If you’re ever invited to coffee with a member of the royal family in Abu Dhabi, there’s a good chance that the cup you will be sipping from was designed and made in Israel. And be careful not to break the cup. The coffee set costs $50,000.
Merdinger combines materials such as 18 karat gold, titanium and black onyx in original patterns.
“Combining different materials is like the connection between a man and a woman,” Merdinger told The Media Line in is his boutique in Tel Aviv. “It’s one of the hardest things you can do.”
Besides the royal family in Abu Dhabi, the king of Turkmenistan is a frequent client, as are various Russian-speaking oligarchs. They visit his small boutique in a trendy area of Tel Aviv, often dropping thousands of dollars per visit.
“Russians love gold – it’s deep in our veins,” Maria Telnov, 30, a personal shopper for many of these oligarchs tells The Media Line. “I bring people here and you can see that they are just amazed. They love beautiful things and they are willing to pay for them.”
Merdinger was invited to Abu Dhabi in 2007.
“I got off the plane and two Bedouin wearing long white robes escorted me outside without stamping my passport,” he said. “Then they called the hotel and told them I was coming. I was definitely nervous.”
He met the King’s Austrian born Executive chef, Wolfgang Fisher, who placed an order for coffee sets, and a gold – decorated box for chocolates for tens of thousands of dollars. The sets are are used on the 8th floor of the Emirates Palace Hotel, where members of the royal family stay whenever they are visiting Abu Dhabi, one of the seven emirates that make up the UAE.
Merdinger says he was on the verge of receiving a contract worth twelve million dollars to provide all of the dinnerware to the royal palace when a senior Hamas commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, was killed in Dubai, another of the emirates, in 2010. Police in the UAE say Israel was responsible. Merdinger says he was no longer able to enter the UAE.
“No one there ever knew I was Israeli – they thought I was Swiss,” he tells The Media Line.
He says many Israeli products including an automatic milking machine for camels and drip irrigation systems are manufactured in Israel, and imported via a European country.
“The rulers all know, but it doesn’t trickle down,” he says. “It’s not considered politically correct to deal with Israel.”
Recently, Merdinger has become interested in kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. His latest designs use the arabesque, a linear pattern first shown in Islamic art from the 11th century.
“The arabesque is a manifestation of God,” Merdinger says. “What exists are lines which create shapes which repeat endlessly. It mimics nature.”
A few years ago, Merdinger visited the kabbalah center in Los Angeles, where he met Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. In 2007, they came, along with Madonna to Israel to celebrate the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashana.
Merdinger was inspired to make a special necklace for Madonna, with 72 black diamonds. Inside each diamond is one of the names of God. Merdinger says it cost $10,000 to make and he gave it to one of Madonna’s assistants to give to her. He said he heard she received it, and appreciated the gift.
“I know it was a masterpiece,” he says.
Not surprisingly, his pieces don’t come cheap. Prices range from $209 to a dinner plate to $2728 for candlesticks. If you want a complete dinner set, it will run you about $70,000. For more stories from The Media Line go to www.medialine.org