Jewelry in Autumn Hues

{Alster Lake, Außenalster, Hamburg}

I’ve been doing A LOT of thinking about this blog lately.  {In part because of a <<FAB>> online blogging course I just finished.  More on that in a future post.}  I’ve realized that I’ve been squandering the opportunity to share one of the coolest things about my life…that I live abroad.  {Duh.}  So I’m going to be doing more posts that reveal Hamburg, my life here, and of course, the places in Europe I’m lucky enough to travel to.

For the past week, I’ve been walking around the city, running errands, and thinking “what am I going to blog about?!”  I feel like crap.  {I’ve been sick.}  What inspiration entertainment piece-of-work-that-won’t-make-people-groan-and-roll-their-eyes can I come up with this week?


{a fall color palette in Alsterpark, Hamburg}

Hope you enjoyed a mini-tour of my favorite park in the city.  And by the way, if you come to Hamburg, you have to experience the lake.  It’s like the beating heart of this town.

Photos: All jewelry is from my personal collection.  Photo 1: Late sunrise.  Photos 2: Amethyst and gold vermeil, pearl and silk necklace, bought in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul.  Photos 3: purple silk/cotton fabric in gold vermeil frame with amethyst dangles, bought in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul (left); glass, pearl and gold vermeil (right).   Photo 4: Early row on a clear morning.  Photos 5:  Deep pink quartz, pearl and gold vermeil earrings, bought in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul.  Photos 9-10: Vintage ART brooch (left), bought at flea market in Minnesota; vintage green rhinestone necklace, bought in flea market in Minnesota (middle); antique Art Deco glass bracelet, bought at antique fair in Hamburg (right).

Future in the Stars

Question: What do you think this object is?

[Indefinitive] Answer:  Hat Stand.  Or random household decoration.  But it was in the “hat stand” section of the Berlin flea market where I bought it, so….

Ok, but why am I even asking you this question?  [In and of itself a good question!]  Here’s why:  the other night, my husband and I had some Italian friends over for dinner.  Just before they arrived, I was scrambling to decorate the dining room table.  So I grabbed some of my vintage mirrors [I have quite the motherlode!] and was looking for something else to add some ‘height’ to the table display.  I grabbed this [see: the object pictured above].  I didn’t think much of it until our friends began discussing something in Italian [the girlfriend of the pair doesn’t speak very much English] and pointing at it.  After a minute, her boyfriend said to me [in English; he’s fluent], “that’s the Star of David, right?”  And then they spoke a bit more and he said, “you’re decorating for Christmas?  Very nice!”

Religious emblem?  Hat stand?  Whatever.  I politely told our guests that it could, in fact, be a Star of David.  And yes, I’m already thinking about Christmas decorating.  [Right…because I haven’t started decorating for Halloween yet…]

But this whole scene made me start thinking about SHOOTING STARS.  And the fact that maybe I have a small obsession with them??   This all comes back to jewelry because it was, in fact, a shooting star necklace that perhaps launch my infatuation with jewelry.  One of the first pieces I bought when I started getting really serious about jewelry as a passion/business was a necklace that I found in Essaouira, Morocco in 2006.  It’s sterling silver with bits of rhinestone [which make the “stars” glimmer!], and lapis lazuli to add color to these beautiful ‘shooting stars’.

Well, I’m off to start my weekend…I hope there’s lots of jewelry in it ; )


Note: This necklace is NOT typical of Moroccan jewelry, which tends to be Tuareg-made or influenced.  More tribal looking.  But when I saw this, I loved it, grabbed it and didn’t ask questions!



If you follow the international press, you’ve heard that right now Berlin is the epicenter of artistic creativity in Germany – if not in all of Europe.  (I’ve heard tales of creative geniuses working alone for days in basement cellars of old East Berlin factories.  Maybe you have, too?!)  Full of curiosity about the creative scene in Berlin, I was anxious to dig deeper.  So when I met artist and jewelry designer Gitte Nicolaus of Pictofactum at last month’s Blickfang design shopping event in Hamburg, I asked her if she would do an interview for this blog.  (She said ‘YES’!!)


