Rapaport Magazine
Style & Design

Call of the Wilds

A new book pays tribute to a family business that’s been dealing in beautiful gemstones for 175 years.

By Phyllis Schiller

Image: Constantin Wild

For Constantin Wild, pursuing exceptional stones across the globe is a family tradition. His gem-dealing business, Constantin Wild & Company, is celebrating 175 years in 2022, and he has coauthored a new book to mark the occasion.

Gems, Colours and Wild Stories: 175 Years of Constantin Wild, which he wrote together with Nina Hald, is a lavishly illustrated tome that combines Wild’s own words with family photos and close-ups of gemstones. Informative chapters by contributing writers discuss the glory of these stones, the finer points of cutting them, and the business of selling them. Among the contributors — some in conversation with Wild, others simply sharing their expert knowledge — are jewelry historian Vivienne Becker, GemGuide publisher Richard Drucker, and Gary Roskin, CEO of the International Colored Gemstone Association (ICA).

Location, location, location

For more than 10 generations, Wild and his ancestors have been involved in what he calls “the greatest business of all.” His family has deep roots in the German village of Idar-Oberstein, where his company headquarters is located today. There’s good reason: A large agate deposit was found in the region approximately 600 years ago, followed by discoveries of jasper, amethyst and rock crystal.

From at least 1454 onward, the book relates, the area has been involved in the production of these stones. Idar would house the gem cutters — the Idar stream providing energy for the cutting mills — while Oberstein was where goldsmiths would set the cut gems into jewelry. The artisans passed these skills down through generations. Members of Wild’s family “probably were among the very first gemstone cutters in Idar,” he says.

Expanding the company’s horizons with international selling and sourcing trips is a tradition he inherited from his forebears. His great-grandfather Johann Carl started the business in 1847, naming it J.C. Wild IX, Idar, and grew it from processing precious metals to importing, cutting and trading gemstones. His son, Wilhelm Constantin — known as Conte — took over the firm after his father’s death in 1893, renaming it W. Constantin Wild & Co. Conte’s son, Johann Friedrich Carl, or Fritz, joined the company in 1928. Fritz rebuilt the business in 1946 after World War II and continued to expand it globally.

His son Johann Friedrich Constantin Wild — aka Constantin, the current owner — was born in 1964. He earned his graduate gemologist degree from the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in Los Angeles in 1984. That same year, Fritz died of a stroke. At the age of 20, the younger Wild began a formal apprenticeship at the company, taking over the burden of traveling from his mother, who had been in charge since his father’s death. In 1996, Wild bought the company from her and paid off his two brothers to become sole owner.

Adventures in sourcing

In his travels over the years, Wild has dealt with military regimes, near-collapsing mines, and natural disasters. He rode a motorbike from Idar-Oberstein to Moscow and St. Petersburg, was one of the first Europeans to visit Burma (Myanmar) to see the Mogok ruby mines in 1991, and braved Russia’s extreme winter weather to seek demantoid garnets.

In the early days of his career, he recalls, “cash was king,” so he would travel around with large sums of money and then travel back to Germany with gems worth millions tucked into “the tiny fifth pocket” of his trousers. In 2004, when he couldn’t get permission to travel to Ekaterinburg, Russia, he had a James Bond-like meeting in Warsaw, Poland, to get the Russian demantoid garnets couriered in so he could fill an order.

While he eventually became the gemstone supplier for the jewelry lines of watchmakers Seiko and Citizen, Wild made his first trip to Tokyo without knowing a word of Japanese. He hired a translator, but he wasn’t having much luck with cold phone calls. It wasn’t until the next day that the translator realized she had been translating “colored gemstones” as “colorful glass beads.” For his future dealings, Wild hired a more jewelry-savvy translator who spoke both Japanese and German.

The big finds

Having been surrounded by gems “from the day he was born,” Wild has seen his share of special stones. The book showcases many of them, including a deep-pink topaz his father purchased in Paris as a young man. The stone, which weighed approximately 18 carats, purportedly belonged to French Queen Marie Antoinette. Fritz had it remounted as ring for his wife, whose favorite color was pink.

Special gems have often come along for Wild at just the right time. The sale of demantoid garnets helped him pay back the bank loans he’d taken to buy the company. And a spectacular set of matched aquamarines that took years to put together helped pay for his divorce settlement; he sold them to the head designer at one of the big Italian brands.

The book’s photos highlight not only individual stones, but also suites of gems and the works of high-jewelry designers. Wild hopes the volume will “captivate, inform and enchant” the reader when it comes to the “ultimate gems” he so loves.

Gems, Colours and Wild Stories: 175 Years of Constantin Wild was published in January by Arnoldsche Art Publishers.


Article from the Rapaport Magazine - March 2022. To subscribe click here.

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