Whether talking of silver spoons or wooden boats, for Oliver Berking they are both are lived passions and man-made works of art that make the world of Robbe & Berking resonate. While exuding tremendous vigour and tenacity, Berking’s entrepreneurial talent is rooted in an instinctive sensibility. Coupled with his flair for establishing networks and inspiring enthusiasm, is his success at evoking bygone eras. What’s more, Robbe & Berking is living testimony to the fact that unique, handcrafted luxury products of the highest quality can, and still should, be produced in Germany. This is true both of the silver manufactory, the world’s market leader in silverware, and of the Classic shipyard, regarded as the absolute ne-plus-ultra of wooden yachts of the 12mR size class.
Robbe & Berking owes its leading status on the world market to a maxim coined by Oliver Berking’s great-great-grandfather: “Others may be less expensive, but none are superior to ours.” Now in its fifth generation, this Flensburg-based family business is currently headed by Oliver Berking. He has been steadily expanding the manufactory since he took the helm in 1985, ensuring that all steps of the production process are performed exclusively in the company’s own workshops. “Today, we are by far the largest manufacturer of silver cutlery in the world – and with only 150 employees.”
HE LONGEVITY OF TRADITION OVER-SHORT-TERM TRENDS
Eighty years ago there were still three manufacturers in northern Germany alone, explains Oliver Berking during our tour of the production facility in Flensburg, which became operational in 1874. Some 20 tonnes of silver are manufactured here each year for the various collections, which include a total of 4,000 different items. Robbe & Berking lists 30 different silver and silver-plated cutlery designs, each comprising 50 individual pieces, from oyster forks to sugar tongs. Fifty steps comprise the production process – involving cutting, grinding, polishing and two quality controls – before the finished spoon is available for sale. Candelabras and a host of other superb table accessories are also manufactured, thus complementing the consummate table service.
The more than 2000 master moulds used to make the steel -cutting and embossing tools for the range of cutlery patterns are meticulously handcrafted and stored in the workshop’s “Fort Knox.” Since 1991, Robbe & Berking has been issuing a repurchase guarantee, which ensures that all silver and silver-plated supplements can be repurchased at least until the year 2040. This longevity is the hallmark of success, in that only the most exquisite patterns and designs are manufactured. As Berking points out, the company has no compunction about refraining from following trends, but rather designs collections guaranteed to endure for generations to come. This emphasis on continuity is perceived as being espe-cially important among those who appreciate tradition and value, both private customers and collectors, but no less so hotels and restaurants, which rely on consistency and elegance.
“JUST DON’T START SPECULATING!”
The discretely stamped silver seal on the reverse side of the silverware not only indicates the items’ origin – the former imperial crown symbolising Germany, the crescent moon -indicating silver – but is also the mark of refinement: in other words, whether the cutlery is silver or silver-plated. The difference between 925-sterling silver – pure silver being too soft and the low copper component providing stability – and silver-plated cutlery, is that it translates into a price roughly four times greater. Moreover, silver is a commodity traded on the stock exchange the price of which is subject to constant fluctuation. Oliver Berking adheres to his father’s advice, who once enjoined: “Just don’t start speculating!” Berking determines the timing of his silver orders – purchasing exclusively from German suppliers – on the basis of years of experience and intuition. Moreover, he keeps a vigilant eye on stock-market fluctuations and liaises with the production department.
Silverware does not constitute a financial investment, yet -Robbe & Berking has been offering purchasing and selling services for gold and silver bars as well as coins since 2009. Sales values are regularly indexed to current values in international gold and silver markets. The almost 150 years’ experience in the precious metals business in conjunction with the sales network comprising eleven branches in major German cities, all testifies to being more than a considerable advantage. This signals that the luxury brand remains committed to its customers and is on course for lasting success.
PARTNERSHIPS & INNOVATIONS
Well over half of the world’s 200 largest yachts are outfitted with Robbe & Berking silverwork. Taken together, the restaurants which rely on the manufactory’s range of products represent hundreds of Michelin stars. Similarly, numerous luxury and first class car brands maintain relationships of outstanding cooperation with Robbe & Berking. One such brand is BMW, which has achieved a masterpiece of craftsmanship for its BMW Individual in the BMW 7 Series. Over ten kilograms of sterling silver were “bespoke-fitted” for the interior and exterior trimmings, as witnessed in the hammer-finished Martelé door handles or the enamelled BMW emblem.
“I am more at ease today than I have felt in a long while in the field of product development,” says Oliver Berking as we pass his most recent masterpiece, one of his workshop’s, mahogany-fashioned bar trollies. This wonderful design is a veritable feast for the eyes, which, thanks to the silver bar collection that features everything from champagne glasses to whisky tumblers, is a finely styled augmentation for both private residences and business premises. The cutlery box for the conveyance of silver cutlery from the cabinet to the dining table has similarly proven a great success. Berking remarks that the company plans to continue conquering the world, including the Chinese market. At the same time, the company is currently developing a new web shop accessible anytime and anywhere.
AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION
Together with Oliver Berking, we now find ourselves inside the shipyard building at Flensburg’s city harbour, which he acquired in 2008 – albeit without a business plan. Berking’s second passion, wooden sailing yachts, has its roots in the restoration of the “Sphinx.” The classic 12mR regatta yacht, originally built in 1939 as a flagship for the Norddeutscher Regatta Verein NRV, one of Germany’s foremost sailing clubs, was a major success. She was subsequently in service for 50 years with the German armed forces as a training vessel for naval officer cadets.
The “Sphinx” was listed for sale in 2005. Together with two of his partners, Oliver Berking resolved to prevent the boat from leaving the Flensburg fjord: Submitting a joint bid, the partners ultimately won the auction. From 2006 to 2008, Berking and his specialist staff undertook a thoroughgoing restoration based on the shipyard’s original specifications. At the time, very few believed the undertaking would prove successful. “The members of the restoration outfit were dismissed as a bunch of lunatics who would wreck the vessel”, Berking recounts through a beaming smile. By endeavouring to retain the knowledge acquired during the restoration, Berking and his team laid the foundation stone for constructing the wharf. They have been restoring classic motor and sailing yachts, along with replicas of exceptionally fine, long-lost classics ever since. More recent constructions are also replicated with loving attention to detail and tremendous élan. Whether using original or recent plans, traditional or contemporary construction methods, they are always made of wood and handcrafted.