Marius Koen – a real artisan

A Capetonian goldsmith and designer talks about his craftsmanship

We’re lucky to live in an inspiring and creative Cape Town with all of its craft and food markets as well as the artists and designers. Visitors enjoy the artisan part of it – in the foodie way, but also in many other ways, for example, in jewellery making. I met up with Marius Koen, a goldsmith and designer from Cape Town. You might not know his name, but you might have seen his pieces in jewellery shops in Cape Town and surrounds without knowing who the artist behind it is.

Marius makes durable products made out of gold, silver, gemstones, metal, wood et al. He calls himself a jewellery-engineer and makes not only rings and neck pieces but sunglasses, watches (featured in onesmallseed magazine) and bangles too, some out of ebony and olive wood.

"I see myself more as a jewellery-engineer, than a pure goldsmith"

"Artisan means to me having the freedom and not producing the same things, not being monotonous. Every time I make something, it’s a process of discovering ingenuity. I’m a maker. I like the mechanic part of things." says Marius while also explaining that certain processes of jewellery can be done by machines, but the finish has to be done by a human. "No machine can see a certain unique characteristic and incorporate it. The goldsmith's art is such an old profession that will never die." 

What does the word, artisan mean goldsmith-wise? I gleaned this from Wikipedia: "Artisan jewellery dates back as far as 7000 BC, when gold and copper first began to be sculpted to adorn the human form, and the practice continues today. Although rarely price-competitive with machine-made items, artisan handmade jewellery is prized for its uniqueness, variety, and beauty. Thousands of jewellery artisans exist around the globe."

"My dad wanted me to become an architect, my mom just didn't want me to be weird."

Artist Marius Koen was born in Goodwood, Cape Town, grew up in Joburg and went to the National School of Arts. That’s where he learnt the basics of the goldsmith’s art for two years and decided to take on this profession. "I used to love drawing patterns," he says, "to see how things become more 3-dimensional while cutting them out, and the pieces becoming longer-lasting, more solid - that’s what fascinated me."

Marius’s cousin Ricus, who is five years older, studied in Stellenbosch to become a goldsmith and was the person that had the biggest influence on Marius’s career. After high school, Marius moved back to Cape Town, had a workshop, played around making all different kinds of things, but didn't make any money. So, Ricus found Marius a job at the Adriaan Du Toit Classique Jewellery Studio in Franschhoek, where Marius ended up staying for four years. Marius watched Ricus and owner Adriaan and learnt step-by-step to become a goldsmith. 

There was this one time that Ricus was out of the studio and Adriaan asked Marius to make a chain. "I wanted to impress him. I have never made something like that before. I did it, and it worked. Adriaan du Toit’s attitude was 'I can think of three ways of making it. What can you come up with?'"

Marius saved most of his money to buy tools and set up a small studio in his one bedroom flat and did a few freelance works. After four years of intense training in Franschhoek, Marius moved back to Cape Town and set up his own studio to do freelance works only and that’s what he makes his living off of today. 

Marius makes classic jewellery for 'Prins and Prins Diamonds' in Loop Street, solid, heavy and more feminine jewellery for ANPA jewellers in De Waterkant and Kalk Bay and has also worked for Uwe Koetter Jewellers in the past. He knows exactly what international visitors want. "German clients go for the cleaner lines, the English are into stones and Americans like more bulky and visible jewellery." Marius is inspired by nature; he’s outside every day with dog Quini on his skateboard. "You find stars in flowers."

Marius has worked with all kinds of materials: warthog teeth, antique materials, gold, silver, plastic, anything. "If it’s a plastic ring you want, I’ll make it."

'This is darme beautiful.'

For Adriaan du Toit, Marius made African bangles out of olive wood. For his own range, he makes wooden sunglasses - definitely an eye-catcher. "I make sunglasses out of ebony and olive wood. Ebony is the most dense and expensive wood you can work with. It’s also is long-lasting and a natural phenomenon.

Marius’s own designs go under his company name 'Darme'. It’s Afrikaans slang. You can say: 'This is darme beautiful.' or, 'It’s made by darme Marius.' With the idea of one day employing other goldsmiths, he wants to give recognition to the craftsman who made the piece. Too often the person behind a piece is forgotten.

"I don’t just want to be a goldsmith; I want to be an artist and be to sell my works. I want to make more of my own designs and have a shop at some point. I don’t just want to make a sale but also to make others happy."

by Antonia Heil  | photographs by Desmond Louw

Marius Koen (goldsmith & designer) | +27 (0) 72 196 3002 |

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