It’s a dreary, cold afternoon in early October and my husband (and this story’s photographer!) and I are headed to the Pictofactum atelier.  It’s located in a new neighborhood, one built years after German reunification.  Rows of 4-story red brick apartment buildings line the main drag.  The taxi stops in front of one such building along the backside of the neighborhood.  Beyond it, there are trees, trails for walking and biking and finally, the Spree River.   We pay the cab driver and are quickly buzzed through first a gate and then the front door of the building that’s home to Pictofactum.   Following Gitte’s directions, we descend a dark staircase and I think ‘a-ha!  Just as I expected!’  As we reach the bottom of the stairs, Gitte welcomes us and leads us into the studio.

Upon entering the workspace, I’m pleasantly surprised to find a warmly lit studio with several artists at work and even the studio dog, Banjo (a Carling-Terrior mix – looks like a sweet pug to me!).   Note: the studio is only half a level below ground, so there are several windows to provide natural light.  No dungeon workspace here!  But there’s certainly something that I was hoping for: jewelry.  Lots of jewelry.  And the tools and materials for creating it.


Gitte Nicolaus is Pictofactum – she’s the founder, owner, designer, craftsperson, marketing and salesperson of the business.  Originally from Rostock, a medium-sized German city just off the Baltic Sea, Gitte moved to Berlin fifteen years ago to attend school for industrial design.  She loved the city (who wouldn’t?!), so after graduating, she went to work for a music company, where she stayed for six years. She enjoyed the industry, she tells me, “but I missed working with my hands.”

So after what she calls a “stroke of luck”, the music company she was working for folded, and she lost her job.  Many a person would have despaired.  Not Gitte.  “I thought, this is my chance!”  That chance was the opportunity to start her own business – one in which she could once again create with her hands.

A year later, Gitte is hard at work realizing her dream.  The challenge at the beginning was to figure out precisely what her business would be.   As a trained industrial designer, Gitte started experimenting with paper and other materials.   Eventually Gitte had her pièce de résistance, and what she thought would be her final product: geometric wall art.

“I love geometric shapes,” she says.  So Gitte began experimenting with grey ceramic powder to create her 3-dimensional figures. Next, she experimented with adding colored pigment to the ceramic mix to add further depth to the objects.  She then began gold leafing the forms.  One of my favorite things about Gitte’s pieces is the fact that they’re multi-colored.  Maintaining the natural grey of the ceramic and adding color only to some of each object’s facets emphasizes their geometric quality, and keeps them interesting!

One creative challenge mastered, Gitte then had the difficult task of choosing a name for her business.  As anyone who has started a business knows, this is no small undertaking.  Today, one must compete for a business name not only locally, but thanks to URLs, globally.  “First, I had a list of 50 words and I googled each one to see if someone else had it,” Gitte says.  In the end, she selected Pictofactum, which she calls a “fantasy name,” something that came about by combining various words. Picto is derived from Latin for painting; and factum from the German word manufactum meaning “good stuff that you have for life,” as Gitte puts it.  Gitte’s Google strategy has certainly been successful: when doing a Google search for Pictofactum, Gitte’s business is the only thing that comes up.  Quite a modern miracle!


As Gitte began selling her geometric creations, she quickly realized that the market for wall art was relatively small and difficult to capture.  So she did some brainstorming.  How could she re-interpret her art to be more, well, sellable?  Perhaps the inspiration came from sharing a studio with a jewelry designer, but Gitte decided that she would try making producing her three-dimensional shapes in sizes small enough to be rings, earrings and necklaces.

One year later, here I am interviewing Gitte about her small but growing jewelry business.   Pictofactum is for sale in several shops in Berlin and Hamburg, as well as on Copenhagen-based e-store Parcellet and worldwide on Etsy.  Gitte also shows her jewelry at carefully selected, high-quality design shows around Germany, such as the show where I met her.  Gitte is eager to expand further but says, “ I want to sell internationally, but right now I don’t have enough time to expend on this [part of the business].”

Despite the work involved, Gitte tells me “every day I get up and I’m happy because I work for myself.  It’s really so much fun, I don’t want to work in a ‘normal job’.”

