Leen Heyne: Conducting the Symphony of Metals
Posted on June 20 2019
An Old Country with a Young Vibe
I visited the Netherlands three times: 1986, 1998, and 2019. Tradition and modernity coexist in all aspects of life: architecture, art, and technology. The contrasts are not striking but rather harmonious. At street level, you can see that the mixture of old and new buildings flow together. The eye does not dwell on an edge or transition but keeps following a continuous line. It all fits together naturally. The continuity is so uninterrupted that I never gave it much thought until recently.
Photo by Herman Wouters
However, on Instagram, Leen Heyne's rings and bangles caught my attention, the bends and twists were so smooth that they required a second and even third look to comprehend. Although they appear natural, I understood that they were deliberate and needed to find out more. On May 29th, I interviewed Leen, revealing an interesting story of trial and error mixed with adventure, grounded in respect for tradition. Leen Heyne turned out to be very modest, finding it difficult to talk about himself. Design sense is not only learned but also embedded in the sub-conscious. So, I had to spend some time studying his surroundings, which may have influenced his formative years.
Left to Right: The Twist ring made from a single 750 (18K) gold strip and The Knotted Ring made from a single 750 grey gold flat-rolled wire with a brown oval diamond.
Historical Surroundings & Early Influences
Nijmegen, where Leen was born, is the oldest city in the Netherlands. The 2000-year-old city, situated near the German border, dates back to the Roman Empire. It showcases architecture and history from the time of Tiberius, through the Dark Ages, to the Renaissance and into modern times. Born in 1986, Leen grew up in an academically oriented family as the oldest of three siblings, taking responsibility from an early age. His father is a Doctor of Social Science and his mother an artist. Later the family moved to Tilburg, where his mother took a position at the De Pont Museum (one of the world's leading private contemporary art museums) developing educational projects.
The Nijmegen Roman Cavalry Helmet dating back to the 1st Century AD (Wikimedia Commons)
In addition to his mother taking him to art galleries and museums, he was also naturally curious and mechanically inclined. He had busy hands from the beginning. During his childhood, his interests ranged from making model boats to discovering "small treasures," in second-hand markets. Describing the finds as old and old and well-made objects, he collected ornate rings, rare knives, and sturdy hand tools. Although fascinated by nature and history (water worlds, dinosaurs, the Romans, and Ancient Egypt), he was not a serious student. Shy expressed himself through skateboarding and live street sports. The structure was not easy to accept and he even had to repeat a year. Nevertheless, he found biology and math interesting. After graduating high school in 2002, he decided to strike out on his own.
Determined to be independent, he refused help from his parents and even declined scholarships. For the next four years, he lived frugally, trying different things from washing dishes in a restaurant to collecting old bicycles which he repaired and sold for a profit. During the evenings, he partied a lot and enjoyed life like anyone else in their early 20s. He commented that, during those wonder years, he spent much of his free time drawing pictures. Yet he never considered himself artistic nor gave much thought to his "busy hands" or creative energy.
Education & Techniques
Eventually, he found his way to Schoonhoven (2006), enrolling at the local vocational school (Vakschool Schoonhoven). Still undecided and balancing a part-time job, he studied each, goldsmithing and clock repair, one day per week. Fascinated by the Art Deco period, he aimed to recreate pieces from "Gatsby era." After a year he dropped the clock repair studies. The patience required drove him nuts. He not only had to make and retrofit gears for 300-year-old timepieces but also make them look old to blend in with the aged mechanism. Hence, it bound him to existing parameters, not allowing him to fully utilize his creative potential. During his second year, he apprenticed under the renowned Dutch master-goldsmith Jos van den Elzen. Leen commented that he was a very demanding teacher and he continues to consult him until this day. During that time, Leen started to develop his trademark design and the underlying techniques.
Leen Heyne's design process starts with a single length of metal, which he forces, bends, twists, and presses into the desired shape.
Fascinated by the bending and tension of materials, Leen applies traditional tools and methods on to pull, force, press, fold and twist a single length of metal into a finished ring or bangle. He doesn’t file the finished works to enhance the shape nor use any modern tools. He works with gold, silver, and platinum, his favorite being 18K yellow gold. All the while, a shape appears, either intended or not, that he would like to amplify. But first, he must understand how it came about.
"I consider myself more of a conductor than a designer. I merely guide the material and help to finalize its own shape.”
Prototyping in copper, there is no drawing to start with. He makes multiple iterations, fine-tuning, and documenting each step, ensuring the process is repeatable and reproducible. Once the design is established, it doesn't take long to make any single piece. However, the finishing touches and details take some time. Ironically, the stone setting was not his favorite class in college. The patience and fiddling required with getting the gems into the right position was overwhelming. Yet, he developed his own technique to set stones during the fabrication process and without prongs, adding to his smooth and continuous signature appearance Diamonds are his preferred stones due to their ability to amplify the tension in the metal and withstand the heat associated with fabrication.
Left to Right: The Bended ring made with 750 gold and two brown diamonds and The Solitaire ring with a single white diamond.
Asked about his source of inspiration and if there were any influences from the Scandinavian Viking era, he commented that it was the metal itself and the forces within that drive him. Asking about music, he enjoys the 60s and 70s music but tunes into the classical music station at work. Bach is his favorite during working hours. Nevertheless, he commented on a Viking piece and its twists. It's amazing that it was made ca. 1000 years ago, with similar techniques. In retrospect, he does not recall that "aha" moment when he decided to become a goldsmith but rather got there through a series of trial and error. He never guessed that he would be making contemporary jewelry sold in galleries throughout the world.
His jewelry blends with the wearer, aiming for an understated appearance, projecting sophistication. Aiming for a traditional – contemporary blend, the buyers, for now, are mostly German: well-educated and introspective.
Where to Find
Today Leen is in a committed relationship for the past ten years and a father of three daughters, two of whom are twins. Hence, he has been extremely busy on all fronts. Working from a home-based studio outside Tilburg, he mainly sells his work through boutiques in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the United Kingdom, America (Washington DC) and China. Recently joining Instagram, he started to sell directly.
His shows include:
2019 - Inhorgenta Trade Fair (Munich)
2016 – Exposition and Gallery Van Dun (The Netherlands)
2015 – Portrait in the Showcase (Munich)
2015 – New Designer Exhibition by Element Jewelry (UK)
2015 - Inhorgenta Trade Fair (Munich)
You can find him online at: