“Silver is the best material we have; gold is precious in value but not in effect. The character of silver is satisfactorily obstinate; it has to be conquered — and then it has this wonderful moonlight luster, something of the light of the Danish summer night. Silver can seem like twilight, or when it dews over, like ground mist rising.”
— Georg Jensen, speaking on the occasion of his 60th birthday in 1926. From Georg Jensen, The Danish Silversmith by Jorgen Miller.
(Ginger Moro is an author, lecturer and dealer in antiques and vintage jewelry and early 20th century works on paper. She is based in Los Angeles, Cal. The first part of this look at Scandinavian Modern jewelry was published in JCK, August 1996, pp. 98-106.)
Georg Jensen and his fellow Danes (as well as other Scandinavians) changed forever the perception that silver was the poor relative of gold.
They began their mission during a burst of creative activity that produced the so-called skonvirke (artistic endeavours) style in Denmark. It paralleled the turn-of-the-century Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements of England and France. The generally superlative workmanship shared by the Danish silversmiths was the engine that propelled their craft from the sensuality of the early 1900s’ skonvirke through the stark Functionalism of the Thirties and marked the new identity given to Danish design in the Fifties. From the wholly handcrafted, three-dimensional repousse look of the Twenties, there was a radical change in design. Social pressure and Socialism frowned on superfluous decoration. Forms were simplified and lines were strengthened.
The following artists were leaders in Danish style as it was applied to silver jewelry.
BEFORE THE WAR
Georg Jensen (1866-1935) was a devoted family man, father of eight children by four wives (three of whom died of illnesses.) He was also a prolific father of his “metallic children,” as he called his silver creations. A sculptor and ceramist before becoming a silversmith, he returned from a two-year traveling scholarship to Paris and Rome in 1900, determined to create useful objects as beautiful as objets d’art. The House of Jensen, a family enterprise, did just that. His sensually baroque “magnolia blossom” motifs in jewelry and hollowware, so popular then, are still being produced in the Jensen silversmithy in Copenhagen 90 years after their conception.
The Georg Jensen silversmithy is still flourishing because the founder and the artistic directors who followed him were always open to changing styles. A signature style of the firm is based on Functionalism, named after the “form follows function” philosophy of Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus of the Twenties, who favored unembellished, clean lines for utilitarian objects. This was better suited to mass-production than the classic handcrafted Jensen techniques.
Harald Nielsen (1892-1977), Jensen’s brother-in-law, was the first Jensen designer to create jewelry and hollowware in the Functionalist style. Foliate motifs were plain with no flourishes and his belt buckles of 1930 were abstract geometric, the forerunner of Scandinavian Modern. Nielsen, (who became artistic director of Georg Jensen after the deaths of Jensen and his longtime collaborator, Johan Rhode, in 1935) was generous with his expertise — training, as well as learning from, his new designers.
Arno Malinowski (1899-1976) joined the Jensen workshop from 1936-1942. Trained as a medalist, Malinowski was able to apply his precise technique to the cutout details of animal, insect and plant brooches intended for serial production. His 1937 designs (some still in production) of a kneeling deer, a dolphin in the rushes and butterflies on a flower combined the simplicity of Functionalism with naturalistic motifs in clear outline. He also had studied the Japanese technique of inlaying iron with gold or silver in the style of tsuba sword guards, which proved useful in the frugal war years when silver supplies were curtailed. Harald Nielsen and Jensen’s son, Jorgen, also designed iron jewelry using this centuries-old Japanese technique.
Henning Koppel (1918-1981) was trained as a sculptor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and the Academie Ranson in Paris from 1936-1939. The non-figurative sculpture of Brancusi and Jean Arp seen in Paris galleries fired his imagination. Koppel spent the war years in neutral Sweden, where he designed glass for Orrefors and designed his first jewelry for Svengst Tenn in Stockholm. Returning to Copenhagen in 1945, he joined the Jensen workshop, bringing a fresh, modern vision to his war-weary countrymen. He received the Lunning Prize in 1953 and gold medals at the Milan Biennalis of 1951, 1954 and 1957. Koppel was the first in Scandinavia to embrace organic abstraction. Biomorphic shapes were sculptures in action, such as dancing vertebrae. These sterling bracelets and brooches were unadorned or inlaid with bright pools of enamel. Henning Koppel jewelry deservedly fetches the highest prices (four figures) at Scandinavian jewelry auctions and has inspired an entire generation of silversmiths. His monogram “HK” is occasionally stamped beside the Jensen mark.
Astrid Fog (1911-1993) was a fashion designer/editor who came late to jewelry design. She didn’t like what was available, so she designed jewelry to complement her clothes. In the Seventies, she designed silver spiral pieces for Georg Jensen that were not a big seller, but a simple, large heart pendant on a long chain was a hit and remains in production. Following in the successful line of classic shapes, her oval half egg was hung on a chain of six long, articulated links.
AFTER THE WAR
Denmark had been much less affected by World War II than Finland or Norway. (Although occupied from 1940, there was an active resistance movement by 1943.) Materials were curtailed, but the arts were not, so established Danish artists were able to recover their working careers fairly rapidly after the war. But a new training ground was needed for budding talent. The Danish College of Jewelry and Silversmithing was established in 1952. The major artists in post-war Denmark found inspiration there. Artists’ workshops and manufacturing firms such as Georg Jensen, A. Dragsted, A. Michelsen, Bernard Hertz, Frantz Hingelberg and Hans Hansen produced the work of independent and in-house designers.
Nanna Ditzel (b. 1923) was perhaps the most prolific Danish craftswoman of the post-war years. She and her husband, Jorgen (1921-1961), were trained as furniture and textile designers, but she later switched to jewelry design. The fruitful Ditzel collaboration produced seminal enamel pieces for A. Michelsen as well as for Georg Jensen. The pair won the annual Lunning Prize in 1956 (for Danish Modern furniture, still in production) splitting the $5,000 award with Timo Sarpaneva of Finland. The famous Ditzel necklace of silver petals, 1956, is the most expensive ever produced by Jensen and is still in production, as are many of their early revolutionary designs, sleek as racing yachts. Nanna Ditzel once said “clarity of mind and dress are necessary to wear this jewelry.” After her husband’s early death, she continued to create in several disciplines. After a long stay in London, she has returned to Copenhagen to design furniture. Sometimes the Ditzel benchmarks “NJ” for Nanna and Jorgen or “ND” for Nanna Ditzel are stamped alongside the Jensen mark.
Hans Hansen (1884-1940) founded his workshop in 1906 in Kolding, where it still exists. In 1932, he asked his 18-year-old son, Karl Gustav, to design a “Future” line for him. This collection of 50 pieces (rings, brooches and earrings) was too futuristic for the time and was undeservedly given the pejorative label funkis (for funky, or Functionalism run amok.) The public finally accepted it, and the “Future” line was sold successfully into the late Forties. Karl Gustav became artistic director of the workshop after his father’s death, but concentrated mostly on hollowware in the Fifties, leaving the jewelry design to Bent Gabrielsen Petersen. The ‘HaH” maker’s mark was used in the early years. “Hans Hansen” in script is the current mark. Royal Copenhagen acquired the company in 1991.
Bent Gabrielsen Petersen (b. 1928) graduated from the Danish School of Jewelry and Silversmithing and joined the Hans Hansen workshop, taking over the jewelry design department in 1953. His classic Fifties designs based on the boomerang and other elliptical shapes are still being produced. An “atomic burst” sterling brooch with different colored enamel tips from this period and a matching necklace are stamped “Hans Hansen.” He dropped Petersen from his signature in the Sixties and is known simply as Bent Gabrielsen.
Bent Knudsen (b. 1921) joined the Hans Hansen workshop in 1946. In 1956, he struck out on his own with his wife, Anni, who shared his minimalist style. Their silver jewelry is elegant and wearable — unadorned or mounted with hematite, malachite or amethyst cabochons. The benchmark “Bent K” identifies work by his wife and himself.
