We talked to Thomas Mrokon about the Monomer brand and a new era in jewelry design
With the start-up Monomer Thomas Mrokon, a classically trained architect and designer, has revolutionized jewelry design. Using state-of-the-art 3D printing technology and CAD-software his team create intricate pieces unthinkable in traditional goldsmithing. We met up with Thomas in the C-HUB in Mannheim.
Thomas, you’ve been in Mannheim for three years now. What is your first impression?
I had a certain idea of what I was expecting: a rugged industrial city with no cultural factor. Though as I’m from Offenbach, a city that deals with similar preconceptions, that did not put me off at all. As an architect, I could quickly tell that Mannheim had invested a lot of money into modernization. It feels modern here and one immediately has the impression that the city is booming.
What led you to founding Monomer in Mannheim?
We were scouting for investors in the Rhine-Main area and were unable to find the right partners after many pitches and meetings with Business Angels. We than expanded our scope to the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan area and almost instantly found a committed investor in the Mannheim equity fund. At first we had our offices in Neckarstadt, in the Altes Volksbad. Later Christian Sommer of the Mannheimer Gründungszentren GmbH told us C-HUB was about to open and we saw our chance and moved to Jungbusch.
What is your experience with the start-up scene here in Mannheim?
I was surprised how big the community is and how much is done for support. This is something you will otherwise only see in Berlin. With eight startup centers the variety is actually even greater and things aren’t focused on the creative and IT branches either. And of course, we were very happy to receive the start-up award in 2015.
You had a great career as an architect, but since 2014 you have focused on Monomer 100%. Why?
It wasn’t easy to let go of architecture. We realized two large planetariums in Heidelberg and Munich. But one day I thought: it won’t get more exciting if I build another one. The thing I particularly love about my job is the variety and at the moment I am having a lot of fun developing this idea that has fascinated me for the last decade.
The idea of producing unique pieces of jewelry using 3D printing?
Exactly. A friend of mine introduced the idea initially. I realized a design of hers using CAD-software and a few hours later the 3D printer had made us a very nice necklace. We were ahead of the curve back than and since that moment I was hooked.
When did you begin to see business potential?
Between 2010 and 2014 Monomer was my side project. As the feedback was becoming better and better I set up the GmbH and gave the project everything.
What does it take to leave your professional comfort zone and start something completely new?
I’m a risk taker, as I believe in my own potential. If you have the right strategy and are ambitious you can do anything – be it a lateral entry into jewelry design. I was also lucky enough to receive a proper training in using my tool of choice, the CAD-software.
What your favorite part of the new Job?
As an architect, I enjoy the technical element of drafting ideas and technical production. On the other hand, I love realizing creative ideas in jewelry. My first collection was all me, but as of recently I have welcomed Julia Weisbrod into the team, a graduate in jewelry design of the University of Applied Arts in Pforzheim. I am currently familiarizing her with the CAD-software and in collaboration we are developing completely new jewelry design concepts, things that are not possible with classic craft techniques. I personally prefer working with pure materials such as genuine gold or platinum, as they are the most enduring.
Are traditional goldsmiths afraid of your business?
Some goldsmiths feel the technical process we apply may make them obsolete. But most see us as what we are: an interesting enrichment to the field, an exclusive niche that caters to people that appreciate unique jewelry. By the way we are quite forgery-proof, as we keep a keen eye on what advancements are happening in the field of 3D printing. We therefore maintain close contact with the innovators among leading technology suppliers.
Where do you see Monomer in 2020?
We aim to consistently expand our presence with the 60 high-end dealers we supply momentarily. The objective is to create a global brand – with an unmistakable look. I would not rule out selling the brand at some point. Every day while commuting new ideas take form – there are still many challenges and opportunities to come.
You choose to commute from Frankfurt to Mannheim on a daily basis. Why is that?
I do so because of family reasons. Monomer will remain faithful to Mannheim. Especially as some of our staff members, such as local patriot Markus Rudolph is from here and would never leave the city.
So Markus could have warned you that every real Mannheimer („Monnemer“) will pronounce the brand name „Monnemer“?
Haha. Back then he was not yet part of the team. So we had to find out when the mail man would constantly ask for „Monnemer“. It has become a running gag. In truth the name derived from ancient Greek: „monos“ stands for „individual“ and „meros“ for „part“. The name stands for the individuality of our pieces.
By now you yourself have become a local patriot of sorts in Mannheim. Where would we run into Thomas Mrokon in Mannheim?
Well, either my colleagues might take me to dinner, or I might go for a jog through the city, which often only happens in my mind. As the time is hard to find.
Interview: Ralf Laubscher / LA.MAG
Pictures: Daniel Lukac