For centuries, Silver dominated the world as a trade commodity, from art to currency, investment material, and even medicine. However, industrialization and mass production in materials such as Stainless Steel, Zinc, and other metals much popular and accessible, making Silver and the art of shaping it a rare skill. German-based studio Hebach & Kloes is a creative duo that has mastered the craft of sculpting and giving this metal a much higher value than it already has.
Sophie and Jan are a family of artists with a love for sculpting and improving everyday tools with the highest quality standards. From candle holders out of a fairytale to knives so beautiful Michelin chefs will die for. They let us in to take a look at their world, their careers, and process.
Hi Hebach-Kloess, tell us about your studio, the founders, and its origins.
Sophie: Our studio's origin is the classical love story: we met at university where we were both studying design. Our school, the University of Applied Arts and Science Hildesheim (HAWK) has some selected subjects like "lighting design" or, in our case, "metal design," where we enjoyed a very comprehensive education. Soon into our studies, Jan and I noticed a huge attraction towards each other and great unison in working together. We worked practically in workshops with others before and soon realized that this is something extraordinary.
Jan: Nowadays, 15 years later, we have two kids, exhibit our work at fairs and in some museums, and have build up a workshop with many many tools and machines. Though - contrary to our designs - many of our production processes seem to be old-fashioned, we always try to find the best technical solutions for our ideas. We design and make kitchen knives and items to be found on the festive table.
How are the creative dynamics between the two of you, do you collaborate on all designs, or work independently?
Jan: Mostly, we work independently. Each of us chooses his/her themes and subjects or gets commissioned to design a specific object. We do regularly ask each other´s opinions during the creative process, though. Sometimes the other points out flaws that one already knew but didn´t want to see. The other´s ideas and objections are often useful to shape one´s motives more clearly. Sometimes we collaborate too. The “High Jug” was, for example, originally my design for a church in Berlin. Sophie finally built it and then adjusted the design for profane use and added the beakers.
How do designs come to life? What is your favorite part of the process?
Jan: We have different ways of working. Sophie draws first and often makes paper or plaster models. She carefully plans each silverwork, not least because of the preciousness of the metal. I usually start right in the middle of the material, or so it seems. There is a long process of shaping and reshaping things in my mind that goes on beforehand. But at some point, there is a clear vision, and then I like to get right at it.
Sophie: We both have a favorite part in the process of silversmithing, though. When you raise a vessel from a silver sheet or forge it out of a bar, you get to the point where the object's shape gets terminally defined by many little blows performed with a tiny polished hammer. This work is time-consuming and, in a way, meditative. We like it so much because the silver show's wonderful characteristics at that point: you can span the shining surface till the object reaches precisely the shape and expression you wanted.
How did you find your passion for metalwork?
Sophie: Doing A-levels, I thought I wanted to try an academic career but learn something practical first. I remembered the many earrings I had been making out of feathers and silver wire when I was twelve, so I went into an apprenticeship with a goldsmith. I really liked it, and I was pretty good at it too, so after seven years of training and practice, I visited the design-school where I met Jan. There, I changed my line of work from jewelry to silverware.
Jan: I have been fascinated by metal from early on: at the age of six, I was allowed to bend, hammer, file, grind and even drill steel and scrap metal in my dad´s hobby workshop by myself. I even made a knife out of a hanging construction for curtains when I was seven. It looked as if it was confiscated in a prison but still...
The beauty of silver was first revealed to me by Sophie at university.
What or who has been of significant influence on your work as a whole?
Sophie: Jan. Just kidding. But it is a difficult question.
What was your first commission?
Jan: My first real commission was a light sculpture/sculptural lamp that I made when I was 19. It was from steel, 2.3 meters high and about 100 kilos. The woman I designed and built it for asked me for a certificate in case I became famous, and the sculpture became valuable. She paid a suitable price and also gave me a bottle of wine that I still keep. Sadly the pictures I have are all clacked out since they are form 1997.
Sophie: My most important early commission was three tea-boxes made from brass, copper and silver, that I had shown in an exhibition on modern Wunderkammern in the Kestner Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hannover. They were somewhat experimental and part of a seminar assignment at the HAWK. The museum bought them as the exhibition ended. That was a great boost for my self-confidence!
What music set the tone at the studio?
Sophie: While driving or working, we both like to listen to Electronica: “The Chemical Brothers,” “Kruder + Dorfmeister,” “Daft Punk”, “Royksopp,” and of course now and then “Kraftwerk,” since we´re Germans...
What inspires your work?
Jan: Dissatisfaction with what is available and the challenge to find another, “better” or one that suits you.
Your work has a beautiful mix of organic forms and elegant minimal geometries, what drives the design process towards one more than the other?
Sophie: Thanks, that is a lovely way to put it! I would say I started with more organic, and Jan had more geometrical forms. Then we kind of crossed lines, and now we are both moving back and forth. It depends on the type of object we are working on and on our mood. At the moment, we seem to have adopted: I noticed a strong resemblance between my pentagon vases and the “playing card” knives (which were there first, to do truth justice).
You make beautiful knives, tell us more about what goes behind making these unique tools, and what a Master Chef would love about them.
Jan: I love making kitchen knives because it is very demanding in different ways. The most obvious is the design and integrating function and ergonomics. There is a very narrow frame of possible and practical forms. Finding something new and individual is not easy but very satisfying. The most significant difference to other knives is my transitions from blade to handle. I like to shape that zone smoothly without hard edges because the hand tends to move onto that part of the knife for better control. You don´t grab a kitchen knife like a door handle. Forming this zone is often very time consuming because it is also the place where metal meets wood. The different techniques make this work diverse and exciting.
I forge the more common carbon blade steels, but also Damascus steel and some stainless steels that are very demanding. But the part of knife making that takes the longest is grinding. I would not mind if that was faster.
Heat treatment really makes a difference. The best steel alloy does not show its full quality without the right heat treatment. The forged and ground blades are heated up to 16h at different temperature intervals and then tempered when the structure is ideal. Some alloys need to be cooled to -80°C – the whole process is a mixture of science and experience.
Afterwards the blades are ground while water cooled to final thinness. Etching the damascus steel is a very special moment because you can only control the pattern to a certain degree. After the etching the blade shows its unique character for the first time.
Finally I shape and adjust the wooden handles and secure them with pins and epoxy. I infiltrate the wood with oil in a vacuum oven to make it even more durable. Lastly I put on the edge with a very fine water stone.
Most of my knives have very thin and hard blades and are thus very light. This is why they cut extremely well all vegetable and mead and what makes them especially nice to handle. It also makes them more tender, they need to be handled with care not only because of their sharpness. For some kitchen works like for example cutting bone you would need a special knife from me or the ordinary commodity.
As German designers, what part of your work or process best represents the cultural influence of your nation?
High quality and durability. In function as well as esthetics. German thoroughness.
What do you hope customers experience when they use your products? What has been your most memorable experience with a customer?
Jan: We hope customers enjoy the beauty of the shape and the function as well. The best experiences with customers are when they return after some years and tell us how happy they are with their pieces. With the knives, it is often: “The knife I got from you is basically the only one I am using these days.”
What is the vision for your brand in the next years to come? What new products are you working on?
Sophie: Although we love being in the workshop, we see ourselves as designers and makers and not so much as craftspeople. That is why we hope to keep up the luxury of working similarly and not get trapped by the economic need to repeatedly reproduce the same designs. To further our work, we see three different options: finding one or two outstanding employees, cooperating with manufacturers or the industry, or getting even more expensive. At the moment, we are trying for a combination of the first two.
In the meantime, Jan made a really large pizza knife for a befriended customer and, by that, was inspired to design some nifty chopping knives. The underlying idea is quite simple, so maybe they would be candidates for serial production.
I am working on a series of silver candelabra right now. They are great fun because they are assembled of basically four different parts, and it is a little like playing with a model construction kit.