Erik Magnussen (1884-1960) was a self-taught silversmith, too independent to be accepted by any workshop. He was raised in an intellectual atmosphere and was apprenticed at 14 in his uncle’s art gallery. He opened his own workshop in 1909, producing extraordinary naturalistic silver-gilt and porcelain brooches of insects for the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufactory. In 1925, he moved to New York City and became artistic director for Gorham Silver Co. He worked independently from the other designers, producing modernistic pieces that were completely opposed to the traditional Colonial Gorham designs. This did not endear him to his fellow workers. (His radically geometric “Cubic” coffee set might have been created by a Russian Constructivist.) After the stock market crash of 1929, Magnussen left Gorham and opened his own shops in New York City and Chicago. When they went bankrupt, he maintained a shop in Hollywood to design for the stars. Returning to Denmark in 1939, Magnussen crafted enamel jewelry with a nationalistic theme during the war. His sterling enameled fish, post-war, is one of many aquatic subjects he created. His signature is an “EM” monogram.
Karen Strand (b. 1924) is one of many Danish craftswomen who made a major contribution to Fifties and Sixties design (these women worked in partnership with their husbands or independently). She studied at the Danish College of Jewelry and Silversmithing and joined the A. Dragsted workshop in Copenhagen, eventually becoming director. Her “palmette” Persian motif was designed for A. Michelsen in 1953-1955.
Anton Michelsen (1809-1877) founded the A. Michelsen workshop. His son, Carl, and grandson, Poul, have maintained the shop’s reputation as one of the major goldsmith and insignia manufacturers in Denmark. As makers of badges and insignia, A. Michelsen mastered the enameling techniques for serially produced jewelry. Magnussen, Malinowski and the Ditzels were among the artists who took part in the “enameling breakthrough” of the Forties. The A. Michelsen firm is Crown Jeweler to the Royal Court, celebrating its 155th anniversary in 1996. It was acquired in 1968 by Royal Copenhagen Porcelain.
A. Dragsted (1886-1942) opened his lapidary shop in 1934, following in the goldsmithing tradition of Arent Dragsted (founded in 1854). He produced gold jewelry with precious stones in a watered-down International Style, echoing the standard Art Deco motifs, but without the zip and originality of the French masters. Lacking the wealthy clients necessary for this venture, Dragsted later became known for the production of silver creations with ceramic, rock crystal or enamel in the Forties. The company is still in existence.
Jorgen Jensen (b. 1931, no relation to Georg Jensen’s son of the same name) trained briefly at the Georg Jensen workshop and worked in Montreal and Stockholm before setting up an atelier in the basement of his father’s Copenhagen building (his father happened to be a realtor). He preferred working with pewter because it is pliable and affordable. “I like plain shapes and fine lines,” he says. “The simpler the jewelry, the prettier.” His pewter bracelets and pendants are stamped “Jorgen Jensen” in script circa 1960-65. (Note to collectors: These have been misattributed to Georg Jensen’s son, Jorgen, who did not design them, says Michael von Essen of the Georg Jensen Museum in Copenhagen.)
In the Sixties, other pewter articles — buckles, hair ornaments and brooches — bore engraved decorations. An interesting Post-Modern bracelet of sandcast bronze and silver-plated “nuggets” was stamped “B+O” for Buch and Deichman, a costume jewelry firm that also made plastic parrot brooches and patterned bracelets and is no longer in business.
Poul Warmind worked in pewter, bronze, silver and gold in the Sixties. His pendants were rough cast pewter or abstract gold designs set on ebony plaques. Silver earrings were long elliptical hoops (influenced by the work of Henning Koppel), and a brooch of similar design was edged in black enamel. Large cast gold brooches were set with turquoise. Warmind trained at A. Dragsted and had two shops in Copenhagen, where he gradually phased out gold jewelry “because it became too speculative.” He restricted his output to small limited editions or one-of-a-kind pieces, exporting to Sweden and America. He and his wife settled in Englerop, Zeeland, after deciding to get into the wine business. Jewelry making and wine importing received equal time for a few years in Denmark, but the juice of the noble grape must have won precedence over jewelry because new Warmind creations have not been seen since the Seventies.
