A Day in Denmark

The visit was supposed to be pure vacation, tacked onto a trip to a Northern European jewelry show, but learning about Danish jewelry beyond Georg Jensen proved irresistible. So after several days of taking in German-inspired jewelry designs at the Tendence Consumer Goods Fair in Frankfurt, I headed north to Copenhagen. Meetings with an industry association representative, a designer, and a retail jeweler provided a close look at a cross section of the Danish jewelry industry.

Work in progress. “The luxury goods market here is tough,” says Jens Møeller, head of the Danish Jewelry Manufacturer’s Association. “In Denmark, jewelry competes with mobile phones, clothes, and televisions for shoppers’ kroner.” Møeller’s group works closely with the Danish Retail Jewelers’ Association—located nearby in another room of the building—to increase jewelry sales in the country, educate people in the industry, and improve marketing for both sectors.

The complacency of Denmark’s jewelry industry bothers him. “Our industry is too satisfied with current successes,” he says.

He wants to strengthen the business management skills of the more than 100 manufacturers and 600-plus retailers in Denmark through nationwide educational seminars. At a recent one-day series of lectures—which Møeller would like to duplicate—several hundred retailers and manufacturers learned about moissanite detection, selling to the next generation of consumers, and other topics. Møeller’s group offered the program for 150 kroner (about US$20), which included lunch. The feedback was positive and the turnout good, he notes, unlike some efforts in other countries: “A Norwegian jewelry group did this for 2,000 kroner (almost $300 U.S. dollars), and they got a bad response.”

Møeller also hired a consultant to critique the strengths and weaknesses of member businesses. Among the consultant’s recommendations: encourage manufacturers to produce two new lines of product every year. “This is what the [Danish] market needs [to heighten interest in jewelry],” Møeller says.

He wants the industry to step up direct marketing to consumers, and he cites Ole Lynggaard—a popular Danish jewelry brand for nearly 40 years throughout Scandinavia—as a case in point: “Ole Lynggaard is Denmark’s best example of successful branding.”

To encourage the industry to be more brand-savvy, Møeller plans to make marketing literature available to retailers and manufacturers. “We don’t want retailers to carry too many brands, that would be too tough,” he says. But he believes that advertising—even a little—could increase sales.

To help me understand the type of name recognition he wants to see more of, Møeller arranged for me to meet Ole Lynggaard.

Meeting a master. Lynggaard’s workshop is housed in an unpretentious yellow townhouse built a century ago. A weathered, postcard-sized wooden placard with the name “Ole Lynggaard” flanks the doorway. Inside, a creaking spiral staircase leads to the designer’s office on the top floor.

Lynggaard works in a few simply decorated white rooms with worn plank floors and odd-sized casement windows. On clear days, panoramic views of nearby southern Sweden offer inspiration. Inspiration also comes from Lynggaard’s eldest child and design partner, Charlotte, who doubles as a model in company catalogs. “It is a gift to work with her,” says Lynggaard, motioning to the next room, where his daughter, who looks away in embarrassment, works.

Lynggaard keeps his fold close: His son serves as his marketing director, his wife (a former high school teacher) copyedits promotional pieces, and three young grandchildren serve as muses for his line of children’s jewelry.

The Lynggaard clan has just returned from “a very good show,” says the designer. It’s the only one in Denmark, held once a year in the inner coastal town of Velje. Reflecting on the prior week’s sales, Lynggaard is pleased with the complementary art of father and daughter: “Charlotte’s work is romantic and floral. Her work brightens the [jewelry] lines. My work is more sculpted and modern. It reflects what’s going on in Denmark, how people dress, and Scandinavian trends.”

Lynggaard unveils one new collection of about 50 pieces every fall. It’s a modest offering compared with the five annual lines typically generated by most U.S. firms, but he doesn’t want to overwhelm the market. “Too many pieces are confusing,” he says. “People need time to see jewelry and enjoy it … to wear it.”

Lynggaard likes to set trends, not follow them. For example, according to Møeller’s research, Danes prefer 14k gold, but Lynggaard uses 18k. Why? To improve the taste of fine-jewelry buyers. And he doesn’t use two-tone sterling and gold. “When tourists come here, they think sterling silver, but we’re changing that,” he says. “I want them to think of gold jewelry as well.”

And though diamonds adorn most pieces, Lynggaard has come to realize the potential of semiprecious stones. “They look very pretty on Scandinavian women.”

Lynggaard has little desire to sell his brand outside northern Europe. He’ll sell to some German stores this year but says, “We’re a small company, we can’t conquer the world.”

When a well-known home-shopping channel in the United States approached Lynggaard several years ago, he declined the offer. “We concentrate on service to shops,” he says. The designer sells to only 150 jewelers in all of Scandinavia, a third of them in Denmark. “I’m selective about who carries our jewelry; the shops must have variety and quality. We’re not greedy.”

He’s pleased with the “controlled growth” of his company. “We could pursue 25% growth a year, but it’s less than that—15% is absolutely enough,” he insists.

This modesty is evident in his jewelry, too—the largest diamond Lynggaard typically uses is .50 ct. “Danes, Scandinavians … they just don’t show off,” he explains. “People feel uncomfortable if they drive the flashiest car or wear the biggest piece of jewelry. Others will talk about you if you do.”

Lynggaard recalls a 4-ct. diamond and emerald ring that he designed because the bold cuts “looked nice.” A regular customer bought it for herself but didn’t wear it for years until the designer asked why. “Oh, I love the ring, and so does my husband, but I’m afraid to wear it,” she admitted. After counseling from Lynggaard, she reluctantly agreed to wear the ring in public. Behavior like this concerns Lynggaard. “It’s so difficult for people to go through this kind of uneasiness and worry about what others will think. That’s why subdued styles work best for us.”

Perhaps this way of thinking discourages others in the industry from advertising more—it’s seen as flashy. But 18 years ago, Lynggaard defied Danish culture by launching a branding campaign. Was he nervous about what others would think? He says no. “I knew ads were necessary to grow business.”

Fifth-generation jeweler. “Passing your store down to the next generation is very common in Denmark,” says fifth-generation Copenhagen jeweler Flemming Hertz, owner of the oldest jewelry store in the city. When I admire the antique furnishings in the tiny office above his shop, Hertz tells me they’ve been there since he was a boy “and probably longer.” The stone building dates from 1834 and has much of its original contents.

Little else has changed during that time. Product offerings are limited: Hertz is an Ole Lynggaard dealer as well as a goldsmith, like his predecessors, making one-of-a-kind 14k-and-higher creations, some set with diamonds. The sales floor hasn’t grown—it’s still about as roomy as a one-car garage.

Hertz’s close quarters enable him to specialize in fine jewelry. He doesn’t sell watches (there are shops that sell timepieces exclusively), lab-created stones, or commonplace silver designs. “This is how we differentiate ourselves,” Hertz explains. “Our silver pieces have a clean and heavy look. They don’t try to imitate gold jewelry designs.”

Though the store is a fixture in the community, Hertz doesn’t take shoppers’ trust for granted. He’s constantly teaching eager-to-learn shoppers about quality differences in jewelry. “For as long as we want to be here, we’ll continue educating shoppers and handing out brochures,” he says. Clearly he’s doing something right: Hertz estimates that his shop’s revenues account for 5% of total fine jewelry sales in the country.

Hertz is so well regarded that he’s recognized as an “official” jeweler to the Danish royal family. That means he’s one of three jewelers with whom royals will shop and call on for repairs. The jeweler laughs: “This [designation] has nothing to do with frequency of their purchases. But it does give me somewhat of a prestige effect—something snobbish types would care about.”