{Note: Although she has expanded into jewelry, Gitte still sells her geometric art.}


As a visitor to Berlin, I’m curious to get Gitte’s take on the German capital.  “I love the city.  It’s so full of life.  So many different people,” she tells me.  When I ask her if she has considered living anywhere else her response is swift.   “No.  Berlin is the capital and there’s always something going on.  But I’m still only 300 kilometers (186 miles) from [my childhood] home.”  She does, however, tell me that she enjoyed her time in Copenhagen during design school.  And later Gitte concedes, “I would like to live in New York [City]….for a year,” she says with a smile.

Then I ask a tough question: “if you had to pick one symbol that most represents Berlin – a person, logo, landmark, neighborhood, type of food, whatever – what would it be?”  Gitte thinks for a bit then says “Berliner Fernsehturm [the 1,200 sq. ft. tv tower located in the center of town].  Whenever you come into the city from the autobahn [freeway], the first thing you see is this!”

As we’re chatting a bit later, Gitte tells me that, like many Berliners, Gitte rides her bike to work every day.  “EVERY DAY?  Even in winter?” I ask.”  Gitte laughs and says, “yes, it’s very cold, but it’s a short ride.  [Just 10 minutes!]  Last winter I took the train only two days.”   With average highs below freezing and a much lower wind chill, that’s a testament to Gitte’s strength and determination!

*”I am a Berliner.”  Because she’s a female, Gitte is a Berlinerin.  A male resident of Berlin would be a Berliner.  {A little Deutsch lernen!}



Favorite neighborhood(s):  Friedrichshain (“where I live!”) and Kreuzberg.

Favorite Street: “Wühlischstrasse [in Friedrichschain].  It’s got lots of bars and is full of life!”

Favorite restaurant:  Schwarzer Hahn.

Favorite site(s):  (1) The Neues Museum.  ”It’s so beautiful – the architecture and the exhibitions.”  (2) The Berlin Zoo.  “The aquarium there is really great.  And to the East is a nice park with lots of trees.”

Favorite shop:  Prachtmädchen in Friedrichshain, which features up-and-coming local designers.

After a wonderful afternoon with Gitte at the Pictofactum studio, I’m giddy after being around such good energy.  And even am enjoying my Pictofactum earrings even more!  THANKS, GITTE!!!

And for those of you in Germany, you can visit Gitte (and check out the Pictofactum collection LIVE) at the Design Gift Markt in Hamburg, Sat & Sun, Nov 9-10!



Blickfang: Design Shopping in Hamburg

We had seen (well-designed!) signs all over Hamburg for Blickfang, the International Design Shopping Show.  The show began years ago in Stuttgart, Germany, and has been traveling to different cities in Europe over the last couple of years.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but when I see the words shopping and design in the same sentence, my interest is piqued!

The show included products of all kinds: furniture, rugs, kitchen wares (high-tech cutting boards!), home décor items (vases…), clothing, handbags, jewelry and the new 2-door MINI Countryman in a shade of brilliant royal blue.

It was a design show, but every designer was there to SELL.  Most vendors were from Hamburg and around Germany, but there were vendors from as far as way as Uruguay.  The coolest part about these kinds of shows are that you have the opportunity to meet the designers.  I love hearing about what their works mean to them, what their inspirations are…

How did we do? Well, let’s put it this way, we had to make an emergency ATM run (5 blocks away!)!

My haul included:

* earrings from Pictofactum (read my interview with Pictofactum designer next week!)

* navy velvet coat from Lothar Daniel Bechtold (see above)

* a gift for my mom (so I can’t disclose what it is yet!) from Maria Lasarga

* delicate silver and gold earrings and ring from Charlotte Wooning

* carved wood words to be used as pendants on necklaces

* hand-blown glass bell jars at the Deictorhalledesign shop

Next time you get the itch to shop, see if there’s an independent designers’ event going on – you’ll be ahead of the crowd, supporting artists and getting a great value for you money!

Pro shopping tip: if you can, go on the opening day of the show for the best selection. (And the last day for the best deals!)