“Finland,” it is said, “lies between the East and the West, but slightly to the North.” This geographical location has been crucial to the country’s development since prehistoric times.
In 1000 A.D., the Finns were trading furs with the Vikings, whose ancient eastern trading route from
Norway and Sweden passed through Finland on the way to Byzantine Constantinople.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Russian influence was pervasive, culminating in 1900 in czarist St. Petersburg, where the majority of the master-craftsmen who executed Carl Faberge’s exquisite creations were of Finnish origin. These fine jewelers returned home to Helsinki after the Russian revolution and established workshops, one of which (Henry Tillander) still exists. Gradually, silversmiths outnumbered the traditional goldsmiths as silver became the modern material of choice.
Early 20th century Romantic Nationalism, with its roots in peasant arts and crafts, arose in Finland (and Norway), where there was a profound need to establish a national identity. Finland won independence from Sweden in 1809 and from Russia in 1917, when the street name signs were still in Swedish, Finnish and Russian!
Finland’s triumphal success on the international design scene of the Fifties was the result of sheer guts. Working with the materials at hand during the war, fabrics and shoes had been woven from birchbark and paper. To survive the deprivation of war and the subsequent payment of huge war reparations to the Soviet Union (neutral Finland had allowed the transit of German troops and was subsequently drawn into the conflict against Russia), Finnish ingenuity was challenged anew.
Helsinki jewelry companies Henry Tillander, Kalevela Koru (named after the narrative epic saga Kalevela) and the Artek Gallery became major forces in modern Finnish jewelry by holding design competitions. Annual avant-garde exhibitions in the Fifties rewarded outstanding young artists in an otherwise conservative post-war market. The native Finnish stones — labradorite, spectrolite, Lapp jasper and quartz — were abundantly available, begging to be mounted in bold settings by creative designers. The endless Finnish forests provided birch for polished wood jewelry by Kaija Aarika.
A new generation of jewelers surfaced who were not trained silver- or goldsmiths and who were challenged to work with new materials and concepts. Their inventiveness was rewarded: Finnish jewelry and industrial designers swept the top prizes at the Milan Triennale throughout the Fifties and Sixties.
THE FABULOUS FIFTIES
The Finnish arts renaissance of the Fifties was led by Bertel Gardberg (b. 1916). His simple silver bracelet looks like two hinged orange peels but features a revolutionary fastening. His craftsmanship has won him many international prizes.
Börge Rajalin (b. 1933) studied metalwork with Gardberg. He became chief designer for Kalevela Koru in 1956, where he made all the prototypes for serial production. Rajalin, Gardberg, Elis Kauppi and Eero Rislakki participated in an avant-garde 1958 exhibition that set the tone for future design and international recognition. Novel techniques, closing devices and materials were explored. The goal was functional and aesthetic. In the Sixties, Rajalin’s style changed completely. His bracelets were encrusted with Finnish and Lapp gemstones set in gold for Kalevela Koru.
Saara Hopea-Untracht (1925-1984) played an enthusiastically active part in the Finnish arts renaissance, creating industrial design, glassware, enamels, textiles and jewelry. She graduated from the Central School of Applied Arts in interior design. Though she came from a four-generation goldsmithing family, jewelry was not her first career choice. Collaborating with goldsmith Goran Ahlberg in Porvoo (the oldest town in Finland) in 1959, she designed the startling silver, gold and enamel “Wing Ring,” that spreads across three fingers. Returning from extensive travels in India with her husband (well-known author/jeweler Oppi Untracht), she handknitted silver chains in the ancient Nepalese tradition to complement her silver pendants. These pendants were ornate silver twin bird motifs holding a garnet “berry” in their beaks or abstract tubular fans. In the Seventies, she mounted the antique, engraved semiprecious stones she collected on her travels into gold brooches and rings sometimes decorated with gold shot. Saara Hopea-Untracht’s designs are stamped “OH” (for the silversmith Ossian Hopea) and the city mark for Porvoo, Finland.
