then I think if they were mean on the detail, they were mean on the idea too and then I think the credibility of the piece goes out right away. There are very few people with so much genius that they can overcome that just by great ideas. For me I think one of those people was Picasso. He used to make some jewellery and he wasn’t a jeweller. … But we can’t do that. We still have to take to the detail.
U: Jewellers often work with someone to create a special piece – an engagement ring perhaps. Have you ever turned someone away because they wanted to create something that wasn’t authentically you?
KB: I think mostly what happens is that somebody comes along and says ‘I’ve got an idea’. The first thing I say to them is ‘okay let’s look at this idea’. In most cases, I think people have strong ideas, mostly something they have seen and then I say ‘I’ll make something and I’ll keep in mind what you have indicated that you like, but I will make my thing and if you don’t like it then forget about it and I shall keep it’. I think my responsibility is to the tradition of my trade and I don’t want to let that down, and then to myself – that I want to be honest to myself, and then I have a responsibility to the customer to satisfy their needs. In 40 to 50 years, I think one or two people said ‘no, we really don’t like what you’ve made for us’. That’s okay. I pulled them to bits or used them for something else.
U: Looking back on your career, what have been some of the highlights?
KB: I used to take the function into account. ‘It’s going to be a ring, it’s in the context of a stone’ and then I will design what fits with my own requirements and with the craft. But over the years I’ve been working with a lot of metal and I think I know quite a lot about working with gold and the processes. So more and more the processes have started the design – the metal tells me what I can do. I think designing is always being seen as ‘we tell the material what to do’ and I think, in the long run, it’s actually the other way round. … So for me designing is probably less a matter of drawing something on paper and then trying to follow it. That’s not what it is now at all. It’s saying I’m submitting my material to such and such a process and I find out what happens. …Probably one of the highlights, is what happens when I get to the point when if I’ve said ‘I’m going to do such and such’ and then I have to leave it as it comes out. I think it might not come out pretty, it might not come out in a balanced shape but I can’t interfere with it anymore. To get the courage to leave things alone once I have reached that point – that was probably one of the highlights…The next highlight is actually this exhibition which is coming up.
U: What has been most difficult about being an artisan in New Zealand?
KB: You call it artisan which I prefer to artist, because I think the biggest difficulty I’ve overcome but that a lot of people have is that actually they’re expected to be artists without actually ever even defining what art means. It’s a hierarchical and pretentious thing which is being pushed on them all the time and I think that made life difficult for me at times. I think I realised that we are goldsmiths, we are artisans and maybe sometimes we do something which is art but we make jewellery for people; that’s what it comes down to. That’s all it is but that’s a great thing as well. I think it doesn’t have to be art in order to be amazing work; so that’s my hobby horse.
Kobi Bosshard: Objectspace Masters of Craft runs until 17 November 2012 at Objectspace, Auckland.