Wendts, Bell & Brunt, and Julius Schomburgk

Hi everyone

Easter is over, and the cold weather is suddenly upon us. I hope you all enjoyed the break – we were commenting at work only recently that although April was good for holidays, it broke our concentration level a little bit. Happy to say that now we are back on track. We are excited about some amazing and wonderful commissions due over the next few months, and I will make sure I include some of the photos of these finished pieces in our next newsletters.

I’m not sure whether you heard recently of the death of Keith Brunt of the well-known jewellers Bell and Brunt. I would like to offer our condolences to his family, friends and staff. He was one of an era of manufacturing jewellers who have always hand crafted their jewellery and taught many of the talented jewellery makers we know today.

I was in the same city vicinity as Bell and Brunt when I started my five year apprenticeship in 1968 – I learned my skills at one of a handful of sole-proprietor workshops dotted throughout the city of Adelaide. These owners were all friends – in fact many of them belonged to The Goldsmiths Guild of SA (GGSA), a group established to allow important industry conversation and social interaction amongst the small and select jewellery workshops in Adelaide. The camaraderie was valuable and genuine and certainly proved that there was strength in numbers. I joined the GGSA as the first junior member and a few years later from our first store at 115 Unley Road, hosted the first GGSA Jewellery Design Award. It had always been a passion of mine to encourage South Australian innovative jewellery design and the Design Award proved to be successful. During the early 90s the jewellery pieces went on public display at the David Jones Gallery in Rundle Mall and in 1997 under the title of ‘Jewel of Adelaide’ the awards evening took place at the new Adelaide Convention Centre  Having stepped back from the committee some years earlier, I was eligible to enter and fortunate to win the Supreme Award with my double gold and diamond brooches:


Yellow and white gold diamond double brooches.

Yellow and white gold diamond double brooches.

It was during my thoughts about design and manufacturing that I remembered Wendts Jewellers, sadly no longer in business. Wendts began when Joachim Matthias Wendt moved to South Australia from Europe and in 1852 opened premises at 68 Rundle Street Adelaide, then moved to number 84:

Wendts 1869

Wendts 1861

After a couple of moves Wendts ended up in 1874 at 70 Rundle Street. They were one of Adelaide’s most famous jewellery houses with at one stage twenty six staff under one roof.

Wendts 1920

Wendts 1874

There was an article published in 1904 in the South Australian Advertiser stating that Wendts was credited with the reputation for creating:

…a modern establishment second to none in Australasia. It has conveniences for customers on an elaborate scale. The spacious frontage is ornamented with mosaic tiles, the semi-circular lead-lights border a large clock over the entrance flanked by 12 foot sloping windows and the surrounding double pressed brickwork is neatly tuck pointed and finished in Portland cement – it is very elegant.

The article goes on:

The interior lighting and ventilation, the handsome staircase leads to the first floor, the floor to ceiling showcases are laden with a wonderful collections of fancy goods, together with a waiting room, a sight testing department, a dark room and luncheon room make the store very impressive. The first floor has the jewellery and watchmaking departments, jewellery storage, a brush room, store rooms, lunch rooms and lavatories. The firm’s business has certainly made rapid strides of late catering for whatever the customer wants.   Advertiser SA 1889 – 1931 Wednesday 14 December 1904

It must have been very exciting!

Uncannily, during the mid-1850s, Helen’s great-great-uncle Julius Ludwig Schomburgk worked at Wendts as the principal designer and workshop foreman. His work is incredible and a lot of it is documented and shown in the publication ‘Bounty’ produced in conjunction with an exhibition of South Australian Nineteenth Century Gold and Silver held at the Art Gallery of SA in 2012. Below are two of the beautiful pieces he crafted at Wendts:

Inkwell with mounted emu egg and Aboriginal figures. Image: National Gallery of Australia

Inkwell with mounted emu egg and Aboriginal figures.
Image: National Gallery of Australia

The John Ridley Testimonial Candelabrum (1860) made from silver, gold, malachite and blackwood, by Julius Schomburgk (1812-1893) Photo by Grant Hancock

The John Ridley Testimonial Candelabrum (1860) made from silver, gold, malachite and blackwood, by Julius Schomburgk (1812-1893)
Image: Grant Hancock

It has been awe-inspiring to see the calibre of work produced by him in those years.

During my training, it was a short walk from my workshop in Gawler Place to Wendts in Rundle Street and I spent many a lunch hour gazing at the beautiful jewellery in their windows and marvelling at the scope of design and quality of their pieces. I was like a kid looking at a lolly shop window – mesmerised. I hoped and dreamed that one day I would have a store that showcased the sort of beautiful jewellery that they made. It was by chance that during the 80s when Helen and I opened our fourth store in The Gallerie Shopping Centre in Adelaide’s CBD that we were located behind Wendts. John O’Loughlin who owned the business we bought, went on to work for Wendts as a jewellery valuer. I often discussed with John how the jewellery industry was changing and how he and his wife Marg, as regular overseas travellers could see the move to mass production, which in a lot of cases saw the decline of quality craftsmanship.

I feel I’ve proved, as have many others, that the ‘hands on’ qualifications gained by sitting shoulder to shoulder with a competent craftsperson should never be underestimated and it is sad to think that times have changed so much that the sorts of workshops of the size that I witnessed in those years are no longer in business. We in the hand-made jewellery trade all fear there will be a loss of information for younger generations and that is distressing. l hope the methods of manufacturing that Matthew and I were taught won’t die out.  It is doubtful that learning from a book or scanning the internet will result in expert jewellers, because the one important thing missing is the person to person contact and conversation. Matthew thrilled me the other day when he mentioned that he intends to teach his skills to a willing recipient at some point in his career. Such great news Matt.

Helen and I have always believed there is a place for expertly made, hand crafted jewellery and we continue all these years later to produce pieces of superior quality which mean so much to the wearers. We have stood the test of time even if sometimes it seemed too hard, and we are so fortunate to have Matthew our son and Lou our daughter who share our vision. It is also through the assistance of two dear friends that we are able to continue the creation of special pieces for our special clients, and for this we are forever grateful.

I will have more news and images for you next month, and to the Mums out there, enjoy Mother’s Day!

Cheers for now and love to you all

Nicholas X



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