Elis Kauppi (b. 1921) established the Kupittaan Kulta jewelry workshop in Turku in 1945. Times were tough and innovations were a must. There was still a post-war shortage of precious and glass stones, so plastic pin heads were melted down to provide color accents. Finnish red granite was upgraded to a semiprecious stone, symbolic of the strong, enduring Finnish character. Kauppi was one of the first to see the decorative value of the native Finnish stone spectrolite (related to labradorite, it shimmers with an iridescent schiller). Spectrolite in silver settings was well-received at international exhibitions in the Fifties, when the phenomenal rise in jewelry exports to Central Europe began. This trend peaked in the mid-Seventies when European manufacturers and artists stopped copying the Scandinavians and came up with their own original ideas. Kauppi’s “Mountain Stream” necklace of cascading rock crystal bubbles and spectrolite pebbles is a later creation. Kauppi designed 14k gold rings and bracelets with brilliant-cut diamonds set in palladium as well as massive jewelry for men. The anvil benchmark beside the Turku city mark identifies the designer and his company.
The Kaunis Koru shop was established in Helsinki in 1954 to promote design jewelry of pure form. The careers of respected designers Paula Hä#-28#ivä#-28#oja, Bjö#-10#rn Weckströ#-10#m, Pekka Piekainen and Mirjam Salminen were launched there. Simple refined shapes were produced into the Eighties, featuring the native spectrolite stones. The maker’s mark is two “K’s” back to back.
Paula Häiväoja (b. 1929) graduated from the Institute of Industrial Arts in 1953. She designed typically Fifties simple silver and onyx rings for Kaunis Koru in 1957. Radically daring bracelets for Kalevela Koru spiralled up the arm, the separate parts moving with the wearer in the free-spirited Sixties. “I had complete freedom to fulfill my ideas and beliefs in those exciting years at Kalevela Koru,” recalls Hä#-28#ivä#-28#oja. Large square-cut crystal pendants were the elegant counterparts of silver neckpieces. Hä#-28#ivä#-28#oja opened her own apparel and jewelry shop in 1967. Space Age open-band rings with satellite parts were designed to complement her knits. She has been teaching at the institute since the late Fifties, urging a new generation to experiment.
Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985) was a multitalented designer of objects in glass, porcelain, silver and laminated wood, all inspired by forms from nature. After winning the first and second prizes for a design competition for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, there was no turning back. Wirkkala’s outstanding industrial designs won top prizes at the Milan Biennales through the Fifties, alerting international critics and consumers to the Nordic imagination. In the Sixties, for Westerback Oy, Wirkkala played with highly textured surfaces hammered in 14k gold. The negative spaces of his link bracelets looked like craters on the surface of a corrugated planet. Gold pendants were modern interpretations of Viking and Lapp masks with dangling chains. Wirkkala experimented with moving parts, and his “Silver Moon” concentric circle earrings and pendants were produced by Kultakeskus Oy in 1970.
Beginning in the Sixties, cast silver and gold (or even iron) jewelry provided an ideal solution to serial-production of sculptural pieces that did not demand time-consuming polishing. Special casting machines were developed. Many young Finnish artists experimented with unconventional designs and unorthodox materials. Some were apprenticed in the usual workshops; others received no training whatsoever. They literally erupted upon the scene in the Sixties; bumps, lumps and crater cavities replaced the smooth surfaces of the Fifties. Skin or fabric showed through the negative spaces, becoming an integral part of the design.
Seppo Tamminen, formerly a window dresser, began making his own jewelry with no training, fueled only by his enthusiasm. Preferring to work with alternative materials, his handwrought pieces echo ancient Finnish and Russian themes. He made several trips deep into the Soviet Union to study Russian jewelry in museums. His necklaces and belt buckles were cut from sheet brass, and his bracelets were cast bronze, silverplated. All have a primitive feel to them (of the “bumps and craters” school). They were individually handmade at first, but eventually were serially produced and stamped “Seppo Tamminen.”
