Great Danes: The Enduring Appeal of Danish Jewelry Design

You don’t have to be a frequent visitor to Denmark to know that the Danes excel at design. From furniture to tabletop accessories, Danish culture has a universally acknowledged competitive advantage in the field. And the nation’s jewelers are among the greatest beneficiaries of that legacy.

I was reminded of this last week, when I encountered two phenomenal Danish jewelry firms, Shamballa Jewels and Georg Jensen, during my time in New York City.

On Tuesday morning, I sat down with Mads and Mikkel Kornerup, the Copenhagen-based brothers and co-creative directors behind 12-year-old Shamballa Jewels. On Oct. 12, they’ll preside over the grand opening of their new Manhattan boutique in Soho. The event is timed to coincide with a new advertising campaign and marketing push designed to bring their trendsetting men’s jewels—and Eastern-inspired philosophy—to a wider audience in America.

Entering the serene new boutique—located in a second-floor space on Mercer Street formerly occupied by a Japanese restaurant—feels like walking into a temple. Vertical showcases line the room, most displaying variations of the famed Shamballa bracelet, a string of beads—custom mixes of onyx, gold, and precious stones—braided with macramé.

Braided bracelet in white and black gold

Braided bracelet in white and black gold with white and black diamonds, grey sapphires, Tahitian pearl, amethyst, and onyx, $7,050;

The style has been copied ad nauseum since its introduction a decade ago, but the brothers have fought their global cohort of copycats the best way they know how: by elevating Shamballa’s craftsmanship to the point where other companies can’t afford to copy it—and by recognizing that mass imitation comes with certain benefits.

“Shamballa has become like a mantra,” says Mads. “It was getting recited over and over by the tens of millions almost like it was a healing mantra for the planet. We said to ourselves, ‘We lost half of our sales but this is magical, this is beyond our reach.’ That’s why we say we’re caretakers of this company. Shamballa belongs to itself, it belongs to everybody, and Mikkel and I are caretakers. It’s something that’s been gifted to us.”

Reversible Lock Bracelet

Reversible Lock Bracelet in white and black gold with diamonds and grey sapphires, $17,110; (Also at top)

Still, the brand has a long way to go in America. Despite its wildly popular reputation among jewelers (Barneys is a long-time supporter), its success in Europe (Colette, Harrods, and Montaigne Market are stockists), and a star-studded client list that includes Jay Z, Michael Jordan, and Karl Lagerfeld, Shamballa is not yet a household name here. Expect that to change—soon.

Not only are the handsome 40-something brothers walking billboards for how to wear men’s jewelry—both sport stacks of precious bead bracelets and layers of chains and necklaces without compromising one iota of masculinity—their alluring mashup of Himalayan and Nordic inspirations has imbued the brand with an extremely au courant aura of spirituality. At a time when yoga and meditation have made inroads in Middle America, that may not sound so pioneering, but when I learned that Mads registered the name Shamballa way back in 1993, I was struck by his foresight. Watch this space for more on the evolution of the Shamballa collection and the thoughtful ethos that guides the brand.

Mads and Mikkel Kornerup

Mads and Mikkel Kornerup, co-creative directors of Shamballa Jewels

Georg Jensen, on the other hand, is quite literally a household name. Founded by the visionary silversmith in 1904, the eponymous brand’s Copenhagen-based workshop turns out silver trays, vases, cutlery, and myriad home items for people with exceptional taste. Not everyone knows that the brand produces equally luxurious jewelry—and that it’s due to be wholesaled to American retailers starting in 2018.

Last week, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the firm’s collaboration with the accomplished silversmith, postwar designer, and Picasso muse Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe, the Madison Avenue boutique brought in a silversmith from headquarters to demonstrate the process of handcrafting the fetching silver pieces derived from Torun’s clean, contemporary oeuvre.

The smithy, a lovely young woman named Catherine who’s worked for Georg Jensen for the past eight years, made the work of manipulating the silver seem effortless. Using tools spread out across a big wooden table in the back of the boutique, she talked me through the stages of making Torun’s signature bangle.

“We flatten it out and roll it closer to the shape we want,” she said, showing off an unadorned fragment of thin, flattened silver before bending, cutting, and clipping it into a shape that would encircle the wrist.

Behind Catherine, a temporary showcase of original pieces from the Torun archives—iconic designs like the Vivianna Bangle watch, the Mobius Pendant, and the Dew Drop neck ring, all created during her tenure with Georg Jensen, from 1967 until her death in 2014—proved virtually indistinguishable from the cases displaying the shiny new styles of 2017.

Two limited anniversary pieces—both Dew Drop collars, one anchored by a smoky quartz pendant framed with diamonds and another by a diamond-lined pendant of rock crystal—perhaps glistened with a little more ice than Torun would have used in her time, but their enduring style could not be denied. Simple yet sophisticated, her designs are the epitome of elegance. It’s no exaggeration to say I left the store coveting every last one of them.

Vivianna Dew Drop neckring and pendant in sterling silver with smokey quartz and diamonds; $2,975 for pendant, $850 for neckring;

Vivianna Dew Drop neckring and pendant in sterling silver with rock crystal and diamonds; $2,975 for pendant, $850 for neckring;

JCK Magazine Editor