On a family vacation in 1992, goldsmith Christine Hafermalz-Wheeler and her husband and business partner, David Wheeler, discovered the natural beauty of New Zealand and promptly returned home to England (where David was born), packed their bags, and moved to Auckland. “If you’re sensitive enough to get the spirit of the people and surroundings,” says Hafermalz-Wheeler, whose home is bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and wild bush on the other, “then New Zealand simply captivates you.”
With the metal, stones, and artifacts that she uses to create her pieces, she tries to evoke New Zealand’s spirit. “The wild waves inspire my gold work,” says Hafermalz-Wheeler, who, at 51, remains bright-eyed and energetic. “I collect unusual shells, pebbles, and fossils on the beach and combine them with rare gems and diamonds.” For her Waka necklace, she used a 99-carat, Bernd Munsteiner–cut aquamarine shaped like a canoe, three blue diamonds for the three stars of Orion’s belt, and three small seashells that allude to the artist’s journey from her native Germany to England to New Zealand. In a gold cuff bracelet, she portrays an octopus in the sea with 13 Paraíba tourmalines and 29 brilliant-cut diamonds that look like sunlight reflecting off the water.
Hafermalz-Wheeler was raised in Stuttgart and later owned a jewelry workshop and gallery there for 17 years. In 1988, she closed the gallery and relocated to England, where she devoted all of her time to crafting jewelry. Her subsequent move to the South Pacific spurred her interest in exotic, organic-looking elements such as Australian opals, Mexican fire opals, and Cook Island pearls in unusual shapes that resemble dolphins or fish tails. She creates only about 70 one-of-a-kind pieces annually from her home workshop, where she mixes gold alloys, forges metals, sets stones, and employs the rarely used technique of mouth-blown soldering to fuse the metals.
Her first exposure to metalsmithing was at the age of 5, when she would play in her father’s plumbing workshop. At 15, she became a goldsmith’s apprentice, and four years later, she opened her own gallery. Over the decades, she has built a loyal following of collectors, including a German family that has amassed more than 100 of her pieces since 1972. The daughter, who lives in London, adds a new item to the family’s collection each year.
Although her clients are scattered across the globe, Hafermalz-Wheeler spends as much time as possible at home. “We travel around the world for a few weeks to see a select number of clients,” she explains. “Then we spend the rest of the year in our own little paradise.”
Christine Hafermalz-Wheeler, +64.9.817.2098, www.goldsmith.co.nz