Pentti Sarpaneva (1925-1978) designed cast lace work for the Torun Hopea workshop in Turku, west of Helsinki. A graphic artist, Sarpaneva’s first jewelry made of enameled hardware store chains, zippers and objets trouves was considered barbaric and unwearable. For Kalevela Koru, he designed commercially successful silver or bronze pendants and cuff links that were inspired by Viking motifs. Sarpaneva made moulds of Rauma lace that he then cast in high relief and mounted with rough smoky quartz. Tiny chains hanging from the corners were originally found on ancient Finnish rings. These are stamped “T” within an “H” for Torun Hopea and “P. Sarpaneva.”
Bjö#-10#rn Weckströ#-10#m (b. 1935) who trained as a sculptor, took the casting process to new heights. He created tiny jewelry landscapes, sometimes peopled by sculptured figures. His cast pieces are like silver crumpled by a giant hand, alternating light reflections on smooth and rough matte surfaces. Each piece is a kind of mystical happening. “Technically,” Weckströ#-10#m explains, “when making a work of small size, one must overdramatize the forms. Jewelry is a miniature sculpture to me, but because a woman is going to wear it, it gets a specially sensual, mystic-erotic charge. So many forces and symbols can be concentrated in it.” After studying goldsmithing with Bertel Gardberg, Weckströ#-10#m opened his atelier in 1957 for more artistic freedom. He later formed a fruitful collaboration with Pekka Antilla that evolved into the Lapponia Oy Gallery, where his work as well as that of Pentti Sarpaneva and Bertel Gardberg was displayed.
Weckströ#-10#m had an instant affinity for the Space Age. His “Planetary Valleys” necklace looked perfectly at home on Princess Leia’s neck in Star Wars (1977). His “Petrified Lake” ring of acrylic and silver was memorably worn by Yoko Ono on the Dick Cavett TV show in 1972, launching a Weckströ#-10#m collector craze. The Lapponia Jewelry shop in Helsinki continues to produce Weckström’s work, as well as the art jewelry of gifted artists Poul Havgaard, Christophe Burger and Zoltan Popovits in silver, gold and platinum. Nearly 85% of Lapponia’s production is exported to Europe, the U.S. and Japan.
Scandinavian Modern was a two-sided coin. The ancient and modern, the primitive and sophisticated, the conservative and progressive coexisted.
Each country contributed its individual style to the post-war Nordic phenomenon. The Norwegians excelled at the old guilloche enamel technique. The Swedes’ designs were distinguished by their frosty elegance, the Danes’ by their disciplined craftsmanship and the Finns’ by their talent for experimentation and simplification. Scandinavian Modern was a catalyst for change and has remained an enduring source of inspiration for European and American jewelry designers.
Beer, Eileene Harrison. Scandinavian Design, Objects of a Life Style. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, N.Y. 1975.
Carpenter, Charles Jr. Gorham Silver, 1831-1981. Dodd, Mead & Co., New York, N.Y. 1982.
Dahlback-Lutteman, Helena and Marianne Ulga, editors. The Lunning Prize. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. 1986.
Moller, Jorgen. Georg Jensen, The Danish Silversmith. Georg Jensen and Wendel A/S, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Moro, Ginger. European Designer Jewelry. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, Pa. 1995.
Poutasuo, Tuula. Finnish Silver: From the 2nd World War to Post-Modernism. Kirjayhtyma, Helsinki, Finland. 1989.
Thage, Jacob. Danske Smykker, Danish Jewelry. Komma & Clausen, Bogero, Denmark. 1995.
Untracht, Oppi. Saara Hopea-Untracht: Life and Work. Wernergoderstrom Osakoyhtio, Helsinki, Finland. 1988.
Willcox, David. New Design in Jewelry. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, N.Y.
I would like to thank Winnie Blangstrop of Guldsmedefagets Faellesrad, Copenhagen, for articles in Danish on Poul Warmind and Jorgen Jensen, and Kirsten Blockhuis of the Danish Consulate, Los Angeles, Cal., for translating them for me.